Artist finds beauty in imperfections
Oak Park resident Chris Geoghegan is the owner of Moss Modern Flowers. She is known for floral arrangements and art that integrate natural and discovered items. | Meredith Morris~for Sun-Times Media
Moss exemplifies ‘wabi-sabi’
Geoghegan opened Moss Modern Flowers, 7405 W. Madison St., Forest Park, on the aesthetic principle of wabi-sabi – the art of finding beauty in the imperfections and nature.
“I thought, what a perfect way to educate people about the natural world and flowers, the two things I’m most passionate about,” she said.
The store’s name, Moss, reflects the humblest and most ancient of plants; one that most people take for granted. Moss is usually dismissed, Geoghegan said, though revered elsewhere, especially in Asia.
The skulls, bones, fossils, shells, pinecones and other items for sale in Moss’ eclectic array are harvested by Geoghegan herself, either by foraging local natural areas or while traveling. She also carries items discovered by friends who travel.
“It’s all hand-selected by me. It has to be. Beautiful things are all about selecting well,” she said.
Updated: October 28, 2012 6:38AM
OAK PARK — An artist, naturalist, businesswoman and mother, Chris Geoghegan feels at home in Oak Park.
Owner of Moss Modern Flowers in Forest Park, Geoghegan is known for her stark, dramatic floral arrangements that often eschew hot house flowers for seed pods and twigs. Not to mention bird’s nests and a bone or two.
Geoghegan was an established florist long before she opened Moss nine years ago, known for showpiece arrangements she created for popular foodie destinations such as the Francesca Restaurants, Spago and Soul Kitchen. Her clients include the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust, which features her work in homes on its annual housewalk and at special events.
Geoghegan is a self-described “child of the ‘60s” who devoted her first years, in Long Island, N.Y., to roaming woodlands, visiting the ocean and traveling to New York City with her grandmother to attend museums, galleries and theater.
“I was the kind of kid who liked to draw all the time,” she said. “I’d create little installations out of the things I found. My parents were very encouraging of my creativity, though they didn’t understand it all.”
At 12, Geoghegan’s life changed radically when her family moved to Decatur, Ill. She found the town stifling, but her parents bought a Frank Lloyd Wright house.
“It exposed me to architecture,” she said. “It opened up a whole new art form.”
After a rough adjustment to Decatur, Geoghegan finished high school early and enrolled in the Art Institute of Kansas City. Though she planned to study textiles, her unusual focus – on large-scale weaving with fabric and wire – led to sculpture. Geoghegan weaved mammoth pieces out of industrial metal, branches and other non-traditional art materials, works she would drag into the woods and photograph as they deteriorated.
“That was the art,” she said.
A fellow student who taught her woodworking and welding is now her husband of 35 years, Ian Edwards, creative lead in the Brookfield Zoo exhibits department.
Geoghegan completed her studies and was one a small handful of students accepted to begin a master of fine arts program at the University of Chicago. She and Edwards moved to Chicago where, degree in hand at 21 years old, she made art and waited tables. Her husband worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
“We were always on the art scene, which was great, but working different day parts,” Geoghegan said.
The couple lived in a Chicago three-flat with a garden, where Geoghegan reconnected with her love of nature. Inspired, she decided she would earn a living making art with flowers. She was fortunate to have Francesca’s Restaurants among her first clients.
“I created my business out of nothing,” she said. “It was all word-of-mouth. I did it for 17 years.”
Then the economy faltered and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks rocked the world. Geoghegan’s client portfolio dropped by about 50 percent.
“People weren’t eating out anymore,” she said. “The all-about-me era was over.”
For Geoghegan, it was over too. At 43, she and her husband adopted the first of their two daughters from China. Becoming parents led them to Oak Park.
“We were a multi-cultural blended family,” Geoghegan said. “We needed a place that met that part of our lives, but also our artistic needs. Oak Park was perfect, plus it has so many Frank Lloyd Wright houses, which circles back to that part of my life.”
Today, both of Geoghegan’s daughters attend Oak Park schools and the family is engaged with a network of American parents of Chinese children.