His work is absolutely remarkable!
John Caleb Pendleton is the founder and creative director of Planks & Pistils, a Chicago-based floral studio that uses art installations to shine a light on Black stories. Hailing originally from Grove Hill, Alabama, Pendleton said his love for woodworking and flowers was inspired by his parents, his studio name a nod to them both. While he didn’t grow up considering himself an artist, it kind of came naturally, his hobby of arranging flowers for his wife turning into a full-fledged business.
Focused on using live flowers to really convey meaning and evoke a feeling, Pendleton has made a name for himself in the windy city, not only for being a Black man in the floral industry but by erecting public art installations honoring Black history. For Pendleton, flowers are the perfect medium for this type of community art, mainly because they make people want to stop and literally smell the roses.
“Flowers force pause. They don’t last long so you have to appreciate them while they decay. And so by creating installations of fresh flowers, I force a communal pause to listen to and take in the story we are trying to communicate. In the grand scheme of time as a continuum, our ancestors were here for but a moment. But those moments they existed, they created beauty and change for us to be here. So, it’s important to use an ephemeral medium to honor the beauty that they created for me, us, to be here,” Pendleton told Because Of Them We Can.
His most recent installation “All These Weeks,” commemorated the 128 weeks from the emancipation proclamation to the final enslaved people gaining their freedom in Galveston, Texas. Installed in honor of Juneteenth, Pendleton gave out 128 hand-tied bouquets to anyone who came to see his work and passersby on the street. When the bouquets were gone, what remained were baby’s breath flowers, cotton, wires, and chain links.
“Intention is key for storytelling. Every color, texture, specific bloom is chosen for a reason. I want people to ask ‘Why?’ when they see my installations in honor of Blackness. Because there’s always a why,” explained Pendleton.
He credits his own ancestors with inspiring him to do this type of deeply moving work, recalling their humble upbringings and how those memories continue to stay with him as he taps into his own sense of freedom and self-care.
“I am thankful for my ancestors working so hard to get me here to this life where I get to create for vocation! I remind myself of this often. Every time I mop my studio floor, I think of my paternal grandma, Earl Dean Pendleton (BigMama), who cleaned white folks’ homes and was then a janitor at my middle school for years. I don’t take it for granted which is why every time I do one of these Black-focused installations, I put my all into it,” Pendleton said.
He has already gained notoriety for his work, Pendleton has been featured in Munaluchi Bridal Magazine, Florists’ Review Magazine, and worked with brands like Nike, Joe Fresh Goods, Smarties, singer Jamila Woods, GOYA Foods, Ferrara Candy (Now & Later), and Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office. Pendleton works to customize his arrangements each time, inspired by small details like birthdates, birthplaces, and state flowers. As he thinks about the future of Planks & Pistils, he wants to tap more into the “planks,” expanding the woodworking element and branching outside of Chi-town.
“The vision is to create a multifaceted creative brand that causes people to think and feel deeply…I want Planks & Pistils to be a brand that is not afraid to try new creative endeavors. I want our Black-focused installations to be done nationally,” he said.
To learn more about Pendleton’s work and order your custom bouquet, visit www.PlanksAndPistils.com.
Cover photo: Meet the Chicago Florist using art installations to shine a light on Blackness/Photo Courtesy of John Caleb Pendleton/Planks&Pistils