Lauren Florence’s popular “Monarch” painting depicts a bison standing stoically among a swarm of butterflies. The scene captures a moment in time and a question: What happens when kingdoms collide?
“We see the monarchs coming through Oklahoma City — it’s so fun to run down to the Myriad Gardens and see all the monarchs on all the flowers — but they’re in the prairie, too. They’re traveling thousands of miles, and at some point, they’re surrounding the bison on the tall grass prairie,” Florence said. “Monarch” was her best-selling print at the [2023?] Festival of the Arts.
Florence has always been fascinated by the American west. Growing up, the Bartlesville native recalls frequent visits to Woolaroc Museum and Wildlife Preserve, a destination filled with buffalo, longhorn cattle and fine Native American and Western art. Even as a child, Florence knew she was an artist … but, like the monarchs, her journey was long.
“I was not allowed to take art classes in high school, because surely there were other classes that would be more beneficial,” said Florence, echoing her parents’ sentiments. “You know, they had my best interests at heart, but I was floundering. At the end of my [college] sophomore year, I knew I was failing my fourth semester of French … and I was stress coloring in my apartment. One of my roommates, a graphic design major, saw me … and she said, ‘Just major in art. Just switch.’”
That nudge was all Florence needed to pivot, and she thrived in the new coursework. However, after graduation, textile design degree in-hand, she still didn’t pursue art. Rather, she worked in oil and gas — quite successfully — in Houston.
“Here I am, I have an office on the 49th floor overlooking Allen Parkway, and I’m killing it — because of the skills I learned in the art department, because I learned how to stand up in front of a group of intimidating people and present my idea,” she said. “I learned how to show up prepared and answer tough questions.”
Then, the 2008 financial crisis forced Florence to rethink her career. At the same time, a Bartlesville friend was selling her local shop, which produced hand-dyed silks for stores nationwide. With ample savings and a desire to feed her inner “maker,” Florence moved home and purchased the businesses.
Painting didn’t come into the picture until Florence was 42, married, living in Oklahoma City and seeking more social interaction after staying home all day with a baby. In her first painting class, instructor Bert Seabourn provided a portrait for the students to paint, prompting Florence to paint figurative works. When she began incorporating animals, insects and fabric-like patterns, a new world unlocked.
“I can combine images to help tell a story, so it’s not just a portrait of a vintage cowgirl. These images are interacting; there’s more of a narrative in the painting,” she said.
Today, Florence’s own narrative includes wholeheartedly supporting the arts. She teaches regularly at Prairie Arts Center in Stillwater, and she’s the 2023 Allied Arts Step-Up Campaign artist. On Sept. 8, her paintings will be included in THE Art Auction to benefit Oklahoma A+ Schools Institute (okaplus.org), promoting arts education in public schools. Florence is currently being represented by Wildfire Gallery at 3005 Paseo, and her work can be found at laurenflorence.com.