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 Post subject: Profile: Mauro Stemberger
PostPosted: Fri Mar 14, 2008 11:36 pm 

Joined: Wed Feb 20, 2008 7:35 pm
Posts: 163
Location: The Art of Bonsai Project
Profile: Mauro Stemberger


Mauro Stemberger was born in Italy in 1978. He is member of UBI Unione Bonsaisti Italiani [the Italian Bonsai 'Union'], serves as one of the instructors of the Progetto Futuro Bonsai School with headquarters in Monteveglio, Italy, and serves as the president of the bonsai club of Feltre. His interest in "that fascinating Bonsai World" began in 1993 while reading books on bonsai. Mauro states he "was very curious about the intrinsic beauty of these 'small-large' works of art, a beauty that harmoniously interacts with nature and man, and makes us appreciate these small creatures day by day, having the pleasure of seeing them on the stands in our garden." Mauro maintains a good friendship with his teacher and mentor Enrico Savini, the director of Progetto Futuro Bonsai School. The passion for bonsai art is very much alive in him, and he envisions a future of always learning something new, through the dialog and continuous exchange of experiences with bonsai friends around the world.

The following is an on-line interview with Mauro Stemberger.
Translated from Mauro's native Italian by Will Heath.

AoB: Mauro, you have freely given credit to artists that have worked on trees before you or with you that you now own, do you feel that such credit is important to give and should this be a standard in bonsai?

Mauro: I have come to understand that every Bonsai has a history, more or less, and these histories are very interesting and should be remembered, not forgotten. There are many Japanese bonsai, which I do not know a lot about, that I would like to know who worked on them and to what collections they once belonged, unfortunately this is not always possible. If it was a matter of living things only without work done on them then there would be no wondering, but they are works of art in continuous evolution and that allows us a continuous relationship, even though the simple operations of maintenance ages them.

AoB: In your opinion, when does a purchased bonsai reach the point where credit to the previous art no longer needs to be given?

Mauro: Many famous bonsai will always maintain a connection to the name of the artists who created them, but obviously it is not so simple since a bonsai requires every day care in order to stay alive, pruning and maintenance to maintain its form, and therefore should also carry the name of the current caretaker. I must repeat though that it is right to include in a bonsai history all the people who have contributed to bringing it to its present state.

AoB: Many bonsaists feel that buying a bonsai that is already great is "cheating" how do you feel about such claims?

Mauro: This is a very complex issue. I generally love beautiful bonsai, if an opportunity presents itself to purchase one that appeals to me; I see no problem in doing so. This obviously brings a series of problematic considerations as to crediting the work that was done before and the person who done it. I think I handle this well by dividing everyone who the tree was exposed to or owned it, into several categories, such as amateur, professional, collectors. Of course reality is not quite so simple, but I believe this helps.

AoB: There are quite a few world-class artists in Italy, what is it like to be surrounded by so much talent?

Mauro: In Italy we are fortunate to have so many talented young people who work very hard studying bonsai. The number of young artists is growing with the frequenting of the schools of Bonsai, that in my opinion, are the present and the future for those who truly want to learn a better way to make Bonsai.


AoB: You travel extensively to many countries, have you noticed different manners of styling that change according to the region or the culture or is what you see imitations of the Japanese?

Mauro: I love to travel very much and it is one experience that aids learning more and more, it also gives one the opportunity know other people and to exchange opinions and experiences with them.

Over the last few years there are many nations that have grown substantially, such as Spain, thanks to people that have shown great passion for bonsai and in doing so, has greatly benefited the movement worldwide. Moreover, manifestations to European level like the Gingko Award and the winds of acquaintance of bonsai favors those of a higher level. Understand that today the standard is a lot removed from "the naturalistic" Bonsai of the years passed, it is instead a continuous search of "the Japanese" perfection also maintaining but one European interpretation in the "creazione".

Here in Europe today Bonsaists feel that since their bonsai have 20 to 25 years of cultivation in a Bonsai pot, they express maturity, while in Japan the greater part of the plants shown in the larger shows are Bonsai with 30 to 40 years of life in a bonsai pot. Moreover, while traveling I have noticed various artistic approaches in making Bonsai: I can cite one here large predisposition and stylistic search in the firewood sand bank of the English artists or one greatest search and artistic study in Italy.

AoB: Your love of conifers and especially larches is well known, what is it about the larch that fascinates you so much?

Mauro: I have always loved the larch long before I started with bonsai. The thing about these trees that has always fascinated me has been the change of foliage color during different seasons of the year and also the change from a masculine form when without foliage to one with delicate, almost feminine foliage. I may also have a soft spot for larches due to the fact that he first tree that I ever collected was a larch, "the cobra" and therefore, even though I can not precisely state that this is my favorite species, it certainly does hold an important place in my heart.

AoB: What species native to Italy are being developed as bonsai and are the natural forms imitated or does inspiration come from elsewhere?

Mauro: As I have said previously, in Italy we are very lucky to have such a wide variety of species that can be adapted for Bonsai. In south Italy, we find cork oaks, olive trees, and junipers. In central Italy, we find cypresses, rates, quercus ilex (lecci), and quercus robur (roveri), while to north we have Scots pines, Mugos, Larch, Firs, and Junipers sabina.

Obviously, when working with bonsai it is wise to respect the difference between conifers and deciduous trees, therefore we will go to construct softer forms in the deciduous while creating more aggressive shapes and forms on the conifers. This is not to say that deciduous trees with "extreme" movements are not found in nature, but only that in general, we must respect the essence of the species of which we are working. The natural shape of a species does not have to be imitated, but following the lessons of nature when it creates the deadwood, jin, and shari on old trees will only lead to more realistic bonsai.

AoB: It seems that many Italian artists have move beyond creating traditional Japanese bonsai and moved toward more of a freestyle form, in many cases more naturalistic. How do you feel about this personally?

Mauro: Many Italian artists follow the naturalistic tradition of making Bonsai, but this is not the unquestionable Italian artistic way of thinking. Many are leaning more towards making Bonsai in the "kimura" fashion, searching for "the extreme" style in which the use of certain techniques offers a refinement that allows complex workings without putting one to sleep. In my opinion, the many various schools of Japanese bonsai have influenced Italy's bonsai more or less for a long time and this effects the creations seen today still.


AoB: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Mauro: I see many images of Bonsai in the reviews, the books, and on the Internet which places me in a condition for seeing, at that moment when I place myself in front of a tree to be worked on, many possible outcomes for the tree which I have already seen applied, I love to call these "mental layers".

Seeing bonsai, in person, in books, or on the web is very important, as is communication with other people because the inspiration can also be derived from the acquaintance by being exposed to various approaches of creating Bonsai. Returning to the issue reviews, I would want to emphasize that looking through Japanese books, or other magazines, catalogues, or internet galleries allows to see very many wonderful trees and what they can be, this is inspiration for Bonsai. Moreover in Italy we have the possibility here of receiving notiziario UBI (that it is our national association) and Focus Bonsai, that today I think to be the two highest level periodicals of information on Bonsai.

AoB: What are your feelings on Internet bonsai contests, are they educational or productive?

Mauro: "Internet Bonsai contests" are an optimal display window for those with beautiful trees that they wish to introduce and allow other people to see and hopefully find inspiration in.

It is hard to judge on the contests where all the bonsai are great, how can you compare greatness to greatness? Each has its own beauty; we cannot judge art against art, only application of technique.

AoB: What Internet contests have you seen that you personally was impressed with and why?

Mauro: AoB's North America vs Europe contest was one of the best ever, it has put in evidence a high diversity of trees at such a high level that it literally fascinated me. There are other great contests on line as well, certre award above all for the renewed method of judgment, la Ismail Saleh, World of Bonsai photo contest, and we do not forget the Progressive Styling Contest at KoB that, in my opinion, has been one of most instructive contests on-line, ever.

AoB: How do you feel about Internet bonsai forums, do they serve a purpose and what do you see as the main advantages and disadvantages of this venue?

Mauro: Bonsai forums are excellent for comparison of bonsai and information from many different regions around the world, but they do not have to be the only source for doing so. The good forums offer support and present means for giving answers to questions or for giving or receiving information on this splendid art.

I think it is beautiful to receive opinions on plants from other people with experiences that may differ from my own and forums allow this. They help us to understand if the direction we are taking is right and they allow us to know many other people who are as passionate as we are and give us a means to share our experiences easily and quickly. However, I have said that they must, by their nature, be more educational because I think that the main approach to the Bonsai is still better learned through the clubs or through a school that can give hands on instruction of Bonsai that is real and not only virtual. Forums are like an interactive textbook, they are valuable if they are serious, but should be used in conjunction with other, in person, venues.

AoB: Living in Europe, you are close to many world-class exhibits and shows, how do you feel about these and what, if anything, would you like to see changed?

Mauro: In Europe there are many truly important exhibits and shows and, like I have said before, these play a fundamental role in the expansion of the bonsai movement. It is wonderful to be exposed to these beautiful bonsai and to meet other enthusiasts from near and far. They also offer the opportunity to show my own bonsai in such great venues and to experience the appreciation if they are well accepted.

The judging process in Italy, as in other European exhibits and shows, in which I have participated, is always very delicate. It seems that many are always questioning and perhaps too much complaining after the allocation of the prizes and these controversies perhaps do more to ruin the atmosphere of friendly competition that us would have to be between the bonsaists, then anything else. The allocation of the prizes is never an easy task, but one who decides to participate in these exhibits and shows must also accept the judgments as they are made.


AoB: Your gallery here at AoB ( ) shows a wide range of species, is your entire collection so diverse?

Mauro: Currently I have approximately 40 plants in my collection between Bonsai in the advance stages and material in progress. They are pretty equal in distribution of native species and those that have been imported; most of these are conifers. I have many Scots pines and Junipers but I have also some deciduous species that I enjoy as they emphasize passing of the seasons. I think it is important to have a wide variety of species so one can have a well-rounded knowledge. I would also emphasize that, in my opinion, a collection must be built with consideration of the climate in which we live, because it would be a waste for me (in example) to try olive trees in my zone because they would not ever be as beautiful as those in the south of my country.

AoB: You have done a lot of collecting in the Alps, what native species shows the most promise for bonsai and are there uncommon species you have been working with?

Mauro: I spend much time collecting yamadori in my area, but I also collect in the border areas of France and in France in order to try other optimal materials for Bonsai that do not grow locally. In my zone I have the possibility to find beautiful pines mugho with veins and dead wood and that makes these trees optimal material for Bonsai. I also have collected some good fir and larch, but these are not easy to find and one must walk very far to do so.

In France I have seen and collected beautiful Scots pines that can be found in all Europe and understand that these are the trees which can see a great future in a relatively short time period. In Valledaosta, on the border with France, there are the most beautiful Sabina junipers with spectacular dead wood that have no reason to envy the junipers that we see in Japan. Obviously before becoming bonsai of that level they will require many years, but the bonsai movement is young and above all there are many young people who are passionate and we will see, in the next few years, many beautiful Bonsais of Italian origin coming from such material.

AoB: What do you look for in a tree when collecting?

Mauro: The main thing is the is the collection possibility. I mean to say the fact of being able to collect it with utmost certainly of its survival. There are, here in my mountains, very many great trees, but they are impossible to collect or because they grow within inaccessible cliffs, it is better that they remain a beautiful in nature.

Other factors important to estimate are the compactness of the vegetation and the possibility of transport to the car, because sometimes the most beautiful plants are found far away from the trails and the task to carry them to the car becomes complex.


AoB: What is the most important thing to you when designing a bonsai?

Mauro: Every time that I begin to work on a new tee I carefully consider all the many possibilities the tree suggests to me with its shape. It is not always easy to work on virgin material and many times on my plants I watch them as I care for them on the benches in my garden before deciding "ok time to move it to the workshop and begin the job". This is because on complex materials we hash and rehash ideas and thoughts and paths to take many times before we begin the job, this allows us to consider many options. This can happen over periods of working the necessary things, like bringing foliage closer to the trunk, as we do this new possibilities can present themselves, even though we more or less have a goal. To have always a plan defined enough in mind when we work on a Bonsai allows us to execute techniques while respecting the plant and its periods of recovery. A various issue instead regards the approach to a Bonsai that even needs of being shown for one exposure. In this case it is important to work trying to our involvement, in example where normally we would put a wire of a large diameter in order to move a branch we instead use a small diameter wire so it is almost invisible.

AoB: What aspect of bonsai do you see changing the fastest and is this a good thing?

Mauro: In these years in Europe we look through the national level and international level books of the great shows and exhibits and the aesthetic search has grown truly a lot and this goes equally side by side with technical search for perfection. The important part of simple artists getting passionate about the art and introducing many new species for bonsai is setting a high standard. The other standard that many watch above all as a source of instruction is "the almost perfect" exemplary presentation of bonsai and display..

AoB: Who do you think is leading the bonsai community toward more artistic bonsai today?

Mauro: I think there may be better people to ask this of. Let me explain myself better, there are very many artists who have passed periods of study in Japan under masters more or less known and then they return to Europe and with their jobs they have raised the level of bonsai. It is also true that many other European artists who never visited the East have acquired extraordinary ability to make Bonsai. But, in my opinion the thing that has raised a the level of bonsai a lot has been the plants imported, because when they have been shown they have given many the chance to see such, the way in which it has been constructed, and this helps to take Bonsai to higher level truly. Seeing and above all to be able to study plants that come from Japan allows us to understand as it is the Japanese approach to "making Bonsai"

AoB: Who do you think did so in the past?

Mauro: In the past when Bonsai was hardly known or very little known it still shaped the atmosphere of bonsai today, thanks to so-called the "pioneers" whose passion have allowed many to become interested to this art. I can cite for Italy Arming From With, while in Europe names like Walter Pall for the Germany, Peter Chan for England, Luis Vallejo and Angel Motta for Spain, and obviously Pius Notter for the Swiss have been the premonitory advocates of what we can call "contemporary Bonsai". Thanks to you all.

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