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Martha Starke’s Petal People Designs Are Im-press-ive

Martha Starke has been making her Petal People cards for almost 15 years, but the whimsical designs especially capture the zeitgeist this year. After all, if ever there was a spring so eagerly anticipated, it’s this one. And Starke’s little people, made of colorful pressed flower art, perfectly celebrate that, playfully ushering in spring like little rays of flower-powered sunshine.

Starke has been charmed by flowers her entire life, having enjoyed an idyllic childhood in rural New Hampshire, surrounded by her father’s gardens and orchards. When she and her husband moved to Saratoga Springs in 1998, for him to teach at Skidmore, Starke was already making handmade paper. She set to work planting her own garden, eventually adding bits of botanicals as added color and texture to her papers. From there, it took an ill-fated activity idea for her daughter’s Girl Scout troop to spark her now-popular Petal People. “I thought they would enjoy making little pictures out of flower petals,” she says. “It bombed for them, but it ignited me. I started selling my Petal People with my paper.”

The first iteration was a series of unique art pieces using pressed leaves, ferns and flower petals, plus all kinds of tendrils and stems for detailing. After the idea took off, in around 2006, Starke started making notecard prints out of her treasured works of art. She now sells about 80 designs in her Petal People Etsy store—as well as almost 40 brick-and-mortar stores throughout the US, as far west as Portland, OR and Santa Fe, NM, and even across the Atlantic in Wick, UK. 

Nowadays, Starke doesn’t leave home without her wooden flower press for collecting flora on the go, and she enjoys making new designs that remind her of her travels. (One favorite is called Garden, made of Ixora—think colorful clusters of tiny petals—found in California.) “I hope people feel a story in my designs,” she says, “feel the memories associated with the flowers.”

While Starke looks forward to again meeting customers at craft fairs—and her work at Valley Artisans Market in nearby Cambridge, NY—she’s found peace during COVID. “I’m an introvert,” she says. “I love creating in the studio all day long. That makes me the happiest.”

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