Monica Nelson is the author of Edible Flowers (2021) and These Long Shadows: Women’s History in House Museums in the American South (forthcoming) and the founding creative and photo director of Wilder Quarterly. She has worked for fifteen years as an art director and graphic designer.

Edible Flowers: How, Why, and When We Eat Flowers

Edible Flowers is a book about bringing nature as close as possible. Photographed by Adrianna Glaviano, the book organizes over 100 flowers alphabetically by their common name and asks its’ reader to consider how, why, and when we eat flowers. (And perhaps why today, in some cases, we can’t.) Punctuated by simple recipes and short “Flower Eater” essays written by chefs, artists, and writers recalling the use of edible flowers in their personal histories, Edible Flowers casts a wide net on its subject, calling into frame the history of each flower—its journey in and out of fashion, across oceans, and how it lives in culture today.

“Monica digs deep into the cultural history of each native species to build the most intricate profiles that go beyond the beauty of the flower. ‘I’m really interested in the ways that you can use objects and material culture to see more of the world and trace things back to their roots,’ she says.” —Sydney Gore, Architectural Digest

“Monica’s lyrical and reflective writing allows for the notes on symbolism, history, and diverse cultural perspectives, to emerge as thoughtful and wisely considered.” —Olivia Meehan, Toast Magazine

Featured in The New York Times 2021 Holiday Gift Guide, Architectural Digest, Coolhunting, Financial Times How To Spend It, Wallpaper*, Atlas Obscura, Thrillist, and more. 

Writing and Editing

Both design and writing give materiality to ideas. The process of both is collecting, editing, and presenting. Like design, the act of writing can be the act of making images, or it can be the act of culling a concept down to its barest representation, or it can simply be asking a question. Explication and an audience is central to both.
    In 2019, I completed a MA in design research and writing. In my thesis, I wrote that history can be redesigned in historic house museums. I have developed the heart of this work into a forthcoming book titled, These Long Shadows: Women’s History in Historic House Museums in the American South. The book explores 16 houses throughout the South, where the predominant narrative is of a woman and how these women’s stories affect American history at large.
My interest in history began by creating things for the present and asking a lot of questions about the past. If you look at an object long enough, you can see the whole world in it. This idea has directed much of my writing. From Edible Flowers to a porcelain cigarette holder, the statue of liberty, the American South, a home in Savannah, Georgia, and a forthcoming book about antiques, I am endlessly fascinated by the layers of narrative we live with.

Selected writing: “Within Paradise, Water Flows” for Amanjena, “From “Liberty, the Statue” written for the publication of Obituaries of the American Dream by Lizania Cruz, Life Meets Art: Inside the Homes of the World's Most Creative People by Sam Lubell (research), “A Savannah Home Melds Georgian Architecture With ’60s Flair” written for T: The New York Times Style Magazine, “The Tulipiere: A Portable Paradise” written for Jacqueline Sullivan Gallery, and others.

Graphic Design

Though I’ve designed brand systems and email marketing and typography guidelines, most of my graphic design work has involved printing out book paginations and making tiny mockups in various paper stocks for printers. “A book isn’t made for the present, a book is made for the future,” I once heard Irma Boom say in a talk about book design. In addition to this sentiment, I love that books are vessels for content, as I have never been a purely stylish designer.
    I design with content. In Edible Flowers and Wilder Quarterly, the photography is central, and the text is accessible and welcoming in size. In Patina Modern, there is a sense of design history that balances the thoughtfulness of the homes, and the colors used reference the warm wood tones of the furniture. In the box sets I designed for Nonesuch Records, tactility and a sense of intimacy house the records and booklets.
Design is most successful when it can exist in multiple impressions. Some books I’ve designed have lived longer than their intended shelf life. Like a lookbook I designed at Urban Outfitters photographed by Martin Parr, and some of the catalogs we made that still live on despite being made at the brink of e-commerce. 

Selected work: Patina Modern (Artisan), Upstate: Living Spaces with Space to Live (Monacelli Press), Edible Flowers (Monacelli Press), Nonesuch Records, Project: A Journal for Architecture, Urban Outfitters lookbooks and catalogs, Helpful Communication: The Work of Tyler Whisnand, and Wilder Quarterly.

Art Direction

To be an art director is to be in the middle. To translate an image into an idea, or an idea into an image. Sometimes your job is to pass a photo across a conference table while a campaign takes shape, or add an insight from a party, a news article, a song, a painting, or even a single word.
    You take an idea and run with it. You build folders of imagery and watch the meaning of the pictures shift as you put words beside them. You get on conference calls and volley references to directors and photographers. On day three of a shoot when the photographer wants to paint the feet of the model to match a pair of lavender jeans, it is your job to orchestrate the concept on set with the agency, the client, and the crew. To be an art director is to sit in edit bays for weeks, to rewrite voiceovers, to make a mess, to organize, and to tie tiny bows with the loose ends.
I love collecting and editing and presenting ideas. I have collaborated with over 100 photographers, writers, artists, stylists, creative directors, cinematographers, editors, producers, directors, illustrators, musicians, and designers. I’ve written scripts and edited thousands upon thousands of photos. I’ve been on press for printed catalogs and I helped create a brand for digitally native girls. I’ve worked with global clothing brands and art institutions. I have followed a nonlinear path. Being in the center of it all has always felt the best to me. 

Selected Clients: Urban Outfitters, GAP, Levi’s (with Wieden + Kennedy, Portland), Sony, BeautyCounter, Nike, The MacArthur Foundation, Banana Republic, Revlon, Yabu Pushelberg, Jeep, MoMA Design Store Catalog (with Base Design), Delta, Target, Casper, Kate Spade New York and others.