Beyond Belgium and Bonsai - by M. Wallner & D. Schmitz
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Author:  Dorothy Schmitz [ Thu Sep 27, 2007 1:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Beyond Belgium and Bonsai - by M. Wallner & D. Schmitz

Beyond Belgium and Bonsai

by Maureen Wallner and Dorothy Schmitz*
All Photographs were taken by AoB/KoB editor, Dorothy Schmitz, who was officially granted permission to take pictures in all areas except the exhibit area.

Danny Use
Photograph by Dorothy Schmitz

It was one of those ideas that had taken root, for my husband Harry, bonsai enthusiast these six years, building up his skill, by practice, reading - something like I was but more at a distance, the writer-onlooker, just now getting into wiring of the little trees in pots.

And Colin Lewis had planted the seed, nurtured it along, by letting it be known that a Gingko Bonsai Show was coming up in Lochristi (near Gent, Belgium), in September 2007. Mr. Lewis, bonsai artist and educator, who, at our invitation, had led a demo and workshops at our Quad City Bonsai club in Moline, Illinois, a few years before; who, as a Michelangelo had eyed our raw shapeless trees and, pen in hand, sketched what they would look like, afterwards, (which they did). Commended for his work in Japan and Taiwan. It was natural that Harry trusted his inclination that this was would be a show to learn from, to offer something special. His juices up and running, he put it to me simply. "Maybe we should go?"

"To a room full of bonsai gingko trees?" I asked with skepticism, imagining the ancient Chinese trees and their fan-like leave, along with their foul smell, all formal and informally upright their predisposition to the way to grow.
"That's the name of the nursery," he corrected. "There will be all kinds of trees there."

And together we considered: want to/seizing of the moment versus too expensive/ we shouldn't go. Seizing won.

Our validation was the other conference we had attended in May 2005: the Fifth World Bonsai Convention, held in Washington, DC. We were will in awe with what we'd seen there and at the National Arboretum, along with its message of peace in the tribute to Colorado-born bonsai master John Naka who died the year before and to Saburo Kato, ninety, of Japan.

As soon as we stepped on to the gravel pathway there was the feel that the choice was right, granite boulders seeming to be growing out of it, offering up their offshoots: tables, chairs and lanterns. Scattered along the path were trees in pots; not little ones, but magnificent, massive specimens; here a Japanese maple, there a white pine, across the way a massive rhododendron. And there were more, but with the crowd pressing us forward, there was no more time to look. We flooded onward, bags checked for cameras. There were to be no pictures.

Mario Komsta and Ernie Fernandez
Photograph by Dorothy Schmitz

And so it began in earnest, this process of 'the show,' now in the exhibit hall by a slender piece of graying driftwood, now bang, staring at Angel Mota's olive trees, double and triple trunks, gins flowing as gnarled rivers, claws, a bony spread of wood, lattice walls, bent and twisted boas, coiled snakes, crevices, caves, stalactites, bark as alligator skin; and canopies: a ruff, a suggestion, a perfect bushy triangle.

There was so much it engulfed, in scaly, tiny needled European larch, reaching east, in cascading Scots pine, bright green over scaly gray; in mottled Chinese quince, in oaks with tiny holly-like leaves, a canopy cone shaped, set upon a slab, mirror polished; in yews, a brittle ghostlike gin, a semi cascade leaning west. From Germany a formal upright European white birch peeling paper, dripping into smoky crags.

And just when there could be no more, there was perhaps the granddaddy of them all: an ancient Japanese white pine 40 inches high by 50 wide on a base the size of a coffee table scooped and carved that nothing could possibly have prepared us for.

There was possibly too much to see, take in, in two days/one sparse weekend, from that exhibit and its greenhouses, from the towering displays along the patio; and Danny Use's private collection beyond the bamboo archway, of trees set in pools of water, on benches, of larch and elm and trident maple blood red, in groves of spruce, cascades. It was Mr. Use's nursery where the show was to be had.

I talked to him the day after the awards. He'd said some things that night, like, "When you meet a person, you need to see their eyes. It's no good if they're looking at the ground." And, "people from the bonsai clubs make friends for life." And, "I say to my students, Be proud; you're halfway there.?"
I had to meet that man.

White pine from Danny Use's private collection
Photograph by Dorothy Schmitz

Mr. Use sat across from me in a blue and black plaid shirt. He was muscular (I imagined from lifting massive bonsai trees). His hair was a mass of wavy steel gray. But what I noticed most was his eyes, calm, sky blue, content, as he told of how he'd first been first struck with bonsai as a teen, how his need grew as did his skill and knowledge in working on his father's broken trees (collected, in a way), reshaping them in electricity wire.

"My first tree was a Chinese elm," he said. "I still have it," he said with pride.

"And how long have you been doing it, bonsai?" I asked.
"Fifty years, twenty-seven with the nursery," he said.
"And what it is it you said about the wire?" I asked digging up my notes, 'that a tree should not have so much wire it seems to stand on it.'
"Yes," he confirmed smiling. "When a tree is finished it should be free to stand, on its own."

Then he shared a final thought.
"People come at first to me to learn bonsai. And they never leave. They discover it is more than trees. It is trees and people. It may begin with a master, trees and students, but more than art is created. There comes to be awareness." He paused. "As it is with a person's character. There is something natural within the trees, something communicated. The eyes open to it. They see its beauty. But it is more."

Nick Lenz
Photograph by Dorothy Schmitz

And I began to see it has he did from this gentleman of contented blue eyes whose trees won competitions in Italy and in Holland, but who relished their creation far more than their prizes. Mr. Use, who this year judged the contest himself, determined this year would be its last, that it had developed as far as it could go.

Angel Mota of Mallorca, Spain, winner of this year's Ginkgo Bonsai Show award with his remarkable collection of olive trees, also had something to share.
"For twenty-seven years I have been with bonsai," he said. "It began with a gift of book from a friend."

And I learned something of his life near the countryside, climbing cliffs, looking out to the sea, an expanse of olive trees spread below him; trees that spanned two hundred to eighteen hundred years.

Mr. Mota had won awards: from Belgium's Gingko Show and from Japan. He understood what to look for, the importance of its base (nebari), and shari: the dried wood, and ging: dried tips. But his understanding of bonsai stretched beyond the tree. "It is more than peace, imagination and the friends you find in bonsai," he said. "And it is more than the education of creating. Bonsai helps to enjoy life in this world. I do not know if there is bonsai in the hereafter, but it is here now, its beauty and nature bringing me close to my daughters, to my wife, my grandson."

William Valavanis and Walter Pall
Photograph by Dorothy Schmitz

Colin Lewis, a native of southern England, who now lives in Salem, Massachusetts, might agree in his belief that bonsai is more. But his perspective draws more upon an individuals art and heritage to create.
"It is more than what you do," he says. "It is who you are."

And I considered in his perspective bonsai taking form through culture and imagination, especially in his reference to what he'd seen at the ginkgo show.
"I'm reminded," he said, of the distance America still may need to travel to reach that caliber. I would like to see Americans arrive there," he says. "It may be though that they need to take the time to work it, and believe it can be done."

Then were the comments of Bill Mr. Valavanis, of Greek origin, first American to be invited to the Gingko Show, (to do a demo of classical bonsai on collected stock). Mr. Valavanis seems to be one to believe, in bonsai everywhere. Born in the Midwest, he has taken his enthusiasm for bonsai from there to West Virginia, and packed it up and moved it on to New York. He has honed it, refined it, been educated further, until he brought himself to Japan to learn from Kyuzo Murata, Toshio Kawamoto, Kakutaro Komoro and Tamej Nakajima.

And as educator, artist, writer, editor, he continues to grow, dedicating his life to bonsai, promoting the classic of its art throughout the world.
"But what is your philosophy to bonsai?" I asked him.

"Creating my concept of beauty and sharing it with people," he said. "We are only given a certain number of days on this earth, and it is up to us to use it to our best advantage. There are those who don't understand that, acknowledge it, or like it. But that's just the way it is."

So it was that an idea was propagated and came to fruition on that autumn weekend at a nursery near Ghent, countries coming together, including Spain, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, to share concepts, perceptions, hopes, desires. A gentle breeze rustled gingko leaves blushing gold on a multi-trunk. Someone laughed. Someone expounded on the shaping of larch as Harry, arms folded across his chest, devoted to it his full attention soaking it in as sun.

And I thought how fortunate for us all to have been part of it even if it seemed that we were but a tiny part in the immense pot of things.

Collected Mugo pine from Danny Use's private collection
Photograph by Dorothy Schmitz

*About the authors:
Maureen Wallner (also pen named under the surname Brown-Wallner) is a writer/bonsai enthusiast, but more the former than the latter in hands on experience.

It was in the fall of 2000 that she got started in it, joining up with Quad City Bonsai of Illinois, first as co-editor and then as editor of their newsletter, a position which she still maintains - that and secretary, she says.
Her non fiction on many subjects has appeared in various publications, including magazines and newsletters.

In the summer of 2005 she attended the fifth World Bonsai Convention with her husband whose suiseki had been accepted for exhibit. Although she was nowhere near possessing the expertise of artist, she was so moved by the bonsai trees and the aura of peace they had the capacity to bring that she wrote up an article anyway and sent it in to the American Bonsai Society's Bonsai just as she saw it. And it was published as "the World Bonsai Convention and Much, Much More" in the summer of 2005.
Her short stories and poetry have appeared in magazines and literary publications as well, and she is now, as she puts it, whittling away on her first novel. An historical fiction, its working title is: "Free." Writing is her passion as is finding commonalities in the nature of people. "Sort of as people speak of bonsai," she says, "only a different kind of nature."

Dorothy Schmitz is a professional bonsai artist from Southwest Florida who has a Southern European origin. As a tile contractor she used to develop and lay her own original mosaics,but is now lucky enough to be able to concentrate on bonsai full time.

Dorothy started in bonsai only 4 years ago and won the open Florida BSF Instructor Scholarship Award in 2005 followed by the covenant Ben Oki Award in 2006. She is presently the Vice president of the Bonsai Society of Southwest Florida and Vice president of the Naples Bonsai and Shohin Society. She also just recently became District Trustee for the Bonsai Societies of Florida, she is the program chair for the 2008 BSF State Convention and is actively involved in planning the All American Bonsai Show in 2008.

Not enough she is an active editor for the Knowledge of Bonsai Forum and the Art of Bonsai Project and owns a Bonsai Studio in Bonita Springs together with her partner in Life Ernie Fernandez.

Her goal is to actively support Saburo Kato's idea of bonsai 'no kokoro' worldwide and to help further develop the quality and the public acceptance of bonsai as an art form in the US.

Author:  hans van meer [ Sat Sep 29, 2007 4:15 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hi Dorothy and Maureen,
Good to hear you made it safely home! How nice to read your lovely impression of this "the last" Ginkgo Awards and to see those great photographs. They gave me a great sense of how this magnificent event really felt from a visitors point of view. I was really proud to be one of the demonstrators during that weekend, and it was a real trill doing it! But it also meant that I missed out on a lot of the fun that happens during those two days! I met so many people I was looking forward to, but is was mostly only a, how are doing and a quick handshake, and than back to work again. I even forgot to eat during that first very hot Saturday of my demo! Meeting new and old Bonsai friends is why I love the Ginkgo so much! I met some of my best friends during this event! And that is why I am a bit disappointed that I missed out on that great opportunity, because of this demo. But you can't have it all, so I hope to meet all those bonsai friends that came from so far again some were in the future and than we can really get acquaintance and talk bonsai! I hope that they Enjoyed this Ginkgo!
Hans van Meer.

File comment: Here I just start to work on my demo tree. A Yamadori Yew from Japan.
september 2007 ginkgo 019 klein.jpg [62.67 KiB]
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File comment: And this is two days later! Tired but satisfied!
september 2007 ginkgo 091 klein.jpg [69.55 KiB]
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Author:  Dorothy Schmitz [ Sat Sep 29, 2007 8:53 pm ]
Post subject: 

I'd have loved to talk with you a bit more,but you never seem
to be finished with the tree..;)
Great work Hans,not easy material you started with!
I am posting all of them...It was fun pure to watch these
guys!!(working on their trees..)

File comment: Hans van Meer with a yew
HansvanMeerIMG_4035.jpg [232.81 KiB]
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File comment: Bill Valavanis' Common juniper
BillValavanisIMG_4010.jpg [132.06 KiB]
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File comment: Udo Fisher's yew
UdofischerIMG_4028.jpg [134.07 KiB]
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File comment: And Sandro Segneri's incredible Common juniper
SandroSegneriIMG_4026.jpg [126.89 KiB]
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Author:  Wolfgang Putz [ Sat Oct 20, 2007 4:12 am ]
Post subject: 

Glad to meet you at the Ginkgo show, Dorothy!

Author:  Dorothy Schmitz [ Sat Oct 20, 2007 7:21 pm ]
Post subject: 

Die Freude is ganz meinerseits-it was nice to meet you too :)

Author:  Shaukat Islam [ Sun Oct 28, 2007 8:30 am ]
Post subject: 

Thanks, Dorothy & Maureen for the nice write-up and sharing your views with us, on the thoughts of other artists.
All the best,

Author:  Danny Elias [ Sun Oct 28, 2007 2:30 pm ]
Post subject: 

Good read thanks

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