A Nike Air Jordan sneaker lay sopping wet on a table in the flower studio at Tea Lane Farm on Tuesday. Flower artist Ellie Wetherbee had just finished carving the green floral foam into the shape of the old school sneaker and soaked it before she began to add flowers to the shape.
“It’s like carving a big block of cheese,” she said as she carefully scraped away the final shape of the shoe.
Ms. Wetherbee works for flower farmer Krishana Collins, but on Tuesday night she put down the shears at the Chilmark farm and turned her attention to the sneaker. Her task was to create a replica of the first edition Air Jordan, originally released in 1984. The shoe was displayed Wednesday night at the grand opening of the Sneaker Museum in Boston, held at the Revere Hotel. The pop-up museum has no permanent space, but will instead host events and curate classic sneaker shows at venues around the city.
Ms. Wetherbee helped come up with the theme for the launch party.
“Keep it fresh,” she said with a smooth glide of her hand. “I think a sneaker and flower is the perfect way to remind people — you gotta keep it fresh.”
Ms. Wetherbee studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and, together with friends, opened a gallery in the city called Yes Oui Si. One of those friends, Olivia Ives-Flores, is now the curator for the Sneaker Museum. She commissioned Ms. Wetherbee to create the piece just last week.
“She said, I need something fabulous for [the opening] . . . so I was thinking about asking you guys, could you make a sneaker out of flowers?” Ms. Wetherbee recalled. “And I said, yes. I think I’m the only woman in the world who could do that for you.”
“I had no idea how seriously obsessed ‘sneaker-heads’ are and how passionate they are about it,” she added.
The Air Jordan has taken many forms — high-top, low-top, different colors and patterns — but for Ms. Wetherbee and her friends, it was all about getting back to basics from the stem to sole.
“It was really difficult figuring out how many flowers to order. We don’t have any black flowers growing,” she said, thinking about the traditional Nike swoosh.
She decided to replicate the red, white and black leather shoe with red roses, black calla lilies and white spider mums. Ms. Wetherbee planned to visit the Boston Flower Market on Wednesday morning to add in details for laces and emblems.
The black calla lilies “are the perfect shape” for the Nike swoosh, Ms. Wetherbee said. The white leather is represented through spider mums, “a modern looking flower that kind of looks like a firework.” And the red design is done in red roses.
“All roses were originally grafted from a red rose,” Ms. Wetherbee said. “If a rose gets a disease it will sometimes revert back to its original red. I thought it was a perfect comparison because I’m doing the original Air Jordan — like the red rose graft that grew from them all and the first fly sneaker that started it all.”
The shoe will stay vibrant for about four days, and will wither within a week, she said.
Ms. Wetherbee said the assignment, while unusual, is in keeping with her artistic goals.
“I really consider myself an artist who works with flowers, not just a florist,” she said. “It’s really exciting because it’s my first commissioned piece and I get to be doing it with my friends and fellow artists up in Boston.”
Ms. Wetherbee has worked for Ms. Collins for seven years, farming the land and arranging flowers for special events. She discovered the art of floral sculpture while designing several red arrows for a wedding last summer. Since then she’s dabbled in bird sculptures and wild headdresses, but nothing on the scale of the sneaker.
“This is what I want to do,” she said. “It’s a market I’m trying to carve out for myself.”
Standing in the greenhouse with a hose in her hand, wide-brimmed hat shading her face and dirt smeared on her cheek, she admitted there are no sneakers in her closet.
“Just dirty farm boots and some high heels,” she laughed. “But what I really want is a pair of solid gold sneakers.”