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Young Point Loma artist brings 11th-century sculpture to life in award-winning floral display

Marcel Halldorson poses with his award-winning floral arrangement for Art Alive and the sculpture he used for inspiration.
Point Loma’s Marcel Halldorson poses with his award-winning floral arrangement for Art Alive and the sculpture he used for inspiration.
(Courtesy of Jan Kugler)

Creating a flower arrangement can be as simple as throwing some backyard blooms into a glass jar — or as complex as choosing the perfect vase and florals, deciding on a design and making sure the mechanics will hold it all together.

The concept is the basis for the San Diego Museum of Art’s annual Art Alive competition, which combines works of art such as sculptures or paintings with floral designs. The floral arrangements are meant to be symbolic interpretations rather than literal copies of the artworks. New levels of meaning can be invoked when artworks are portrayed in florals.

For this year’s 40th-anniversary Art Alive in June, the museum introduced a new program, “Blossoming Artists,” allowing youths in kindergarten through 12th grade to try their skills at floral interpretation.

As a regular visitor to the Balboa Park museum, Point Loma’s Marcel Halldorson, 13, was familiar with the contest and ready to try his hand at the challenge.

It worked out for him — not only did he win the First Place Member’s Choice award, he also won the Museum Director’s Choice honor.

Marcel’s father, Jeff Halldorson, is a transplant surgeon with varied surgery schedules. His mother, Karin Jooss, is the head of research and development at Gritstone Bio and frequently travels overseas.

“Marcel has always been involved with art to some extent,” Jooss said. “He has taken woodworking shop at school, he finished a ceramics class and he plays violin. He has a diverse set of talents. We have been exposing our kids to art and museums from a very young age; we’ve been going to Art Alive since he was 6 months old!”

Jan Kugler, a family friend since Marcel was less than a year old, said she often helped Marcel and his older brother, Nikolai, make flower arrangements for their mother. Nikolai, now 18, has moved on to other interests, including business, stocks and cross-country running. Kugler has continued to mentor Marcel in floral design.

“She has been creating floral arrangements and has been involved with Art Alive for many years,” Marcel said. “She taught me the different aspects of art and how to combine them into floral arrangements.”

Kugler said Marcel “is a very good listener. He takes what you tell him and puts it into action. He also has a fabulous memory and is quite visual.”

Attending previous events gave Marcel an idea of how people take the aspect of art and a background of knowledge to work from, he said.

Just like the adults, the youngsters had to submit formal applications. Once chosen, the young designers were allowed to pick from several art options.

Marcel chose the sculpture “Manjushri Seated on a Lion” for his floral piece. Before the contest, he had never seen the artwork. The Asian marble sculpture features the deity Manjushri, an embodiment of knowledge usually presented as a youthful, bejeweled prince. The sculpture dates to the 11th century.

“This option was the most dynamic because there were two parts to work with,” Marcel said.

Marcel Halldorson won two awards for this artistic floral design in the San Diego Museum of Art's Art Alive competition.
(Courtesy of Jan Kugler)

Though the museum’s sculpture is white, Marcel chose colorful flowers, which would be more traditional for Manjushri depictions. He said he wanted to showcase the flowing motion of the figure’s robe by using a matching color scheme of red and yellow. He also took care to make sure the entire piece remained balanced.

For his design, Marcel included dried palms, pincushion protea, blue thistle and bird of paradise, among others.

Kugler said designing an interpretive piece includes decisions such as the correct container, the focus of the design, the mechanics of the arrangement, which florals to use and even choosing substitutions ahead of time in case the chosen flowers aren’t available.

“Marcel just really enjoys the process ... for him, it’s a thinking process,” she said.

Kugler often enters the Art Alive competition herself. She said it’s important to her to stand by her designs to explain her decisions to interested museum members. She encouraged Marcel to do the same.

“The museum members loved him,” she said. “He was able to talk about the piece of art; he described what he did, why it was important to him and why he translated it as he did. He had great fun with it.”

Geordyn Cocker, Art Alive floral design manager and coordinator, said “Marcel was present throughout Art Alive weekend impressing the crowds with his maturity, knowledge of florals and beautiful interpretation.”

Marcel said he was “very surprised and very happy“ when he won.

“It was very surprising ... because they didn’t tell me until I went to refresh the arrangement,” he said.

Marcel’s parents didn’t realize he had won until they walked in to see the exhibits and the other adults told them. It was “wonderful,” Jooss said.

Whether Marcel continues in floral design or follows other interests, his parents are sure he will do it with determination.

“We don’t know what he will do later, but we aren’t parents who will do it for him. He is driving it. If he wants to do it, he does it himself,” Jooss said.

Marcel’s other hobbies include playing violin and tennis. He also has a pet gecko.

He said he hopes to enter the floral competition again next year.

“We’re very proud of him,” Kugler said. “He did a fantastic job, and it’s wonderful to allow youths to get involved with the competition.”


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