On a given day at the Met, one of his arrangements is the centerpiece of the sprawling lobby, towering some 10 to 12 feet tall from its perch atop the information desk. Nearby, four other bouquets burst from sandstone alcoves. Sometimes, they are delicate, dotted with soft, feathery buds. Other times, they’re bold and profuse, punctuated with tropical, neon-bright seed pods. Often, they’re inspired by the very art housed in the museum’s galleries.
For as long as he can remember, Van Vliet’s life has been defined by a mix of flowers and art. Growing up in Holland, his family’s roots were firmly planted in the prosperous Dutch horticulture industry (famous for its tulips). His great-grandfather had grown flowers for a living, while his grandfather and father became florists. Van Vliet was raised in his father’s shop and began arranging flowers not by choice, but “out of obligation,” he remembered, with a laugh. “It’s kind of like being the son of a butcher or baker—you have to help out in the family business. So that’s what I did.”
He spent the majority of his young life in the family store, arranging as many as 40 to 50 bouquets per day for locals and the occasional royal. Each small-ish arrangement took him around 10 minutes to assemble; he plucked flowers from a patchwork of buckets behind the counter as he went.
When he wasn’t in the shop, Van Vliet immersed himself in art. (His grandfather, who’d painted and collected art on the side, had rubbed off on his grandson in this way, too.) In school, he learned painting, etching, watercolors, welding, and art history; he remembers at least two works from the Met’s collection showing up on his final exams.