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

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

MABA 2017 I: The "Best" Awards

     In early July the  Indianapolis Bonsai Club hosted the MABA Convention for the second time in two years, and they put together an event that was a worthy sequel to MABA 2015. A big "Well done!" is due to all the IBC members and MABA officers who helped make the weekend a success, with particular recognition going to Mark Fields, Scott Yelich, and Paul Weishaar.

This year's headliner was Matt Reel, a native of Portland, Oregon. Matt Reel returned in 2014 from an eight-year stint with bonsai master Shinji Suzuki in Japan, and is now associated with the Portland Bonsai Village. (I understand that a standard apprenticeship lasts five years, and it is customary for a newly-certified former apprentice to stay on for a time, helping out his or her teacher as a practical expression of gratitude for what he or she has learned.)

And as headliner, he was the judge for the bonsai exhibition, putting into application what he learned in Japan.

Best of Show went to this Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris, owned and trained by William N. Valavanis. This superb tree also won "Best of Show Professional" at the 2013 Mid-America Bonsai Exhibition in Chicago.
Best of Show: Scots pine, Pinus sylvestris dwarf cv. Owner and artist, Wm. Valavanis.
Photo by Larry Benjamin. Used with permission.

Best North American Indigenous (MABA Area)
was awarded to this Thuja occidentalis, known commonly as "northern white cedar" and "American arborvita". I think the visual balance of shari to live bark is excellent.
Best MABA Area Native: Northern white cedar, Thuja occidentalis. Owner and artist, Paul Weishaar.

Best Evergreen
award was given to this Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii. I particularly like the powerful nebari. Notice also the unbleached shari emerging at the first major angle of the trunk. (A dead branch in such a position would not bleach in nature.)
Best Evergreen: Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii. Owner and artists, Barbara Bogan.

Best Deciduous
was awarded to a Japanese maple, Acer palmatum, owned and styled by Dr. Zach Denka. This, I understand, was the first time Dr. Denka entered a tree in a major display, and he won an award his first time out of the gate! But this award caused me (and others) some perplexity, because the tree - no offense intended to Zach Denka - reminded me of an Old English sheepdog: there was too much foliage for its structure to be seen! I wondered what steered Matt's decision.

     I failed to get a picture of the tree, so Zach kindly allowed me to capture two pictures of it from his FaceBook page. Here's one that shows how the tree looked in the MABA display:
Best Deciduous: Japanese maple, Acer palmatum. Owner and artist, Zach Denka.
I didn't catch the name of the cultivar, but Zach told me and a few others that the long petiole is natural to it.
Photo by Zach Denka. Used with permission.
     And here's the photo that cleared up the erstwhile mystery. This is the same tree following partial defoliation. Notice the fine nebari, the trunk movement, the taper and the ramification. Evidently Matt Reel decided that those features outweighed the "shaggy dog" look that first met the eye. (And having seen this picture, I'm not going to argue.)
Acer palmatum, defoliated.
Photo by Zach Denka. Used with permission.

Best Tropical was this root-over-rock veldt fig, Ficus burtt-davyi, owned and styled by Mark Fields. You can see the rock showing thru the abundance of roots. And F. burtt-davyi does often grow on rock outcroppings in its native southern Africa. I think the pot color is well chosen, too.
Best Tropical: Veldt fig, Ficus burtt-davyi. Owner and artist, Mark Fields.

Best Shohin Display was awarded to this 7-point display by Neil Dellinger. Notice how the movement of all the trees is either toward the center of the display or straight up. Also, the topmost tree in such a display is traditionally a high-altitude species (think "mountain-top"), altho this one is a shimpaku juniper. That shimpaku's pot is antique Chinese, and I understand it's worth more than many of the trees in the display!
Best Shohin Display: Mixed species. Owner and artist, Neil Dellinger.
Photo by William N. Valavanis. Used with permission.

And finally, the award for Best Accent went to this mixed planting by Dan Turner. You can't have a bonsai display without accent/companion plants, and this one is outstanding. The combination of colors, textures, and surfaces makes it at once restful and a bit fascinating! 
Best Accent: Mixed planting. Owner and artist, Dan Turner.

Next post: some other awards I might have given, had it been up to me.

:-)  :-)  :-)


  1. I have to strongly disagree about the maple. The maple is a fantastic tree, and as a bonsai apprentice and future bonsai professional I only wish to see more "shaggy dog" deciduous bonsai in America. Most of the deciduous trees I see in the US are disappointingly thin and butchered. The best deciduous bonsai in the world are shaggy during the summer. That's because they have such incredible ramification. Summer is not the best time to view deciduous bonsai, but when you know what to look for they can still be quite enjoyable.

    Also, you don't really defoliate Japanese maples, especially old ones. Rather, various leaf cutting techniques are done to allow light into the interior branches and weaken the strong outer branches. The photo from Facebook appears to be the tree leafing out in the spring, not a defoliated tree.

    1. Maybe you're less of a traditionalist than I. I expect to be able to see the basic structure of the tree, at least, from the front, without having to push foliage aside. But is it a fine tree? Yes, I think I said that it is once you get past the curtain of foliage.

      I said the second picture of Dr. Denka's tree was taken after a "partial" defoliation. And that is how he labeled the picture, on FaceBook: "after partial defoliation." I simply followed the owner/artist's label.

  2. Actually quite the opposite. I'd say I'm much more of a traditionalist than you are. Generally speaking, the worlds best deciduous trees look like Zach's tree in the summer. Our favorite prize winners from kokufu have curtains of foliage in the summer. That's because of their incredible ramification. Fullness of ramification is appreciated and highly valued in traditional bonsai, not the other way around. Rather it should be admired for those curtains of foliage, which invite the viewer to come up close and peer into its beautiful structure, allowing for some discovery. This is traditional deciduous bonsai in the summertime, at a very high level.

    I hope some of those who were shaking their heads at this tree were able to peer in past those curtains and take some notes. We need more trees of this caliber around. And for those who didn't or simply weren't there, the spring budbreak photo you shared in your post from Zach's Facebook gives some idea of the high caliper of this bonsai.

    1. Perhaps those of us who were there were too conscious of etiquette: that one does not touch someone else's bonsai without permission. For me, at least, that was sufficient reason not to push aside the foliage and look in to see the structure of the tree. Had Dr. Denka invited me to, I would have done so; but I suspect that it didn't occur occur to him at the time.

      At any rate, thank you for your insights from your visits to the Kokufu. Few of us get that opportunity.

  3. I didn't imply touching the tree, rather bending down and looking up from a different perspective. Almost as if you were standing at the base of the tree and looking up into the canopy. You'll see the Japanese doing this at shows quite often.

    I hope this was some healthy dialogue. I mean no disrespect with my comments, I just wanted to note that what some thought were shaggy, a professional and those who have a keen eye see as beautiful.

    1. Perhaps it's not so much a matter of a lack of keen eyes as of two customs: First, many of us have been taught to prune in such a way that the eye can see into the lower 2/3 of the tree enough to discern most of the structure in a few moments. Second, from what I've seen, people in the USA aren't accustomed to bending down to look up into a tree. In fact, I always feel conspicuous when I occasionally do that. The reasons for doing so have not been set forth, for whatever reasons. Maybe that's something you'll want to address once Michael Hagedorn turns you loose!

      And for some of us, bending down is becoming more uncomfortable with age. That's another good argument for setting up displays with the trees more or less at eye level, as I understand is often the custom in Japan. However, I don't believe the Indianapolis Bonsai Club had that option in the MABA 2017 venue.

      Thanks for the dialogue. I think it will be interesting to hear you when an opportunity arises.