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A fertile mind

Teresa Busch reroots her business

Posted: March 14, 2012 - 11:00pm
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Teresa Busch
Teresa Busch

For Teresa Busch, childhood was a hands-on experience. By the time she was a teenager, she knew how to: weld, embroider, crochet, lay concrete, make a rug, build a house, take apart and rebuild a car engine, and construct a parade float out of flower petals, among other things. Unlike many kids, Busch was an eager student -- in fact, the combination of her dad’s technical expertise and her mom’s artistic eye proved to be a perfect environment for fostering her own creative growth.

“I learned how to do so many things when I was younger that I never really focused on one thing,” she said. “Because they all made me happy. They all felt good.”

As an adult, Busch, a local artist and the owner of the downtown business the Plant People, has continued to draw on the versatility of her childhood experiences through many outlets, including her work as a floral designer and as a multi-media artist. Like many artists, managing the balance between her business and her personal projects can be a tricky thing -- even though her profession is a creative one, her mind is crowded with ideas for artistic ventures outside the scope of her business.

Last week, Busch made a move that might help her free up a little time: She relocated her business from a highly visible Seward Street location to a less public spot on Franklin Street. She plans to continue with the core of the Plant People’s services -- commercial and residential plant care – but she’ll no longer have a retail store. Without the pressures of retail rent and fast moving employees, she hopes to be able to focus on projects she’s put on hold for years. Among them, a chance to put the welding skills from her teenage days to use.

“Now that I have a little free time – ha!– I’m hoping to do some wind and water sculpting, welding pieces that actually move with the wind and water.”

Busch, well-known in the arts community for her prize-winning wearable art creations, also designs jewelry that often incorporates found objects, finding particular inspiration in materials that wash up on the beach near her home in Indian Cove.

“I don’t pass up a rusty nail,” she said with a laugh, adding that her jewelry line is called “Looking Down” due to her tendency to scavenge from the roads and beaches.

“(My husband and I) walk in Auke Rec – its our backyard – and there’s such amazing things that wash up on that beach,” she said. “My garden is getting full of them and eventually I’m going to need to do something.”

She has also been hatching a plan for an art show called “Heavy Metal Floral,” an idea she’s been discussing with local artist MK MacNaughton. As in her garden, the show will bring together metal objects and flowers, a combination Busch finds intriguing.

“When you’re looking at something, like rusty metal fencing, and then you see a tropical flower, like a heliconia, you can see how they might fit together, or how the structure of both of them are similar,” she said.

Some of her work at the Plant People also finds energy in that juxtaposition; for example a recent boutonniere she created for a groom incorporated a piece of titanium bicycle chain, representative of the ride he took up Mount Roberts to propose to his bride. Another, created for a fisherman, wove in a halibut hook.

Other non-plant materials also find their way into her floral creations; as with the bike chain and hook, their selection often depends on the personalities or histories of her clients.

For one of her favorite wedding projects, she incorporated the groom’s collection of shells, gathered from all over the world, in each of the corsages and boutonnieres; the bride carried her bouquet in a giant conch. And a recent memorial piece included a huge piece of driftwood Busch found while walking on the beach; she used the antler-shaped branch as the basis for a multimedia floral design that evoked the memory of a “Grizzly Adams” type hunter and fisherman.

“I like different when it comes to flowers,” she said.

Busch’s approach to floral design was unorthodox from the start. Born on a strawberry farm outside of Hillsboro, Ore., she took her first job at a flower store when she was in high school, where she often found herself questioning the procedures the store’s owners followed without question.

“For the first month they wouldn’t let me do anything except sweep the floors,” she said.

“While I was sweeping I was looking at things, going, ‘why do they do them that way when it would be so much cooler if it was done this way?’ Or, ‘that tulip has a natural tendency to curve, why are you making it straight?’”

It would be many years before Busch actually got the chance to let her creativity run wild with plants and flowers. While raising her two sons she took many different jobs, including positions as a dental hygienist and circuit board welder, and, for a small stretch, aspiring policewoman. But eventually she found her way back to plants.

In the late 1990s, Busch’s husband accepted a two-year job assignment in Seattle, and Busch found a position with a highly creative Seattle plant care company, Botanical Designs. Soon she was learning how to create giant installation pieces in the Pacific Place Mall.

“It was pretty exciting,” she said. “It was definitely an experience and a half, very educational.”

When it came time to go back to Juneau, her husband, Rick Busch, asked what she was going to do.

“I absolutely loved that job — but I was ready to come back to Juneau — and Rick asked me ‘What are you going to do when we get home?’ and I said ‘I want to do this!’ And he said, ‘How are you going to do that?’”

It didn’t take her long to figure it out. The year they moved back, 2002, she opened The Plant People, with Suzanne Sakewitz, in a warehouse across from Foodland. When the business first opened it was oriented toward commercial and residential plant care only, but soon expanded to include flowers, weddings, funerals, and installations, such as the annual Christmas display in the Jordan Creek Mall.

As The Plant People was getting off the ground, Busch became interested in Juneau’s annual Wearable Art show. She created her first piece, “Mother Nature Goes Wild,” from things in her own shop: moss, date-palm fronds and 120 other plants. Modeled by Sakewitz, it won first prize. The event, which challenges artists to combine functional, moveable construction with artistry, was the perfect forum for Busch, who’d helped her mom create parade floats out of flower petals for Portland’s Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade when she was young.

“After the first Wearable Art piece, I was pretty hooked,” Busch said.

In 2003 she made a piece from sea shells, and in 2007 she used dental wire she’d saved from her days as a dental hygienist. That piece, “Brace Yourself,” also won first prize, as did “Pieces of Peace” in 2009. This past year, Busch’s design was made from panty hose and Spanx.

Other than her Wearable Art creations, Busch didn’t have a lot of time for creative work outside of her business, but thrived on the creative work within it. One of her favorite annual jobs is the Jordan Creek installation, which is more like theater set design than floral art. This year’s display included an igloo constructed out of recycled milk jugs that was lit from inside, while Santa stuffed a fully decorated tree down the chimney.

Another interesting angle of her business that’s developed over the years is the opportunity to create high-end floral designs for the yachts that stop in Juneau’s harbors. For one job, she created centerpieces for the yacht’s more than 30 rooms. For another, she was given a vase to use that she was told was worth more than the yacht itself.

The day to day work of the business has also been rewarding, Busch said, and allowed her to get to know many members of the community. When they call her, they’re often either celebrating or grieving, making for some intense emotional interactions.

Busch opened the Seward Street store in 2005, a year after Sakewitz left the business to take care of her baby. The decision to open the retail store on her own was a big one, Busch said.

“It was giant and it was scary, but it was a really good move,” she said. “It was the best move.”

Busch soon joined in the First Friday Art Walk, becoming a popular venue for artists from Rachael Juzeler to Dave Depew. She continued to keep her plant-care services at the core of her business, while also operating as a plant and flower shop that saw lots of daily traffic, a combination that was rewarding but challenging.

“The support from the community has been tremendous for me on Seward Street,” she said. “It’s been great. But it’s been hard.”

Her last day of business on Seward Street was Saturday, and she’s now in the process of painting her new space, located in the former Juneau Arts & Humanities Council offices on Franklin Street. From there, she’ll run her plant-care business, which includes corporate and residential accounts, and continue to do weddings and funerals. She might also continue to offer cut flowers to the public — maybe once every couple weeks — and eventually get back into the First Friday scene.

But for now, she’s happy to be putting some of the stresses of running a retail store behind her as she prepares for the next chapter. Though her business will still demand most of her time, she’s got lots of ideas for how to fill in any spare moments she gets, and says her “bucket list” is miles long.

“There’s still so many thing I want to do ... art pieces I want to create, volunteer work I want to do, classes I want to teach...”

• Contact arts editor Amy Fletcher @ amy.fletcher@juneauempire.com.

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