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Arts + CultureArtTosha Stimage's 'SUPERBLOOM' invites Presidio visitors into Bay's rich...

Tosha Stimage’s ‘SUPERBLOOM’ invites Presidio visitors into Bay’s rich floral heritage

Florist's Chilean strawberries and California poppies budded from research into the land.

A few years ago, after a stint teaching art on the East Coast, Tosha Stimage moved out to Los Angeles. She had a hard time finding a job, so she decided to move back to the Bay Area, where she’d gone to grad school at the California College of the Arts and had more connections.

She took the bus up—in March 2020. Right after she moved into her Berkeley apartment, everything changed drastically.

Artist Tosha Stimage

“Literally—and I when I say literally, like the next day—shelter in place was declared, and I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ I didn’t have a plan. I had no job. I had no savings,” Stimage said. “The only thing that I had access to was UC Berkeley, I was a block from the entrance of campus.”

Stimage is from a small town in Mississippi and her family grew things —black eyed peas, okra, greens, and corn. She always had a close relationship with plants, and she saw how the ones on the campus were neglected since there was no staff to take care of them in the pandemic. 

“I was like, ‘This looks like a resource.’ I had an Ikea bag, and I would go and just snip things, and then bring them back to my apartment,” she said. “The only thing that I had was a suitcase with maybe a week’s worth of clothes and a couple of random things. I was making sculptures out of my clothes and shoes, and then I would add plants to it.”

This is what led to Stimage becoming a florist with her business Saint Flora. “The company is an art practice centering and expanding on material exploration/language thru flowers,” announces its website, which offers budding subscription plans for businesses and an enchanting “everlasting lotus dried arrangement.” Based in Oakland, it now operates a pop-up stand at 209 Jackson Street as part of SF New Deal’s Vacant to Vibrant program. 

“I was really a trying to keep myself from going stir crazy because I had no money, no one was hiring, and nothing was open,” Stimage said about that time. “I was really trying to reimagine what it meant to be a creative, and this idea that anything can be art with intention.”

Stimage’s love of plants, and her desire to learn more about them, made her the perfect person to be the third and final artist in the Ancestral Futurism: Looking Back to Repair the Future public art mentorship program at the Presidio Tunnel Tops, which artist and environmental justice activist Favianna Rodriguez launched in July 2022. Following Felicia Gabaldon‘s Iconic Visions, Stimage’s installation, SUPERBLOOMS, went up in earlier this month. There will be an official opening on July 14 with free plant starters, art activities, and DJ sets.

For the installation, Stimage made drawings of plants she saw at the Presidio — the Chilean strawberry, California poppy, and checkerblooms star — and they were digitized and installed between the Transit Center bus drop off and the Picnic Pavilion at the Presidio Tunnel Tops.

Her passion for native plants—not to mention, boundless drive—makes her just the right person for this project, says Amy Deck, senior community partnerships specialist at the Presidio. Deck says she had planned things to do with Stimage such as meetings with experts, guided hikes, and talking with landscape architects, but Stimage was way ahead of her.

Favianna Rodriguez and Tosha Stimage stand amid Stimage’s installation.

“While I was planning all this, she was already in the park on her own, spending time in the field station, meeting staff, and learning about the history of the park,” Deck said. “She was fascinated with the extensive history of land transformation, the different layers that we that have in the Presidio from the Ohlone, all the way through all the military layers to the national park that it is now. She really took a deep dive fast.”

The brightly colored plants and flowers in Stimage’s art installation make people who see it feel more comfortable at the park, Deck thinks.

“It’s located right at the transit center, so for folks that are entering the site via public transportation, they get off and they see these beautiful colors,” Deck said. “It really transforms your first experience and creates this welcome mat to introduce them to the park in a way we didn’t have before.”

Ever since she was little, Stimage knew she would be an artist, she says, remembering the time she and her sister made a mural on their bedroom wall. (Their mother walked in and that was the last time they drew on walls in their house.) In high school, Stimage started making money from her art, drawing portraits of other students who asked drawing their names in bubble letters. She also won some art competitions before going to the Columbus College of Art and Design for her BFA. She first chose to double-major in graphic and fashion design, but she didn’t like it, so she switched to fine art.

“In fine art, I was able to mix together all of these different passions and desires,” Stimage said. “I could design things. I could use textiles. It was a space where there wasn’t as many restricting rules. It allowed me to really explore different mediums to find things that I loved expressing and creating.”

SUPERBLOOMS’ LAUNCH PARTY July 14, noon-3pm. Presidio Tunnel Tops, SF. More information here.

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Emily Wilson
Emily Wilson
Emily Wilson lives in San Francisco. She has written for different outlets, including Smithsonian.com, The Daily Beast, Hyperallergic, Women’s Media Center, The Observer, Alta Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle, California Magazine, UC Santa Cruz Magazine, and SF Weekly. For many years, she taught adults getting their high school diplomas at City College of San Francisco. She hosts the short biweekly podcast Art Is Awesome.

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