Despite graduating with a degree in Fine Art, Rachel Dein never saw herself earning a living as an artist. So, she began her early career as a prop maker, quickly making her way into London’s West End theatres, the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera.
“It wasn’t until I had children that I began thinking, what could I do now? It isn’t so easy, juggling three kids with a career in prop making – the hours are pretty erratic, and it’s surprisingly demanding!”
Drawing on her background in fine art, Rachel began experimenting with plaster casts, adapting a method traditionally used for glass-casting to create delicate imprints of her children’s toys; a niece’s long-outgrown dress; shells found during walks on the beach and, as autumn arrived, fallen leaves from the garden.
With nature already a recurring theme in her work — at art school, one of Rachel’s favourite pieces was born from a memory of throwing melon seeds down a sink, only to discover, weeks later, plants growing up through the overflow — it wasn’t long before her sights turned to flowers.
“I decided to cast my own wedding bouquet, albeit eight years later! I remembered the varieties like it was yesterday; beautiful spring flowers including delicate, blue Muscari. I bought them again and created my very first bridal flower cast.”
We heard they became very popular?
Rachel laughs. “Yes, although there was a bit of a horror story there. One was finished and ready to photograph when it fell from the worktop, breaking into pieces. Naturally, having already pressed the flowers I couldn’t use them to make it again, it was a disaster! Fortunately, the client was very understanding, and we were able to resurrect some of the parts.”
Minor hiccups aside, Rachel went on to sell her casts in a local gallery before capturing the attention of Gardens Illustrated magazine who commissioned a number of pieces for a feature. Soon, people began to take notice.
“The tiles for Gardens Illustrated were, naturally, made up of varieties traditionally found in gardens and allotments. It saw me move away from ‘flower shop’ flowers and start hunting around, foraging outdoors. Now I love nothing more than discovering new types to cast; brambles, nettles – my most recent experiment was with a branch from a Handkerchief tree. It turned out beautifully.”
Fast forward several years and today Rachel is busily preparing for the upcoming Chelsea Flower Show, where her latest collection of vegetable and plant casts will be hanging in the revered Jardin Blanc restaurant.
“Showing at the Chelsea Flower Show is a privilege in itself, and even more so this year as the Queen will be taking her traditional afternoon tea next to my plaques!” says Rachel, excitedly. “Naturally no photos are allowed, which is a shame, but I do hope she notices them…”
And what’s in store for the future?
“I’m currently working on some really exciting projects, including a collaboration with the Chelsea Physic Garden, the oldest botanic garden in London and once one of the most important centres of botany and plant exchange in the world. I’m also starting work soon at Hidcote Manor, documenting their gardens in plaster throughout the seasons until the end of 2018.”
Keeping busy then!
“It is a lot to tackle and I’m very busy,” Rachel admits. “But I love what I do, and feel so fortunate that this is my career. The only worry I have at the moment is getting these rather large plaster tiles to the show in one piece!”
Visitors to the show this year can visit Rachel’s stand from Tues 23 until Thurs 25 May. Reservations can also be made to dine in the Jardin Blanc restaurant, where Rachel’s work will be on display.