Jack Morris: A Modern Renaissance Man

By Lauren E. Sanchez

Entering the dental school, you may notice the exquisite floral arrangements that consistently brighten up the lobby area of the Molinari Great Hall. Alternating seasonally with unique designs, the flowers leave an impact on everyone’s day. These arrangements are cutting edge, artistic and sometimes quite large, depending on the season. The floral installations are spearheaded by one dental hygienist in the Special Care Clinic, Jack Morris. With an extensive background in floral design, Morris uses his talents to create and display artwork for  the entire Dugoni School of Dentistry community to enjoy.

For Morris, designing these dynamic works is a constant challenge, creating an arrangement over a weekend that may only stay fresh for less than a week. Morris has grown accustomed to this obstacle as he previously owned two floral businesses: The Terrarium in San Francisco and Taylor-Morris Plants in Berkeley. His passion did not begin recently, but has been developing over time. Influenced by his parents and grandmother, who tended a large greenhouse garden in her backyard, Morris’ interest in plants began. His love for floral design blossomed after taking a class at a junior college. 

Coincidentally, his passion for floral design led him to his career at the dental school.  When Morris ran his own business, he didn’t have dental insurance and hadn’t gone to a dentist for nearly 10 years. Once Morris acquired insurance and got to know his dentist, he had the realization that he was called to do something quite different from running his floral and plant business. This prompted Morris to go back to school to study dental hygiene at Chabot College in Hayward. “I graduated from hygiene school and signed up with a ‘temp’ agency and they sent me to Pacific’s AEGD Clinic in San Francisco,” said Morris. “It was a good fit and I got hired.”

Rather than viewing something as simply a branch, Morris sees an interesting line that he can paint or turn into a useful element for his piece.

Morris currently works in the Special Care Clinic where he provides oral health care to patients with a range of medical and psychosocial considerations. “In the Special Care Clinic, Jack’s professional expertise, along with his robust enthusiasm for all of his special care patients, is evident daily,” says Christine Miller, director of community health programs. “His unique ability to establish a comforting rapport with each patient contributes greatly to our patient-centered care.”

Dr. Cindy Lyon ’86, associate dean for oral health education, adds, “His command of oral-systemic knowledge, necessary to caring for our patients with special needs, is enormous, and his generous spirit even bigger.”

After starting to work at the dental school in 1995, Morris knew his passion for floral art would not waver, so he began to bring in bouquets from his garden. The constant splash of colorful flowers was well-received by his co-workers so he continued this newfound tradition. With the updated creative space in the campus at 155 Fifth Street, Morris has met a new challenge. His designs are now seen from all sides and the pieces have grown larger and more extraordinary.
“It’s a different ball game; arrangements have to be fairly large in that space,” Morris noted. Without a true back side to the work, similar to a freestanding sculpture, Morris’ new goal is to craft artwork so it makes sense to the viewers from all angles. 

“Being multi-talented, Jack also excels as the Dugoni School’s florist!” says Miller. “His colorful weekly floral creations delight everyone at the entrance and main lobby.”

Gearing his pieces toward each season, Morris uses materials from his home garden to honor celebrations such as Halloween, his favorite holiday to create arrangements for, as well as Lunar New Year where his work creates “an aura of happiness and hope” that is associated with the festival. With annual holidays and seasons, it is difficult for Morris to continue generating artistic content for his displays. “If you leave an arrangement up for long enough, people stop looking at it,” Morris says. “You have to challenge yourself and challenge them to look at things with fresh eyes.”

Morris’ creative vision allows him to find supplies in unused objects. For example, he has incorporated branches that have been discarded from others’ gardens. Rather than viewing something as simply a branch, Morris sees an interesting line that he can paint or turn into a useful element for his piece. Although many of Morris’ materials come from his own garden, he often purchases fresh flowers from the San Francisco Flower Mart.

Morris continues to expand his knowledge in floral design. “For the past 12 years, I have studied at the Sogetsu School of Ikebana and I hold a teaching credential for Sogetsu Japanese floral art,” says Morris. “Currently, I am continuing my studies with the master Ikebana teacher and artist, Soho Sakai.” And before owning his own floral business, Morris earned a bachelor’s degree in German and classical languages at University of Arizona. He also received a master of divinity degree in theological studies from the Fuller Theological Seminary and took graduate classes in Greek and Latin at University of California, Berkeley.

“Jack thoroughly embodies the Dugoni School aspiration of  “Head, Heart, Hands,” says Lyon. “He is a truly thoughtful, skilled communicator—calm, optimistic, empathetic and motivating—a terrific role model in all ways.”

Next time entering the dental school, you may have a fresh perspective as you view the extraordinary floral designs of Jack Morris, a modern Renaissance man. The individual behind the work is kind-hearted and generous, and he allows people to experience his unique forms of expression with each design.