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Clarkesville native crafts flowers into works of art

POSTED: July 20, 2014 1:30 a.m.

Sarah Samsel began making pressed-flower cards when she was 10 and now has a building on the John and Nancy Kollock property called Sarah's Lavender Cottage. In addition to pressed flower art she also makes intricate cornhusk dolls.

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Sarah Samsel sat near the window inside her small cottage and used scissors to snip small red petals into delicate shapes.

She dabbed glue to the petal pieces and gingerly placed them on her art work.

Where other artists use paint and brushes, Samsel uses plants, scissors and Elmer’s glue.

The 19-year-old has been making pressed flower art for nearly a decade. It’s a medium that combines her love of nature, gardening and art. It’s also her business.

While many people her age are preparing for college, the Clarkesville native is focused on growing her business.

"I take it day by day," Samsel said. "I want my business to keep growing. I’d like to shift more of my sales through the Internet."

Samsel smiled and said she’s just recently made her first online sale through her store, Corn Husk Creatures.

Many artists, such as Samsel, are using the Internet to reach a broader market. Sites such as Ebay, Etsy and Pinterest act as an online marketplace, allowing artists and crafts people to buy and sell their wares.

According to, more than 1 million active online shops are available on the website. More than $1 billion in merchandise sales came through the site in 2013.

Samsel said the logistics of operating an online store are going to take some getting used to but she’s excited about taking the next step.

Samsel began selling her pressed flower art when she was 10 years old at a friend’s barbecue restaurant. Today, she operates out of Sarah’s Lavender Cottage. Her studio is next to the cottage and home of the late John Kollock, a renowned watercolor artist and the inspiration behind Helen’s Bavarian theme.

Sarah’s Lavender Cottage is open by appointment only and filled with Samsel’s unique folk creations. The walls are lined with what appear to be paintings until closer inspection. Descriptions of the work read like a recipe. Beside each piece hangs a list of ingredients used to create the image. The image of bear was made with mushrooms and bananas. She also creates intricate dolls and birds made from discarded corn husks.

Samsel said her work has changed the way she looks at the world around her. Instead of seeing a mushroom, she sees a bear’s nose.

"I look at little things more than I used to," Samsel said, smiling. "I look at a small leaf and see what it could become. Sometimes people ask how I decide what to make a picture of and sometimes I’ll need to make a picture of a boat. Then I’ll find whatever plant material I need to make my boat. Then, on the other hand, sometimes I’ll see a leaf and think ‘Wow! That leaf would make a great sail.’ I’ll build the rest of the boat around it. Sometimes my ideas come straight from the plant material."

Pressed flower art is something of a misnomer. Shile she uses colorful flower petals in her work, she more often uses leaves, moss, hornet’s nests and spices.

Samsel is a member of the World Wide Pressed Flower Guild and takes regular courses through the organization. But for the most part, her craft has been refined through a long period of experimentation and making personal connections.

"I was home schooled and so my parents were always trying to figure out how to feed my mind," Samsel said.

Her parents arranged for then 10-year-old Samsel to apprentice with Charle Statler, Clarkesville department head of gardens and grounds.

"She has a really good eye for using natural materials," Statler said. "The plant material she collects a lot herself. Even with the corn shucks. There’s just a real naturalness about her. She’s very open, very giving to people, very helpful. She started off doing these cards, pressed flower cards. She sold them to people for a couple of dollars ... then we started framing them and it grew from there."

Statler introduced her young apprentice to her neighbor and artist friend, Kollock.

"I think he saw the innate talent she has," Statler said.

Kollock, who died in March at the age of 85,took Samsel under his wing and helped her further develop her abilities.

"He would tell me to do something, like add blue to that painting, and he didn’t know how hard that is to a pressed flower artist because he used paint," Samsel said. "But I’m glad he told me those things because it caused me to stretch and make it work. My pressed flower friends would have realized how hard that was and maybe not have told me to do those things. But I’m really thankful for all he did.

"Just recently I was trying to do a picture of a train and I was saying, I don’t have Mr. Kollock here to help me with this perspective," she continued. "That was hard. I’ll continue to miss him a lot, as a friend but also he was so free with sharing his years of experience and showing me things."

Samsel said she would like to help others in the way Kollock and Statler have encouraged her.

"I would like to encourage people to nurture their natural interests and talents," Samsel said. "Then when something comes of that, even something small, diligently pursue it and watch it grow. Always look for ways to improve, always be humble and grateful and always seek God’s will."


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