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"And the LORD God made ... trees that were pleasing to the eye ..." Gen. 2:9, New International Version.

"Bonsai isn't just something I do; it's part of what I am." Remark to my wife and daughter.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Bonsai Display Coming Up in Fort Wayne

     If you are:
          - a bonsai practitioner;
          - a bonsai enthusiast;
          - interested in bonsai;
          - just curious about bonsai;
          - or just curious, period --
     -- we'd love to see you at the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club's 2016 Fall Show next weekend! If you live in northeastern or north-central Indiana, northwest Ohio, or southeastern lower Michigan, you're within easy driving distance.

Date: Saturday, September 24, 2016.

Time: 10 AM to 3 PM, Eastern time.

Venue: Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Members' trees, of many species and sizes, will be on display. You may well see species that you never thought of in connection with bonsai - such as a tree-like succulent from Madagascar, just to name one. Club members will be ready to answer your questions about the art or about individual trees.

A sale table will offer starter plants and pre-bonsai, accent plants, pots and probably a few random bonsai-related items. In addition, Scott Yelich of Indianapolis, owner of Eagle Creek Bonsai, will be with us. Scott will offer partially shaped trees, pots, and (I think) some accessories. And some of his ribbon-winning trees may be included in the display.

And there will be ongoing live demonstrations of bonsai techniques in the Conservatory lobby. You may be able to watch as the answer to one of your questions is demonstrated. Please note: Interruption of the demonstrators to ask questions is emphatically permitted!

Here are a few pictures from past Fort Wayne Bonsai Club shows.

This Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) belongs to the club, and might be considered the club's "signature tree."
Spring 2016 Show.
A member's Ficus microcarpa at the 2014 Fall Show.
A young show-goer considers where to cast his "people's choice" ballot.
Fall 2012 Show.
Ed Hake mans the sale table. Besides being one of our most knowledgeable members when it comes to plant care,
Ed is a retired bank official. So he's good with plants and money. Fall 2014 Show.

Ben McHugh works on a shimpaku juniper in a styling demonstration. To his right is the tree he styled
in the Joshua Roth New Talent Competition at the ABS Symposium a week before. Spring 2016 Show.

The Club's display is being held in conjunction with the Conservatory's "Our Japanese Sister" family event. This will include a replica of a Japanese garden in the first Exhibition House, demonstrations of the tea ceremony at 12 and 2 PM, ikebana, Japanese food, and more! For more information on this event, go here.

The Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory is located at 1100 South Calhoun Street, Fort Wayne, IN 46802. There is a special admission price that day of $3 for adults, $2 for children; kids under 2 get in free. Parking meters are free on the weekends.

Hope to see you there!

:-)  :-)  :-) 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Spruce, Unconventional Bonsai Design and "Chef's Pants." M-ABE 2016, Headliner's Demonstration.

     This is the raw stock Colin Lewis used in his headliner's demonstration on August 20 at the Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition: a yamadori Black Hills spruce, Picea glauca densata, collected by Andy Smith. I don't remember hearing its estimated age, but if I were asked to guess, I'd start at 80 years. (And that's probably 'way too low.)

Demo tree for the headliner, Colin Lewis, at the 2016 Mid-America. Yamadori Black Hills spruce,
Picea glauca densata, collected by Andy Smith of Golden Arrow Bonsai.
The headliner's demonstration is a regular part of the Mid-America show, and is always worth attending. Usually it involves creation styling: taking raw stock and performing the first major shaping that sets the design and future shape of the bonsai-to-be. In the case of this spruce, that design to turned out be a bit out-of-the-box; more on that a little later.

The auditorium was still filling at the appointed starting time, so Colin Lewis came out and made a few introductory remarks; including, as best I can remember his words, "And I'm sure you're all wondering 'What's this idiot doing up there in his pajamas?'"

What he was wearing did look like pajama pants at first glance. I was thinking, one, that they reminded me of the medieval character Harlequin; and two, that at Lewis' age he can pretty much wear whatever he pleases! Lewis explained that they're "chef's pants," and superbly comfortable. They certainly looked comfortable, enough so that I'm considering getting some myself.

Colin Lewis listening to a question, wearing his chef's pants.
 Lewis apprentice, Maliea Chiem, was also wearing chef's pants as she assisted with the demo. It was obviously his idea, but she was a good sport about it.

Colin pauses his work on one jin to listen to another question,
as Maliea Chiem considers the next step on the jinned top.

Maliea Chiem has been Lewis' apprentice for three years, she said, having been his student for two years before that. She clearly knew what she was doing; it won't surprise me if I see her out on her own as a bonsai teacher in a few more years.

Lewis uses copper wire exclusively on conifers.
At one point I asked Lewis what he saw as the life story of the tree that this bonsai-in-the-making represents. He thought a moment, then said, "I'll tell you when it becomes clear to me." (Approximate quote.)

This next picture isn't all that good, and I apologize for its quality. But it lets me tell you this little story: Maliea Chiem was using the sprayer to keep the deadwood wet while she worked on it. When someone in the audience observed in a voce that that was deliberately not sotto enough that she could always give Colin Lewis a squirt with the sprayer, she took the hint! Maybe it was payback for making her wear the chef's pants. (How do I know the hint was "deliberately" loud enough for her to hear? Take a guess.)

Wielding wire and sprayer.
In an earlier post I mentioned Colin's assessment of Scott Yelich's F. burtt-davyi in the Critique the evening before: "It's a shambles! But it works." Lewis's final design for this tree wasn't "a shambles," but like Scott's Ficus it stepped outside the established norms of bonsai design. Specifically, a major branch on this tree crosses the trunkline; that is not supposed to happen because it usually doesn't work well visually. (The only accepted exception (say that five times really fast!) is when the tree is styled as a windswept, and this is not.)

Colin Lewis said essentially the same thing about  a few other bonsai during the Critique: they bent or broke an accepted design rule or two, but they worked anyway. The same is true of his design for this spruce: it works anyway. My next picture isn't as good as I'd like, but I think it will help you imagine this tree growing on a harsh mountainside, unconquered by the rain, wind, snow, rockslides, and you-name-it.

The finished design. You can see the major branch crossing the trunkline just below the bend.
Convention is broken on that point, but this design works.
A silhouette view.

Imagine it at sunset, positioned against the sky.
The finished product from the headliner's demo is usually auctioned off at the banquet that evening. I haven't heard who bought this tree, but I look forward to seeing it on display in a few years.

Let me stop to point out one thing. The bonsai that broke major rules but still worked were the exceptions; most designs that break major design rules don't work. Every now and then, bending or breaking a rule is actually necessary to achieve the image the artist wants to bring out. But only now and then. And you must develop a clear and in-depth understanding of the bonsai design rules, and the standards behind them, before you can recognize those uncommon occasions when you should break one to preserve something deeper.

Next post: a few nuggets of learning. (Unless something else comes up and seems more compelling.)

:-)  :-)  :-)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition 2016: Some Other Interesting Trees

     I'm not sure how many bonsai in all were on display in the exhibit, but I think it was close to 200. Here are some others that caught my attention. (I give the artist's names where I know them.)

1. If you're at all familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's tales of Middle-Earth, you'll know why this one delighted me!

A hobbit dwelling, round door and all! Chinese elm, Ulmus parvifolia
My wife is also a Tolkien fan, so I emailed this picture to her even before I returned home.

2. You may recognize this yew from this post two years ago. At the 2014 Mid-America, Rodney Clemons, the headliner, pointed out that what this tree needed most by way of improvement was to have the apices shaped to match the rest of it in apparent maturity. As I approached it this year, I saw that what Clemons had recommended had been done, and the result was good!

Hybrid yew, Taxus x media. This tree was obtained as an "urban yamadori." Ray Heinen, owner and artist.
A first-time Mid-America-goer named Justin was with me, and I started describing to him how the tree had looked two years before, what Rodney Clemons had recommended, that it had been done, and now we saw the result. As I was talking, the owner of the tree came up, Ray Heinen. (My apologies if I have it wrong and it's actually "Roy".) He started laughing: he could hardly believe that I remembered his tree from two years before, let alone everything else I was telling Justin!

After a bit Justin and I went over to another bonsai I remembered, a Ficus salicaria forest. Justin is fairly new to bonsai, so again I described for him how this one had looked before, the changes I could see, etc. Ray Heinen came by again, and again started laughing: that bonsai is also his, and once again he was almost floored that I remembered it in that much detail!

We were all still talking when another member of the Fort Wayne Bonsai Club appeared in the exhibition hall, and I greeted her: "Hello, Wanda." "Hi - but my name's Deanna." As I started to apologize, Justin started laughing: "You remember the trees, but you don't remember the people!" (I heard that several more times in the course of the day. But I have to admit it was funny!)

3. How's this for an unusual container? This Florida buttonwood is one of several belonging to Paul Weishaar of Indianapolis. At first I thought it was all one plant; part of it had died, and Paul adapted that part into a container for the rest. Mark Fields, also of Indianapolis, told me it's actually two buttonwoods; when the larger one died, Paul made it into a one-of-a-kind container for the smaller one. Very creative!

Florida buttonwood, Conocarpus erectus. Notice how the accent plant's leaf shape resembles the buttonwood's.
Paul Weishaar, owner and artist.
Here's a closer view.
Notice the artificial weathering that's been done to all the deadwood.

4. Maybe there's a revival of fantasy literature among the US bonsai community. The label for this boxwood listed its style as simply "Fairy Tale." (I wonder which tale?)

Buxus spp. The pot rather fits the "fairy tale" label.

5. This shohin-sized neagari azalea is well matched with its accent plant, and the styling is well done. The pot color is an excellent choice for this tree, in my opinion.

Azalea, Rhodendron spp. Owner and artist, Tim Priest.

But given the "airy" look of the exposed roots that substitute for most of the trunk, I couldn't help wondering if a simple wooden slab might be as good as the tall stand. So I fiddled with the picture to try to get some idea how that might look.

Imagine this bonsai on a flat slab, no light showing under the slab
Which looks better to you? Comments are welcome.

6. This little trident maple has one of the best nebari I've seen on a mame tree.

Trident maple, Acer buergerianum.

7. This Japanese white pine triggered an "Ah-I-hadn't-thought-of-that" moment, when I saw what the artist had done to make the tree three-dimensional and still use a deadwood upper line.

Japanese white pine, Pinus parviflora.

8. Not only does this shimpaku have some pretty cool jin, but it's planted in a stone. Literally: the stone was hollowed out to make a container for it.


Shimpaku juniper, Juniperus chinensis 'Shimpaku.'

9. I'm not going to post the name of this tree's owner and artist on a public site, because he's all of eight years old (maybe nine.) But he has a definite interest in bonsai and is already showing some unmistakable aptitude. His father, a bonsai professional, told me that the tree was gift from a family friend and he provided his son with the pot. But the young man did the styling and potting on his own, and I think also chose the stand and the accent plant. Not bad at all!

Crown-of-thorns, Euphorbia spp.

Next post: pictures of the headliner's demonstration, including Colin Lewis and his apprentice in "chef's pants."

:-)  :-)  :-)

Monday, August 29, 2016

"It's a shambles! ... But it works." M-ABE 2016, Exhibit Critique.

     I've said before that, in my judgment, when it comes bonsai learning opportunities, an exhibit critique gives you the best value for your money. The Exhibit Critique at this year's Mid-America just made me all the more sure that's true!

(I'm referring to the bonsai scene in the USA. Never having been to a bonsai event outside this country, I don't feel qualified to comment on what is the best value elsewhere.)

Colin Lewis, this year's Visiting Master, was educated and trained as a graphic designer, and practiced that profession until he relocated to the USA and went into bonsai full-time. So he has a fine grasp of design principles, and most of his observations came from that perspective.

Colin Lewis discussing a ponderosa pine bonsai by Andy Smith during the Exhibit Critique; August 19, 2016.
His assessment: Interesting trunk movement, good deadwood, unusual pot. Good composition overall,
except that the foliage arrangement makes the tree look young.

Colin first discussed the Best of Show trees (Open and Professional.) His comments and insights on those were the subject of my previous post. Following are some things he had to say about some of the other trees. (Paraphrased, for the most part, but I believe accurately.)

1.
Veldt fig (Ficus burtt-davyi) twin-trunk upright. Artist and owner, Scott Yelich.
Before commenting on this tree, Lewis first told us that he has no experience with tropicals. Speaking from the perspective of bonsai design, tho, he said this tree breaks so many rules: it's hard to find the main trunk, or even be sure how many trunks there are, and there are aerial roots roots all over the place "going in and out." "It's a shambles!" he exclaimed. Then he paused and said very seriously, "But it works." He added, "It looks natural."

(I later had a chance to tell him that growing up in Ecuador, I had seen full-sized trees that look much like this.)

2.
Elephant bush (Portulacaria afra,) root-over-rock upright. Artist and owner, Paul Weishaar.
Lewis also said of this composition that "it works." He seemed reluctant to say more because he doesn't know much about tropicals, but he considered it deserving of a ribbon!

3.
European beech (Fagus sylvatica,) grove planting. Artist and owner, Gary Andes.
 A good bonsai composition, in Lewis' opinion. The "fan" look to the grove is natural, he said; younger trees will lean away from the older ones as they reach for light. He added that if this were American beech (Fagus grandifolia) the leaves would be twice as big; if it were Japanese beech (Fagus crenata, probably,) they would be half as the size they are.

4.
Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora,) slanting bunjin. I didn't get the artist/owner's name.
This Japanese red pine, Colin Lewis said, has outstanding and interesting trunk movement and good shari. But on the flip side, the canopy is too big for the overall design.

5.
Black Hills spruce (Picea glauca densata,) twin-trunk formal upright.
Owner and artist, Mark Kargenski (I hope I spelled that surname correctly.)
Colin seemed to find this composition downright delightful! It's rare to see mature bark on a spruce this thin, he said, and the proportions between the trunks are just right.

6.
Shimpaku juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Shimpaku',) group planting on a rock. Owner and artists, Dick Ruemmelle.
Finding a ceramic suiban this size is almost impossible, Lewis said, so we'll accept the plastic. His main point of praise for this composition: It looks completely natural. This is how trees grow in such a situation. (He had no negative comments to make about it.)

7.
California redwood (Sequoia sempervirens,) upright clump. Artist and owner, Jim Doyle.
This design is very natural, Lewis said, especially with the "daughter trees" appearing around the base. He considered both the pot and the accent to be good choices. He praised the unconventional decision to use multiple small sheets of hard white plastic to make up a "stand," adding that a single large sheet of the same material simply wouldn't have worked. On the flip side, there is a knob near the top of the main trunk, and that long, fairly straight stretch of the main trunk. But both of those issues, he expected, will be addressed as Jim Doyle continues to refine the tree. (Jim later told me that he has a large picture of a wild-growing California redwood at home, which he is using as the model for this bonsai.)

8.
Trident maple (Acer buergerianum,) formal upright. Owner and artist, Mark Fields.
This impressive trunk is actually made up of 200 trident maple whips that were forced to fuse around a conical core by a grower in California. Mark Fields, now owner of the tree, was present in the Critique; he gave the number of trunks and confirmed that the inside is still hollow. (There are still a few chinks here and there between the component trunks, Mark added, and occasionally a shoot will sprout inside in response to light getting in.) Colin found the tree quite impressive and well-cared-for. He pointed out only one thing that needs to be improved: the somewhat bell-shaped canopy should be more rounded to give more of an impression of maturity.

9.
Willow-leaf fig (Ficus salicaria,) twin-trunk upright; close-up of the nebari. Owner and artist, Kurt Smith.
This, Colin Lewis pointed out, is more typical of how a nebari grows in nature than the regularity we so often impose. The latter can look a bit artificial. As for the rest of the tree, Lewis said (with, I think, a note of regret,) "It looks like a pine."

(I emailed this picture to my wife later that evening, asking her to imagine this nebari full size and picture it in "Jurassic Park!")

Next post: some other trees I found especially interesting.

:-)  :-)  :-)