Throwback Thursday – Why am I Keeping That?   1 comment

Since today is also Thanksgiving I wish to express my sincere thanks for the condition of my wife. It was a very scary trip for 12 months and both of us are very relieved it is over.

For thirty years I have dabbled in bonsai. I consider myself an advanced intermediate when it comes to the craft. I don’t have very artistic trees in the big scheme of things but as far as a hobby goes I have some pretty cool trees that I can call my own. All of the work is mine and even though I seek instruction and validation from those more versed than me, I still always do the work myself. I have found that most of my best work has been over a number of years pecking away at the tree until I have it whittled down to its shining essence.

As I look thru pictures I can see how my progression took shape. There was a point when I felt I could finally see a tree. Not just a tree but a stylized tree. For some reason naturalistic trees did not do it for me. I can appreciate them, but they must be very well done. A naturalistic tree needs to be natural and not look contrived. There are some artists that carve against the grain when constructing shari and uro’s and some will twist branches around what seems like a pencil to achieve drastic movement and a little mystery. Too many times this looks contrived and man made. This may seem funny to some since I find manmade looking trees to be goofy and yet I like more stylised trees that are definitely manmade.

There is a distinct difference between the two.

Let me speak of culture for a moment. The Europeans, as well as the Asian Societies have culture that is over 3000 years old. Their style of teaching about the arts has not changed for 3000 years. Art, and its appreciation is taught at a very young age in those countries. The appreciation of bonsai as an art is much stronger in those nations which have a background in art appreciation from an early age. In America, art is a subject that the Government does not give a hoot about. We do not lean about the Renaissance and its contributions to history. Our children are taught to use a computer and read from Government sponsored books which place no emphasis on the arts or even the sciences anymore.

As we learned about the asian culture in the first part of the 20th century, after having a closed society for thee hundred years, we see bonsai for the first time. As it is introduced to America in the later half of the 20th century we begin to entrench this Asian Mental Model of what bonsai is supposed to be. For me I am stuck in what a lot of people call “Japanese Bonsai”. I have no idea what that means but I suppose it means a tree that looks like this.

moyomedium Photo by Andy Rutledge

That is my mental model of how a bonsai is supposed to look. I found bonsai in 1984. In 1984 there were not a lot of books, at least not much available to me, and I had no exposure to bonsai as far as exhibits and the like. My turning point happened about ten years after my start in bonsai. Untill that time I purchased rough stock and tried to make something or else bought something someone was tired of and worked on that for a few years. I was super guilty of working on things too long. I kept everything. At one point I had over 500 trees in my backyard. I never sold anything and only made room for something thru death of a tree, which happened pretty frequently.


As I grew older in the hobby I started to feel more confident. In 1994 I finally reached a point where it was time to make a radical difference in a piece of material. While I had tried this before with only a little success, this tree felt really good to me and I felt that I had captured my mental model of what bonsai is supposed to look like. The tree was a black pine about 20 inches tall. It was healthy but I had no idea about candle pruning or how to shorten needles.


My first task was to remove all the branches from the bottom half of the tree. I wired them and made my first bunjin bonsai that I was proud of. I can actually see the clay like putty I used back then to cover all the wounds.


The next spring I transplanted the tree into a pot that I made. I had no access to literati pots and the bonsai store in Fresno, Nee Hai bonsai,  had only opened that year and had no literati pots suitable for this trees size. I also changed the direction of the tree from the back and made that the new front based on the crappy roots I had. In hindsight it could have been planted much lower and actually had a pretty good nebari if there would have been soil under all those roots sticking up. This was also one of my early attempts at making a stand. Probably around my third table I had ever made. Someone around the Central Vally still has this stand I think.


The bottom line is….get rid of the crap around the yard and trade it for better useful stuff. If the tree has good bones then find a tree in it and spin it around on a turntable with a few blocks while you sip a beer and keep looking for that tree. If you just can’t find it, then get rid of it. It’s just taking up valuable space. I was able to get rid of this one by the next year in the fireplace after shoehorning it into that shallow pot. At least I still have the pictures to enjoy and reminisce about with all of you.

Hope your Thanksgiving is a happy and peaceful time, and only eat till your full.


Posted November 27, 2014 by California Bonsai Art in Throwback Thursday

One response to “Throwback Thursday – Why am I Keeping That?

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  1. Truer words were never spoken. Alas, it takes a few years to appreciate your wisdom and let go of trees that consume time without hope of beauty.

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