These paper flowers are surprisingly real in “An Exploration of Paper Plants”

Lea Gray has been making beautiful paper flowers for over nine years. All of his creativity, paper folding experiments and appreciation for nature are now on display at the Franklin Park Conservatory in his collection titled ‘Bringing respect to nature: an exploration of paper plants‘.

All the pieces presented in the exhibition testify to his passion for creating pieces suitable for interior design.

“I’m so thrilled that my work is moving in a more interior design-based direction,” says Gray. “I mainly focus on creating very large, intricate wall gardens that simulate walls of living plants with no maintenance.”

Much of this collection centers around the highly statuesque succulent (which came in at number nine on Columbus Underground’s Best Houseplants list). A cascading black pine bonsai, fiddle fig, and black Maxillaria orchid are also on display. Owning one of these works of art doesn’t require a green thumb, and they’ll always look their best.

Fiddle Leaf Fig by Lea Gray.
Paper, black sand, found branch, ceremonial vase, wire and clay. 2020.

As you enter the Cardinal Health Gallery, the large works of greenery adorning the walls give you the impression that something is wrong with the air. Why is it so dry? Shouldn’t it feel tropical and humid here? Visually, you think, ‘of course!’ that your breath is taken away. But then you remember that all these parts are made from paper, and such an environment would be ruinous!

Many pieces play with lighting using gradients and shades of green. Looking at each piece, you may find yourself looking for a hidden light source in the frame, but it’s the paper selections that create the highlight effect. Each “plant” works together to create the illusion of reflections and shadows from sunlight.

paper flowers and plants in a great design
Echeveria Agavoides collection by Lea Gray. Photo by Anne Evans.
paper folded into plants
Pieces from the Echeveria collection by Lea Gray. Photo by Hiroshi Hayakawa.

There are several big chunks your eyes can get lost in; dancing from flower to flower, examining the flocking of some, the luster of others; wondering if these could be real plants that have been collected and displayed.

“I rarely use found branches and driftwood, but in some cases it makes more sense to create part of the design with these elements, rather than building them, to further enhance the illusion [of realness]says Gray.

In what is the centerpiece of the exhibit, an elaborate terrarium titled “Botanical Preservation Collection,” there are two pieces of driftwood found anchoring the plant collection. The piece captures the beauty and wildness of nature, or as Gray describes his work, “capturing the spirit of the plant”.

Creating the terrarium composition took nearly 200 hours, but “ultimately it was a playful and fun process because it was less about math and more about the organic growth that nature represents.”

close up of paper flowers
Image from ‘Botanical Preservation Collection’ by Lea Gray. Photo by Hiroshi Hayakawa.

Gray researched and designed plants that would come together well as a cohesive element. Time was spent moving plants around – adding more of some and less of others, playing with shades of color, working with their heights and widths, and ultimately, settling on a composition that appeals your attention throughout the piece.

“I knew there were plants I had come across that I found absolutely beautiful on their own, but the choice of neighboring plants was more about the whole collection as a whole, creating a giant composition over time. time.”

In addition to various brands and types of paper and card stock, Gray incorporates Italian crepe papers, yarn, various spray paints and finishes, spray dry shampoos and glues, air dry clay, sand and other elements to create the realistic finishes of his art.

“Ultimately, it’s the alchemy and layering of multiple products that gives each plant its own character,” she says, as she strives to mimic each specimen’s natural form.

It’s been a pleasure to watch Gray’s work evolve, ever since we first spoke to her in 2015 and her company, PaperBlooms Design, caught the eye with wedding bouquets. Since then, she and her bouquets have been featured on TLC, and she’s shipped bouquets nationwide.

As his work grew, so did his home studio.

Gray now creates from a few rooms in her home and finds inspiration for her paper flower designs in her nature walks, as well as all the real houseplants she cares about.

“My house is littered with many plants for constant inspiration,” she says.

Bringing respect to nature: an exploration of paper plants is on view at the Franklin Park Conservatory through May 31, 2021. For more information on how to visit, visit