Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Balance & Harmony: The art of Ikebana blossoms in Harrisburg.

For Ellen Kelley, Ikebana isn’t about showing off an artist’s perfection or proficiency.

Instead, the minimalist art of Japanese flower arrangement is more a display of each artist’s “individuality and spirituality,” said the Dickinson Township resident.

“I love it so much that it doesn’t bother me that I’m not that accomplished,” she said. “Perfection is not the goal. Imperfection is part of the art. I find it very calming.”

Kelley is a member of the Harrisburg chapter of Ikebana International, a nonprofit cultural organization dedicated to the promotion and appreciation of ikebana.

In 1956, Ellen Gordon Allen of Washington, D.C., founded the organization, bringing to this country an art she learned while stationed with her husband in Tokyo. Since then, the volunteer organization has spread across the globe to 161 chapters in more than 50 nations, all united through Ikebana’s worldwide motto, “Friendship through Flowers.”

Harrisburg chapter #18 was chartered soon after, in September 1958, and celebrated its 60th anniversary last year. Alice Hartman of Linglestown joined in 1983, making her the chapter’s longest-serving current member. Hartman, 83, said she stayed on because “its purpose matched my purpose.”

“It’s extremely artistic,” she said. “About 50 percent of our charter is artists. I’m an interior designer, and there’s one other. Ten of our people are taking art lessons now. Many are people who are interested in flowers.”

Hartman also likes being part of a worldwide organization like Ikebana International that promotes cultural understanding, as well as the arts, she added.

Ikebana’s origins trace back to 15th-century Japan and Yoshimasa, the eighth Ashikaga shogun, according to Kelley.

Yoshimasa is remembered as a devout Zen Buddhist who embraced all related arts. Floral arts already were prominent in Buddhist temples and practices during this time. Monks who created arrangements as temple offerings are considered to be the first Ikebana artists.

“Ikebana is a very subtle and elegant sort of communion with nature,” Kelley said. “People love its aesthetics and beauty. It’s about going out into nature to find things for your arrangements. In any sort of art form, you have to love the process.”

She discovered Ikebana several years ago when stationed with her husband in Japan. She looked up the Harrisburg chapter after returning to central Pennsylvania in 2006. The club currently has 35 members.

“Ikebana doesn’t take a lot of flowers, so it’s economical,” she said. “A lot of things we use are just twigs and grass. It’s about taking something from your backyard and turning it into something beautiful.”

Ikebana is divided into several schools, or disciplines, in a method similar to martial arts. In Harrisburg, the schools of Ichiyo, Ikenobo and Sogetsu are represented, each with its own style. Proficiency levels range from beginners to masters, with classes taught by a variety of Ikebana experts hailing from Pennsylvania and Maryland.

“Our members come from many backgrounds,” Kelley said. “We have moms, teachers, librarians, a dentist. All came with little or no experience. We help you learn and grow. There is no timeline, no pressure.”

Each year, Harrisburg chapter members display their art at the annual Garden Faire at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park in Susquehanna Township. This year’s event is scheduled for May 5 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“It’s a great place to see what we are,” Kelley said. “People are full of questions when they see us. They’re used to the Western part of flower arranging. Ikebana is about balance and harmony. It satisfies in a way that intrigues people.”

The Garden Faire also features displays by the Susquehanna Bonsai Club, music, a café, plant and craft vendors, an art show/sale and more. For details, visit

Hartman said that the Harrisburg chapter still carries the same purpose as when she joined in 1982, but the generations have changed since then.

“People have a different approach today,” she said. “It’s a whole different atmosphere.”

Hartman worries about the Harrisburg chapter carrying on because its membership is getting older. The club is hoping to attract a new crowd through more public exposure.

“Come when you can,” Kelley said, urging anyone who may be interested. “We don’t take attendance to keep track of who comes to a meeting. Many of our members were still working full-time when they joined. They came when they could.”

The Harrisburg Chapter of Ikebana International meets the first Wednesday of each month from September through May. Most meetings are held at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 2000 Chestnut St., Camp Hill. For details, visit

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