Monday, April 28, 2008

Shouts Out Dave!

My bonsai teacher and friend, David Fortune, just got through digging up some of my Japanese maple stock back home. Spring has finally arrived for the folks in Lincoln. I'm looking forward to working on this stock, but I may have to part with some of it as well. A majority of the trees have already been in bonsai containers. I've got several large Arakawa's, a Sango Kaku, Tobiosho, Yurihime, Seiryu, and a dissectum of some kind that I bought dormant under the false label of a Kiyohime. None of them are grafted. Dave did not go away empty handed from this deal as I passed on a very large European Hornbeam to him. Looking forward to picking these up this summer and thanks for all your efforts, my friend.

Yamadori Korean Hornbeam I

Photo courtesy of Evergreen Gardenworks

I felt it was time to introduce an older member of the crew, a yamadori Korean Hornbeam. This tree has been with me since late 2003 and was hand-picked at New England Bonsai Gardens. I do not have any photos of it during its first winter with me. In all likelihood, I didn’t own a digital camera at that time. That really dates this tree, doesn’t it.

It was raw, imported material, but I thought the curvy trunk-line was fairly uncommon for a collected specimen and it had the beginnings of an excellent nebari. I transplanted the tree from a garden container to a pot made by Sara Rayner, which could be displayed for its artistic signification alone. Most of my trees are housed between the confines of Sara’s high-fired clay.

The bark on the Hornbeam is light, but generally the collected specimens have fairly knarled trunk characteristics, so you can get away with darker glazes or even an unglazed brown.

The fall colors this particular year (2003?) were rich and make a striking composition paired with the Rayner-made container.

More to come…

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Pedestal Project - Part III

After reading the texts and grasping the concepts we discussed in our previous visits, Bob now understood conceptually what would be required for the pedestal. That did not satisfy him and he felt stuck artistically, moving from one thought to another. Reluctantly forging ahead and attempting to salvage his artistic credibility, his focus turned to surface.

Not just wood as we previously discussed, but stone in the form of slab and sleight and river rocks, metal, and polished marble and granite. A bonsai on display, according to Bob, should rest on a surface that’s aesthetically pleasing, both in color and texture. Mobility also came in to question, since a primary reason for having a pedestal is the freedom to relocate. It can be moved as the sun shifts, as the rain falls, and away from the sawdust mills of the carpenter bee.

On his next visit, Bob brought a sheet of sandstone, a slab of marble and a black, oval metal tray filled with smoothened black rock, similar in look and feel to river stone. Out of these three surfaces, I felt the sandstone had the most potential. Its earthy tones would compliment the subtle glazes of my bonsai containers and its slight surface ridging added to its appeal. The shine of the marble seemed unnatural and the pot could be easily moved on its smooth surface. I liked the idea of containing moisture when using the metal tray with black stones, but it would not provide adequate stableness. I could see myself constantly festering, measuring whether the container was level buried amongst the stones.

Bob's words as written on March 30 -

"Thanks for letting me read your books. Now I feel the need to visit gardens in Japan and engage in Zen meditation for the next five years before beginning our stand project! Since I am older than your bonsai trees, the stand may never be completed! At any rate, knowing my short-comings, I intend to forge ahead with the creative enterprise and allow at least one stand to emerge as my ideas do the same."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Pedestal Project - Part II

Understanding the simplicity of bonsai display was the main topic of our next meeting. I asked Bob to consider the bonsai tree as a painting. Typically, the frame of a painting should not detract the viewer from the actual painting. In this case, the bench’s exquisite design would certainly detract from viewing the tree. In fact, I would likely receive more favorable comments on the benches than of the trees, especially from those that do not have a knowledge of bonsai. It would not be difficult to see the craftsmanship at-hand in the creation of the bench, whereas, the bonsai tree has lived a complex and abnormal existence. Some of these experiences are visually obvious and others masked.

I asked Bob to focus on the functionality and purpose of the display. We both agreed that a pedestal, not a bench, would be the best way to frame a bonsai tree. Bob seems to be most inspired when his imagination is challenged and I knew the pure functional characteristics required of the pedestal would be boring to him. I thought to myself that there must be some way to incorporate his creative expression into this project.

He left with the current issue of Bonsai Focus and “The Japanese Art of Stone Appreciation” by Covello and Yoshimura. The Bonsai Focus issue featured a wide variety of bonsai display—from gallery to tokoname.

Bob’s words as written on March 27 -

“We talked more today and you helped me realize that my early ideas were off the mark. Bonsai is organic art and you said simply that the stand on which it is displayed is a big deal. Now I begin to understand at a deeper level—we are talking now of an organic sculptural art form for display as if in an art gallery—now I have to think as a curator. The stand itself must be a sort of pedestal art form raised to near eye level for the observer, but not as a structure to be more significant than the plant itself, and, so back to the drawing board.”

Coastal Georgia Bonsai Club

Today I was welcomed by the warm folks of the Coastal Georgia Bonsai Club. The club holds monthly meetings and I was able to attend my first today. It is a privilege to be part of any bonsai group, as the amount of people involved in bonsai is limited. I used to travel from Lincoln, NE to Kansas City for routine meetings, but today was just a short drive across town. The gathering was hosted by Luigi Trapani of Southeast Bonsai Studio.

Luigi’s grounds are nothing less than tranquil. There are many fine bonsai on display throughout the garden. The front features a zen-like rock garden and the back is nothing short of a phantasm. One portion of the garden features a sitting Buddha throne, encapsulated by a lush forest of black bamboo. Behind that sits a couple turtles, I believe of African origin. Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the garden is the koi pond—Luigi fed the Japanase koi today so we could all get a glimpse of their decorous colors. There are also a few, very large Yamadori Pond Cypress bonsai, obtained from Luigi’s master in addition to a Trident maple originally trained by John Naka.

In attendance today was myself, Luigi, Bill, Chad and Dawn, Richard, Harvey, Rusty and Wilbur (I believe this was his last name). We were graciously accompanied all afternoon by Luigi’s two Basenjis. It was good to see Bill’s smiling face again and I was elated to meet a fellow youngin’ in the group, Rusty. There was nothing planned in particular for the meeting. Luigi was bound to take advantage of the numbers and was handing out shears, so I worked on trimming back his Catlin Chinese Elm.

Bill Pfeiffer, of Bonsai Beginnings, enlightened us on why the Crepe Myrtle around town always get chopped back so hard over the winter. Apparently, a U of GA Professor’s claim to fame was finding that this method produces more blooms from the Crepe. That may be, but we all agreed this finding did not seem particularly credulous and we’d settle for less blooms and more tree.

There was talk from Luigi about getting a live-in student as he’s really in dire need of someone who can assist with weeding and trimming. “You could sleep in the Zen room and I could hand you a few scraps to eat every once in a while,” Luigi said, in response to our conversation about typical Japanese apprenticeship.

The day ended with an interesting conversation regarding aesthetics education and the contrast of Chinese and Japanese philosophies. The Chinese are in general disgruntled by the idea that the Japanese took this art and re-defined it—most would say for the better, but there in lies the predicament.

Check out the photos!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Pedestal Project - Part I

My Uncle Bob is an accomplished painter and in the past ten years or so has delved into the world of woodcarving. At a lunch on Hilton Head Island in January, the discussion regarding this project initiated. The moment he heard my trees were benchless, he offered to make them a suitable throne. As a bonsai enthusiast, the thought of custom-made benches is a godsend, especially when you’re fortunate enough to be intimately involved in their creation. He’s been staying at nearby Tybee Island for the past month, so we’ve been readily exchanging thoughts and ideas regarding this project. Bob’s original design was fairly industrial, which isn’t necessarily a bad concept for this project, but he soon realized this would not satisfy his artistic needs. The next concept was heavily influenced by Asian design (as depicted in the photos). It was at this moment that I knew this would not be a quick, punch em’ out project, but rather a lesson in bonsai culture—primarily display. As an artist, Bob was immediately enthralled and began reading bonsai books at the library and borrowing whatever texts I had available.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Road Trip

Any thoughts as to where this might be located? I'm there! Odd how they all look the same though. It would be interesting to know the sketch artist's influence.

Savannah Garden Walking Tour

This is your dedicated roving Savannah bonsai man chiming in. I attended the second day of the annual Savannah Garden Walking Tour today. I was disappointed that the first day of the tour was on a Friday since that is a normal working day for most, including myself! Word was there were some nice bonsai on display during the Friday leg.

A majority of the gardens featured English-influenced designs with a lot of formations and borders created using boxwood. Water features were a common theme, including a gorgeous pool centerpiece in the first garden I visited on Gaston St. This garden also featured a quaint sitting/dining area. A great spot for an afternoon tea perhaps? There were also some very interesting sculptural designs using various mediums, but generally stone of some sort. As common as these sculptures are in the historic district, they are always a fascinating element of these gardens when done in good taste and accented appropriately. Did you know there’s a wiki page about the Bird Girl sculpture?

There was one garden that featured primarily Japanese maples, which I found particularly of interest. This gentleman had several dwarf varieties, including a tiny little Kotohime! My fav for bonsai culture! There was also a very unique green linearilobum cultivar that may have been Koto-no-ito, but I could not be sure. The lobes on its mature growth were very narrow, whereas the new growth tended to display typical palmatum leaves. He had several large trees growing above the Japanese maples to shade them from the afternoon sun. I left my name and number with the door attendant to share with the owner. I foresee some in-depth Acer discussion in the future!

The photo of the large, split-trunk tree is a Jerusalem Thorn (Parkinsonia aculeate)—the oldest in Savannah according to the door attendant. This was the most unique gnarled-specimen on the tour. Unfortunately, there were two different vines that were intermingled with it, so you had to really search to locate any of the tree’s actual foliage.

Check out the photos!