Arcata Eye Scene

A-town art, music, theatre. Mostly music. Updated Wednesdays.

Suzy’s blooming business (from the Oct. 28, 2008 print edition)

Doers & Makers
by Jennifer Savage
Eye Scene Editor

One of Arcata’s endearing qualities is how the city draws so many interesting, creative people to it – but rarely are those the same people whose appearance and demeanor scream, “Look at me!”

Instead, that nondescript guy waiting patiently in line ahead of you turns out to be smoke jumper… or you discover your daughter’s preschool teacher spent a year in the Merchant Marines.

No one would call Bayside’s tall and striking Suzy Haggerty nondescript, but neither would most passerby instantly guess she’d once faced off with a grizzly during one of her many Alaskan summers. Those who do know Suzy would likely associate her with flowers – Suzy Haggerty Designs, with a new floral stand in Old Town Eureka’s Shipwreck boutique – but the trip along the way has been fraught with travel and adventure.

An exchange trip to Kenya during her Healdsburg high school years yielded a determination to see as much of the world as possible. ‘The entire experience was so mind-blowing,” Haggerty recalled. “I’d just turned 17 and was very independent. I did a lot of traveling with other teens… we’d take buses and taxis to the other side of the country.” Although the weeks included some scary moments, such as carrying a malaria-ridden friend to an African medical clinic, the overriding sense was one of “high adventure.”

During that time, Haggerty and a friend she made from New York decided to meet and live together in Boulder, Colo. The friend never showed, but Haggerty stayed on before eventually making her way, with three other friends, to the coast of Baja, where they lived in a palapa on the beach in Mulege until money ran out. “I would work to save money to go on another trip,” Haggerty said.

She “dabbled” in school, but left again – this time to Ecuador, staying with a friend who’d been an exchange student in her high school. She spent five months there, then, through a friend of a friend, ended up in Alaska. “I met these people playing [disc] golf,” she explained, which led to a housekeeping job and running eco-tourism trips on the Kanai Peninsula.

“Amazing,” she said. ‘Snapping its jaws’ And then there was that time with the grizzly….

Haggerty and a friend were camping, sleeping, when she woke up to the sensation of paws pushing on her head through the tent. Dawn lingered on the verge of breaking while the two lay listening to the bear through the fabric. “Its claws weren’t poking through,” she remembered, “but we could hear it snapping its jaws. I was petrified.” Haggerty recalled advice to talk softly and act in a nonthreatening manner. To that end, she and her friend began singing nursery rhymes. “I was shaking so hard,” Haggerty said, demonstrating the itsy-bitsy-spider with nervous hands.

The grizzly continued to circle and gently push on the tent, but eventually the lack of food caused it to lose interest. I remember finally unzipping the tent,” Haggerty said, “and seeing the world after thinking we might be torn to bits.” Undaunted, her love affair with Alaska continued as she spent summers there and the rest of her time between California and Boulder.

In addition to river guiding, Haggerty enlightened tourists on various Alaskan flora and fauna. She’d cultivated a passion for flowers early in life, one which continued even after she set down roots in Arcata. At 14, her orthodontist, who also grew flowers in the backyard of his home-based office, hired her to help with the floral business. “That’s what he did,” Haggerty laughed, “hired his patients.” She spent afterschool hours and weekends growing, cutting and making bouquets to sell at area farmers’ markets.

As an adult, her artistry expanded into college, where Haggerty majored in art, with a special fondness for ceramics and jewelry-making. She arrived in Arcata in 1995 and prior to graduating from Humboldt State University, attended College of the Redwoods. Haggerty credited CR instructor Chris Patzlaff with providing the realization that an art degree was a possibility. “I thought I might be a teacher,” she said.

Another influential teacher was David LaPlatz, who Haggerty called “phenomenal.” Her interest in ceramics and metals continued as she alternated between large- scale projects and jewelry. “And then I put it all away to have kids,” she said.

But before stepson Noah, 17, daughter Simone, 6, and son Riley, 2 1/2, was Cisco. In Acoustic Gypsies when they met, currently of The Striped Pig String Band, the blossomed into friendship, then romance, then marriage in 2000. In the perennial mix, jobs at Flowers on the Plaza, employment as gardener for Ferndale’s Gingerbread Mansion, managing Wildberries’ flower section, “always gardening or flowers.” Six years ago, she cultivated her knowledge into Suzy Haggerty Designs, “flowers for all occasions.”

Now she’s entering a new phrase: a full-service floral stand in Shipwreck, a cooperative boutique featuring “an inspired and curated collection of locally made unique vintage and modern treasures” located on Third Street in Old Town Eureka, between E and F streets. Regular accounts include the Ingomar Club and the Sea Grill, as well as a number of individuals. Her heart lies in local and seasonal, but different occasions call for different forms of creativity.

“With flowers, whatever people want, I’ll do,” Haggerty said. She also decorates beyond flowers. ”That’s where the art degree comes in,” Haggerty said. She hopes to get back to jewelry in the future and finds her time at Shipwreck inspiring. Weddings provide the bulk of Suzy Haggerty Designs’ business, as well as specific challenges. “Everything has to be perfect for one day,” Haggerty said. Flowers have to be open, but not wilting. ”You learn over time to order certain ones in advance and others at the last minute,” she said.

Likewise, to keep the flower stand appealing to the eye, Haggerty must choose carefully. “It’s like an old-fashioned florist,” she continued, “where you can touch and smell flowers that have been grown and picked locally” – she credits Flora Organica for dependably providing some of her favorite flowers.

Among the upcoming floral offerings are bulb flowers bursting out of vintage containers, Thanksgiving centerpieces in real pumpkins and a presence at Arts Alive!, where Haggerty’s talents will once again merge. “I do see it as an art form,” she said of her work.

Suzy Haggerty can be reached at Shipwreck, 322 F St. in Eureka, or at (707) 825-9106.

1 Comment»

  Hugh wrote @

Suzy rocks!

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