2008 MARTHA JOSEPH PRIZE
Donald K. Vanderbrook is an artist whose medium happens to be flowers. He’s a florist – though, as the Plain Dealer said in 2004, “Don Vanderbrook has given the world roses in hues and styles that never existed before.… To say that Don Vanderbrook is a florist is like saying LeBron James can play a little basketball.”
He’s an internationally recognized floral designer, whose work has taken him around the world. His career started out in his hometown of Newark, New Jersey, at the Perkins Rose Company, where he learned to hybridize roses, many of which are still on the market today. After a stint in the army, he attended Cornell University, from which he received his degree in landscape architecture, and started designing for some of the top florists in the country. During the course of his work he came to Cleveland and decided to stay. He purchased a florist shop in Cleveland and also a 10-acre farm in Newbury. He converted the farm into formal English and wild flower gardens, cultivating unusual flowers from England, Holland, Canada and from other parts of the United States.
Among his works outside of Cleveland, Vanderbrook has designed the centerpieces for the Kennedy Honors Awards White House Dinners for 15 years. The National Gallery of Art celebrated one of its most prestigious benefactors, Andrew Mellon, with Vanderbrook’s design of topiary lilac trees for each table. The Gardner Museum in Boston brought him in to create floral displays in each room of the museum for its 75th anniversary. For the National Botanical Gardens in Washington, D.C., he fashioned a special trellised room inside a tent for a performance by Johnny Mathis. He created a carnival effect for the opening-night theater party of Pagliacci at the Washington Opera. He also designed for a garden party and official visit by Queen Elizabeth; a state dinner for Margaret Thatcher; the re-opening of George Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon; and many weddings in New York City and Newport, parties in Palm Beach and Aspen, and much more.
His floral designs and decorations have graced events at many major institutions in this region, including the re-opening party at Severance Hall after its renovation, the opening of the Peter B. Lewis Building on the Case Western Reserve University campus, the openings of University Hospitals’ Lerner Tower and the Cleveland Clinic’s Cole Eye Center, the Ireland Cancer Center’s Five-Star Sensation fund-raiser (for the past 20 years); Akron Children’s Hospital’s Charity Ball (for the past 25 years), the re-opening of Cleveland Botanical Garden and its new Eleanor Armstrong Smith Glasshouse; the Union Club’s 100th anniversary; and Gund Arena’s opening celebration – just to name a few.
Vanderbrook’s work has been pictured in such prestigious publications as House and Garden, Bon Appetite, House Beautiful, Architectural Digest, Flower and Garden Magazine, Colonial Homes, Town & Country, W, and many newspaper articles across the country. He has been on the Garden Club of America’s speakers list for many years, and has lectured around the country and in Canada and Holland. He has also contributed to many nonprofit institutions, serving on their boards and helping to raise funds in Cleveland, the adopted home town he loves.