Mayumi - a blossoming artist who works in petals, not paints

May 13, 2014
Mayumi Williamson has been creating unique works of art for her customers in the Lewes area for 15 years. BY KATHRYN HARRIS

She approaches her floral arrangements the way a sculptor approaches her clay or a painter approaches her canvas - with the goal of creating a unique work of art. She also goes the extra yard, literally.

Once, while creating a funeral arrangement for someone she knew, she needed some specific branches. Instead of using materials she had on hand, she drove through Lewes. She saw the branches she needed in a front yard. She knocked on the door and asked permission to take some.

“If I know the person, I try to think about what that person would like. Depending on the time of season and what’s available, I try to make it a good match. The way I was taught, it has to be authentic. It’s the Japanese way,” she said.

Mayumi (Shoyi) Williamson has been creating exquisite floral arrangements since studying art in Kyoto, Japan, in the 1980s. For the past 15 years, Flowers by Mayumi on Second Street in Lewes has designed beautiful, living arrangements for weddings, funerals, events and other special occasions.

Her approach to floral design is a refined natural style - East meets West, not only influenced by Japanese Ikebana style, but inspired by Dutch, English and French styles. Her company strives to be one of Delaware’s most innovative and unique florists. She specializes in high-style floral designs and offers a wide variety of merchandise as a specialty store for nature, plants and flower lovers.

Mayumi was born in Shizuoka, Japan, near Mt. Fuji. Her parents had a small garden business selling seeds, plants and gardening tools. They were also into organic farming. “We frequently had vegetable tasting at the dinner table,” she said. Although she doesn’t remember thinking she would ever have a future in flowers, the organic fruits and vegetables she was raised on gave her an appreciation for quality fruits, vegetables and plants. “I could tell the difference between the taste of a fresh watermelon and one that wasn’t,” she says. She adopted the same high standards when it came to her flowers.

Flower power

Mayumi studied Japanese traditional arts in college including tea ceremony, Japanese painting and Ikebana flower arranging. She soon discovered that flowers were a wonderful medium to work with for artistic expression. “I used to paint, but Japanese art takes a lot of patience, and floral design allows you to express yourself artistically in a shorter amount of time.”

After graduation, she worked as a volunteer for the Sangetsu Ikebana School that was expanding to the U.S. She moved to Washington, D.C., and was soon working, learning English - and meeting her future husband, Jeffrey Williamson. They married in 1984 and moved to Lewes.

Over the next 15 years, Mayumi worked as a floral designer at several area stores honing her skills and raising her daughter, Ann. While visiting her family in Japan in 1998, she got an excited phone call from her husband that changed her life. “He called and said there was a little store space on Second Street in downtown Lewes and did I want to open my own floral business.” She did.

Her first location was in the back of Twila Farrell, a woman’s apparel boutique. Nobody knew where she was at first, but over time, and because of the quality of her work, word spread. “The people in Lewes are very kind,” said Mayumi. “There are no Buy Local programs here, but they do it on their own to support downtown businesses. The flower business is unique in that only a small percentage of people buy flowers, but those who do tend to buy frequently.” In 2003, she moved to her current location at 128 Second St. “From the beginning, it’s been fun coming to work,” she said. “To be able to work at what you love is a dream come true.”

Competing with the big boxes

But even a creative business has to play by the rules of business. Mayumi admits that she still struggles balancing art and business. “Business is not my field,” she admitted. “If I had my choice, I’d stay on the creative side. Large companies are separated into different departments: sales, advertising, and artistic creation, etc. With a small business, you have to do it all. That’s the biggest challenge for me.”

And speaking of big floral companies, they pose the biggest threat to her business. There are two types of companies: the giant retailers and supermarkets, and the internet- based flower-ordering companies.

“When we receive phone calls asking, ‘Are you actually located in Lewes?’ I know they’ve had a bad experience placing flower orders with a big company," said Mayumi. They know that the big internet/phone florists do not actually own flower shops. They take the order, then call a local florist like us to fill the order. She’s better off calling us first to place her order.”

Today, most big floral companies operate outside the U.S. One made national news after Valentine's Day when it disappointed a large numbers of customers. “If you order locally, you save money, get better service and support a local business," said Mayumi. “We have a toll-free number, or you can place your order online." She said the high quality of her product also separates her service from the big retailers.

And she has been successful going toe-to-toe with the big-box florists. Flowers by Mayumi was voted Best Wedding Florist by Delaware Today Magazine. Mayumi wants to be involved with every arrangement. “People tell me, 'You’re here all the time; you work too much’. But I feel I have to be if I’m going to give my customers the best possible service. If I’m away from the shop and there’s a problem, I feel terrible. I have a great staff, but I still want to be there.”

“What makes her unique is the way she listens,” said longtime customer Stacy Short of Lewes. “You explain what you want, and she comes back with something creative. She also has a way of using natural material like branches to make your arrangement unique.” Mayumi personally designs 80 percent of her arrangements. She has fresh flowers delivered daily from all over the world. So why are her flowers such a popular gift? “Most people want something special when they give flowers," she said.  "I’m not really into material things, but flowers are a gift from nature. They are living things - their colors, their scent. They’re just beautiful.”

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