CLINTON — A warm spring breeze wafted through From Stem to Fern on opening day.
On Wednesday, May 20, Owner Emily Cross welcomed her first customer and was beaming, albeit beneath a yellow zebra-patterned protective face mask.
“I have so much positive anticipation and excitement to finally be able to share what I’ve been building here,” says Cross.
As a botanical artist, she offers her own work in her COVID-19 proofed boutique, in addition to the creations of seven other Connecticut artisans.
With an original planned opening on April 1, Cross spent the COVID-19 quarantine alone in her 900-square-foot shop sprucing it up and eagerly awaiting visitors.
“Today, being able to finally open, I’m just so excited to see who shows up and to see who takes what home and to see...just everything about it,” she adds. “It’s so exciting.”
Sharing this enthusiasm was her first customer of the day, Clinton resident Kathy MacGregor. After roaming the store, inspecting many pieces, she chose a shallow, distressed metal tray, with three votive candles surrounded by shells and rocks.
“It’s awesome,” she says. “I used to come here all the time when it was Party Bazaar, so when I walked in here, wow, it’s bright and light and all the plants.”
The sun-lit store at 26 West Main St., is at the site of the former Party Bazaar that closed in 2015. The old shop is fondly remembered as the go-to party supply place and was crammed to the gills with nearly every conceivable festive novelty and gag gift items.
“Chaos, total chaos,” says jewelry artist Alicia Brockett, recalling the former store that offered feather tiaras, black cream makeup, autumn leaf cutouts, metallic Jack-o’-lanterns, Santa hats, festive piñatas and cake decorating supplies that rivaled most local stores, plus much more.
“Lots of great stuff, but it was so packed I didn’t realize it was so spacious and no one ever noticed that there’s a fireplace in here,” the one store employee remembers, laughing.
Cross may add a small display of mood rings in From Stem to Fern — a nod to the former store’s hodge-podge of merchandise.
Now, sunlight pours in through large plate glass windows and the white walls and hardwood floors make the space bright and airy.
She also envisions working on a downtown beautification project, doing some landscaping, in addition to adding a sculpture and a sitting area to the lawn outside the boutique.
Back inside, while the ferns, air plants, succulents and terrariums are Cross’ creations, all the other merchandise is specially curated from many artisans.
“I love creating an environment that people walk in and it just makes them feel good,” says Cross.
“Eventually I want to get rid of everything that’s imported and have all local things,” she says.
In the store, Cross’s touch as a botanical artist is everywhere. Air succulents perch on ladders, ferns of all different varieties are draped on empty wire spools, and delicate air plants and verdant vertical gardens hang from the walls.
“I teach people how to be successful with their plants, especially in Connecticut throughout the winter, which is a challenge even for the best of us,” Cross explains.
Customers belly up to a former bar, complete with pipes at the base that were used as a footrest, to complete their transactions.
Creating a barrier between the customers and Cross is a 28-by-60 inch antique window bolted to the bar top.
All along the hardwood floors are shell, succulent and flower stickers, created by Cross’s 28-year-old daughter, Charlotte, to assist customers in standing 6 feet apart.
“I’ve been trying, just over the last couple of days, to figure out how to be even more than COVID compliant, really safe, without compromising too much beauty in the shop,” says Cross.
And the proprietor does have an eye for beauty and has been on the look out for it since last year. Cross met most of her curated artists during her eight months at Old Saybrook’s Estate Treasures in 2019.
The opening of From Stem to Fern is perfect timing for artist Steve Cote. Looking towards his retirement in September, after 20 years as a corrections officer, he looks forward to immersing himself in his artwork.
With a pyrography pen he burns incredibly detailed images onto hand-fashioned wooden objects. His Cote Customs, LLC work includes an oar spruced up with an intricate fish on the paddle, cutting boards ornamented with single lobster claws and wooden spoons sporting burned-in images of lobsters, starfish and boats — all in a shoreline motif.
He works on curly maple, oak and basswood.
“I’ll take just take a piece of wood and then I shape it into what I want to burn on it,” the 49-year-old says. “I make my own cutting boards.”
An oak wine barrel, cut to create wall art and then emblazoned with an enormous octopus enjoying a glass of Merlot, was once used to age wine at Clinton’s Chamard Vineyards.
Cote appreciates the opportunity to have his work showcased in From Stem to Fern.
“I wanted to get my foot in the door somewhere along the shore because I do a lot of nautical themes, like fish, for my creations,” says Cote.
Clinton residents Rod Recor and his wife, Karen Green Recor, are also pleased about having their art displayed locally. Rod Recor carves “almost anything” out of Stony Creek and Haddam Grey granite, while his wife, Karen creates abstract mixed media paintings.
“When I see a piece of stone I always try to picture something,” he says.
“Many times some of the pieces that I do, I have an idea before I start, but it usually morphs into something else while I’m working on the piece,” he adds.
Among the items displayed at From Stem to Fern is Ron Recor’s Blossom Bowl created from Stony Creek speckled granite.
“I call them bowls, but they can be used for almost anything,” he says. “Most of them are for either dry arrangements. Sometimes I’ll put in — if I find some crystals or some unusual rocks or shells — I’ll put them in for decorations.”
Ron Recor says the bowls can also be used for serving food.
While Brockett has been making jewelry for years, her passion has been reignited by having her Boho Bijoux designs at From Stem to Fern.
In keeping with the airy, light, Shoreline theme, Brockett’s necklaces, bracelets, and earrings are delicate, some incorporating stones and teeny tiny shells collected along the Shoreline.
One of her newest creations, a small glass vessel filled with tiny shells, hangs from a sterling silver chain.
Other designs incorporate amethyst, rose quartz, ocean jasper, amazonite and quartz crystal.
“The stones I also love to use because they have so many healing powers, as many believe, and what’s better than healing and fashion in one,” she says.
Even her display case, lined with sand and shells, was a refurbished glass front case, hand-done by Brockett.
Cote seems to be speaking for all the artists when he says he is excited to be joining so many other artists at From Stem to Fern.
“It just seems like everybody’s just very passionate about what they do and that is the vibe I was looking for,” he says. “There’s just such a good vibe in the store.”
Cross envisions a constantly changing inventory, always keeping it unique.
“I’m always going to be carrying different things,” she says. “A lot of it is based on what I have, once I use it up, I’m going to try something new, so it’s always going to be changing.”
From Stem to Fern, 26 W Main St, Clinton, 860-552-3632; Facebook From Stem to Fern; Instagram stemtofern