Last Christmas I struggled over an Art Nouveau design for a compact mirror. My sketches just weren't working. But I was led by my research to the 19th century flower studies of Parisian artist Riom. I was sure there was something in his repeating curves and symmetries.
My favourite was Riom's study of nasturtiums. Could I take a British wildflower and contrast it with those sweeping, repetitive lines?
I remembered our little blue wildflower, the forget-me-not, and in those dark December days its cheery five petals became an obsession.
If you lived in England before about 1800 you'd have known forget-me-not flowers as "Scorpion Grass". Botanically, the name's Myosotis scorpiodes. In rough translation this means "Scorpion Mouse Ears".
But in the early 19th century British poet Coleridge did his best to popularise the German folklore around our scorpion-mouse flower.
A knight out walking with his beloved by the river stopped to pick Myosotis flowers. Naturally, this being folklore, he fell in and drowned a watery death. But before fully submerged, pulled into the depths by his own armour, he threw the flowers to his love and cried "Vergisz mein nicht!" ("Forget me not!").
The flower became "Vergissmeinnicht" in German and "Le ne m'oubliex pas" in French. Coleridge must have encountered the name on his visits to Germany, and in 1805 published his poem "The Keepsake":
The Victorians took Coleridge's keepsake to heart, and the forget-me-not began to appear as a symbol of love and remembrance.
Incidentally, something in the British character is drawn to imagery of wildflowers with rivers. See the enduring appeal of Millais's Ophelia or Maggie Tulliver's demise in George Eliot's Mill on the Floss. (So much so that here's The Guardian's Top Ten Fictional Drownings.)
For me, the forget-me-not lore grew into a design in my notebook. Then into a die for pressing the metal for my mirrors. I think there's romance in a fragile wildflower being pressed into metal.
The design became a UK and USA favourite for its meaning of love, memory and romance. Then early this year, I was surprised to discover another European belief for this little flower.
In translating our Amazon listings into Italian, forget-me-not became 'Occhi della Madonna' - "The eyes of the Madonna". For some Christians, Jesus turned the blue of his mothers eyes into the forget-me-not flower, so that the world might remember their colour.
It's why you'll see forget-me-nots in European religious paintings, like this by Rubens and Brueghel.
So, the forget-me-not became a motif in my work thanks to Coleridge via Flora Britannica. It's since reappeared in my embroidery and paintings. The flower, and its symbolism, has become a design obsession.
Forget-me-nots from Scorpion Mouse Ears to the Madonna's eyes, via rivers to compact mirrors as gifts of love. I'm sure this British wildflower will have many more stories to come.
(And some further reading...