Floral whiz Cathy Graham discusses her new book and passion
As a young, single fashion illustrator living a bohemian life in SoHo, Cathy Barancik Graham never expected to one day become a hostess known on New York City’s high-society dinner-party circuit for her stylish and whimsical table settings.
Nor did she anticipate she would ever see a book published about her “tablescapes,” in which her flower arrangements often co-mingle with quirky miniatures from her extensive collection. Those might include dollhouse furniture, toy cans of vegetables, vintage model cars, animal figurines and fashion dolls.
But life, as Graham told an audience Thursday at the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, can take radical turns. About 2½ years ago when she was 61, her husband of 30 years, Stephen Graham — the youngest son of the late Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham — told her he wanted a divorce, she said.
“My life as I knew it came to a halt,” she said.
Raised in Chicago, she recalled how she had worked hard during the first years of her marriage learning the ropes of sophisticated entertaining and flower arranging. She holds a degree in fashion illustration from the Rhode island School of Design and studied at Parsons, and her clients included Bergdorf Goodman and Estee Lauder. Her award-winning illustrations found their way into publications such as Rolling Stone and The New York Times.
But her marriage introduced her to a completely new way of life.
“I said goodbye to SoHo and sold my loft and moved into the (Upper East Side) townhome where I still live today,” she recalled. “This was rather daunting for an extremely shy fashion illustrator.”
She found herself in a whirl of charity luncheons and dinner parties — some hosted by Katharine Graham, whose legendary entertaining skills were showcased in last year’s Oscar-nominated film The Post, in which the publisher was played by Meryl Streep.
Along the way, Cathy Graham developed a close friendship and working relationship with a mentor, the late event designer and floral guru Robert Isabell. Drawing on her own well-developed artistic sense, she learned firsthand what goes into successful parties and deepened her knowledge of flowers and floral design.
And then came the divorce. She was devastated and depressed, she said, and a good friend suggested that she find solace in her lifelong love of drawing and painting. Her friend suggested Graham post a drawing a day on her Instagram account, which she did.
Eventually, she came to a realization: “I decided I was too old to be bitter, angry or resentful,” she says. “And my life has opened up.”
Her Instagram posts — plus her reputation as a savvy hostess — eventually led to the deal for the book, which was written by Alexis Clark. Reflecting a bit of irony, it’s titled Second Bloom, with the subtitle Cathy Graham’s Art of the Table (Vendome Press, $35). The book is filled with colorful photography, by Quentin Bacon and Andrew Ingalls, of Graham’s watercolors, floral arrangements, invitations and homes.
Second Bloom also is the name of her business, which so far includes a candle for Nest Fragrances, textile designs, and a line of pajamas and aprons. Some of those products were featured Thursday at a trunk show and reception at Mary Ma-
Cathy Graham’s daily Instagram postings of her drawings, plus her reputation as a savvy hostess, led to the publication of “Second Bloom.”
For an outdoor luncheon, Graham placed antique plates on a pale-aqua tablecloth and arranged lemons and peaches, accented by lemon leaves, in glass bowls.
“Second Bloom: Cathy Graham’s Art of the Table,” by Alexis Clark and published by Vendome Press, focuses on Graham’s fresh take on entertaining and floral decorations.