David Pippin discovered his talent for floral design at Louisa County High School, graduating in 1979.
Unlike most artists, Pippin creates living works of art knowing they will bloom, wilt, and then die. Pippin appreciates the impermanence of his art and embraces the constant change his trade offers.
“I don’t think I would like to be an artist who creates something, and it’s here forever,” Pippin said. “I enjoy making something, watching it change as the flowers open and then die, and then I throw them in the compost pile and start all over again.”
Pippin’s work is featured at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, where he has volunteered for 15 years to design arrangements for the museum lobby.
“The museum has an endowment that pays for the flowers and then we volunteer our time to do the arrangements,” Pippin said. “That’s lots of fun because we get to make something as huge and wild and crazy as we want because it’s an art museum.”
The artist’s work can also be found in the Virginia Executive Mansion, home of Governor Ralph Northam and First Lady Pamela Northam.
Eight years ago, when the staff florist’s position was open, someone gave Pippin’s name to the mansion’s deputy director. Pippin was invited to make an arrangement for the dining room table. A few days later, the deputy director called Pippin to tell him that then-First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe was impressed with his work and had offered him the job.
At the mansion, he makes arrangements for events, which have been scarce since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Last year, he decorated the mansion for the holidays with the help of his students at Reynolds Community College, where he teaches classes on horticulture and advanced floral design as an adjunct professor.
“My students were volunteers, and we decorated,” Pippin said. “Then the first lady and I did a virtual tour of the mansion so that everyone could see the decorations.”
Pippin’s talent and vision for creating artful floral displays have carried him far in his career, and he remembers where it all began: in Louisa County High School’s horticulture classes. There, he discovered his talent for floral design and horticulture, and met teachers who pushed and encouraged him to go to college.
As a high schooler, Pippin recalls being dead set against going to college until the beginning of his senior year. His mind was changed only after visiting Virginia Tech for the state Future Farmers of America convention in 1978 with his horticulture teacher Nick Soloviev.
“I came back home and shyly went to my guidance counselor and said, ‘I think I want to go to college,’” Pippin said.
Because it was late in the season, Pippin worked on short deadlines. That same week, he took the SAT, and then shortly thereafter submitted his only college application to Virginia Tech.
“My parents never took me to visit any colleges because I had said I wasn’t going to go to college, and at that point in my life, I didn’t know any better,” Pippin said. “It never even crossed my mind I could go out of state.”
He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1984 with a degree in agricultural education with a concentration in horticulture. After that, he worked for retail florists, Mechanicsville High School (formerly Lee-Davis High School) in Hanover County, and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond.
In 2000, Pippin opened his own florist business, David Pippin, Inc., offering floral services for special events such as weddings, parties, and funerals.
“Each chapter things have just sort of evolved, not that I planned it,” Pippin said. “One thing has led to another, and I’ve been very fortunate that it all worked out.”
Pippin uses color and texture to create interesting arrangements, and doesn’t limit himself to just flowers. He incorporates garden foliage, twigs, and other items to capture the essence of an event. And he’s not afraid to get creative.
He incorporated fishing lures in an arrangement for his father-in-law’s funeral. He used pheasant feathers in arrangements for a bride whose father was a pheasant hunter. He placed quirky arrangements in teapots for an Alice in Wonderland-themed wedding, for which he also painted white roses with red paint. For another funeral, he created arrangements that resembled a sunrise at the beach because it was the deceased’s favorite place.
“It just depends on what the client wants, and everyone’s a little bit different,” Pippin said. “That’s why when I talk to clients, I say, ‘Tell me the types of things that you like and let me create for you. You’re going to get a better arrangement rather than me just trying to copy something.’”
Most of the events Pippin had scheduled for 2020 were rescheduled for 2021 or canceled, including a floral design workshop at the Louisa Arts Center originally scheduled for April 2020. This year, he hopes that business picks back up, so he can get back to doing what he enjoys: creating masterpieces meant only for the present moment.
“Flowers are like a well-prepared meal,” Pippin said. “You enjoy it for the moment and then it’s gone. Flowers last a little bit longer than a good meal, but they’re not forever.”