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 Post subject: Profile: Pauline Muth
PostPosted: Tue Oct 31, 2006 11:42 pm 

Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2005 2:11 am
Posts: 6469
Location: Michigan USA
Profile: Pauline Muth
Whenever someone mentions bonsai artists who are inspirational, Pauline Muth's name seems to always top the list and for very good reasons. She has been actively involved in bonsai for over thirty years, a member of her original club (Mohawk Hudson Bonsai Society in the capital district area of New York State) for over 25 years where she now serves on the the board of directors, and she has studied with some of the greatest masters in bonsai, such as John Naka, over the years.

Pauline was not simply content with learning bonsai, she wanted to give back to the art as well and it was not long before she was actively involved in many organizations and publications dealing with bonsai and the advancement of the art form.

Pauline currently is the President of the American Bonsai Society, Ambassador for Bonsai Clubs International (BCI), on the Board of Directors of Mid-Atlantic Bonsai Societies, Chair person for ABS Learning Seminars 2006 In Saratoga Springs NY and 2007 in Virginia Beach VA, and she is a contributing author for local newsletters, Bonsai On Line Magazine, ABS Journal, and BCI Bonsai magazines.

In addition to all of the above responsibilities, Pauline also teaches classes, workshops, and demonstrations in between owning and operating a bonsai teaching studio for over 16 years. She has also been the recipient of several local, regional and international bonsai awards.

Inspirational? Some would say a very model of inspiration, we here at AoB agree and are proud to present the following on-line interview with Pauline Muth.

All photographs and bonsai are by Pauline Muth.

AoB: How did you first get involved in bonsai?

Pauline: Sometime in the 1970s, I do not really remember which year, I was participating in a plant show held annually at a local museum. Five plant societies took part in the annual show. I was there at a table representing GAIPA (Greenhouse and Indoor Plant Society). At the time I was growing a lot of miniature and dwarf geraniums and succulents.

The local bonsai society was also present (Mohawk Hudson Bonsai Society) and represented on that extremely rainy day by one of the club Sensei, Earle Pudney. Earle kept asking me to come over to their table and try my hand at creating a bonsai. Due to the extremely bad weather, almost no one was attending the show so out of curiosity, I worked with Earle. It was immediate love. I started lessons with Earle and continued studying with him for years. He kept encouraging me to attend a club meeting but I did not have enough time during those years with 2 boys at home.

AoB: Which bonsai organizations do you belong to and when did you join your first club?

Pauline: When Earle finally insisted that I must attend the next meeting of Mohawk Hudson, I did because he said I could not miss watching this demonstration. It turned out to be John Naka. That demo sent me over the top with bonsai. I also met another of the founding members of the club at that meeting, Josie Biondo. Josie was the most incredible, loving and uplifting little lady I had ever had the pleasure of knowing. She insisted I go to conferences and literally picked me up from the school where I was teaching on Fridays and whisked me off. First we went to International Bonsai conferences in Rochester where I was a kid in a candy shop. I found a seat in the front row and took tons of notes and drove people nuts with questions. Over the years she and I went to many conferences until in later years her health would not permit it. She also brought me into our Shohin Study group with Bill Breiten. I learned soooo much from that group of bonsai addicts. When my daughter was born in 1981, both the study group and MHBS adopted her as their youngest member. Liz has been creating bonsai since she was four thanks to Josie.

I also sit on the board of our regional, Mid-Atlantic Bonsai Societies and work as speaker helper at the festivities. I sit on the boards of the American Bonsai Society (currently President) and Bonsai Clubs International (Corresponding Secretary).

AoB: When did you first start the pfm bonsai studio and what lead to its opening?

Pauline: My Sensei Earle Pudney really wanted a local place for supplies for bonsai. The closest at the time was Bill's in Rochester. I kept telling him to wait until I retired and then I would but he said not to wait. After a few years coaching, I started by just ordering supplies for the club but eventually I opened pfm bonsai in 1990 in my home. The studio took over what had been the boy's computer and study room. It has a double glass door that looks over my back yard. My bonsai gardens take up much of the landscaping there.

AoB: Tell us more about the pfm bonsai studio and the goals you have for it.

Pauline: My studio is really for teaching. I enjoy passing the art and science on to others. This is a major carry over from my happy days as a science teacher. (I retired in 2001) Bonsai people are a joy to work with. Since my studio is very condensed, my goal is to build a larger structure were I can teach small groups year round. (I fear this will take winning a lottery!) Meanwhile I carry all the supplies that are needed and create bonsai for others.

AoB: Pauline, you are the current president of the American Bonsai Society, what led you to this position?

Pauline: I received a call before the New Orleans convention asking me to run for the ABS board. Since this seemed like a great way to meet more people involved in the art and to perhaps exert influence on making conferences more educational, I accepted. I was appointed as co secretary in New Orleans. (I think this is because I was sitting there taking notes as usual.) From there I became Vice President during my second term and then I was elected President at the ABS Learning Seminars 2006 in Saratoga which I chaired.

AoB: What can you tell us about the goals of the organization?

Pauline: We really have one main goal. ABS wants to help educate people about the art and horticulture of North American Bonsai. Bonsai gets a bad reputation because those who buy a bonsai have not gotten enough good directions to keep them alive and going. If ABS can reach out and help spread not only the basics but teach its members all aspects of bonsai, it will have achieved much.

AoB: ABS stresses the importance of local clubs and has done much to develop and cultivate many clubs around the country. Why do you feel this is important?

Pauline: Given our goal to educate, each person who wants to learn needs mentors. Can there be a better place to start then with a friendly group of people who are interested in the same avocation?

A Ficus nerifolia raft with a sedum accent.

AoB: What can you tell us about the future goals of ABS and/or new projects that are in development?

Pauline: After the great success we had with the Learning Seminars, we are planning on continuing this classroom format in the future. Currently we have planned Learning Seminars in Virginia Beach in 07, San Antonio in 08 and Boise in 09 with negotiations on going for other ABS regions for 2010 and 2011 (Louisville). ABS likes to work with small local clubs that can be our Seminar hosts with the ABS Board and committees doing all the work in setting up the Seminars.

In conjunction with the Seminars, we have set up the ABS Founders Scholarship, funded by member contributions, that is given to a person in the local region of the current Seminar and pays for their registration to the Seminar. This scholarship is a memorial to past ABS leaders and is awarded to a person who would not be able to afford our event but has shown exceptional interest in the art in his or her region and has contributed in effort and work to the local organization.

The magazine and the web sites have been undergoing changes to bring them into our Bonsai Learning Source focus. We want the Journal and the web site to be the best possible sources for North American bonsai information possible.
Our current Bonsai Features Booklets project is highly successful. With these booklets ABS is showcasing many bonsai techniques and practices in easy to read and comprehend formats. Currently booklets on wiring, indoor bonsai, fertilizing and saikei are in stock and more than a dozen are in production. At 9.95 each, these are a learning bargain.

Our second annual bonsai calendar features the collection of Harry Hirao of California and next year will feature the Pacific Rim Collection.

AoB: ABS has long been a proponent of advancing the art of bonsai in America and of using species indigenous to this country. It is well known that America is behind many other countries as far as producing world class bonsai is concerned. Do you think that this gap is closing and what would you say needs to be accomplished to finally close it completely?

Pauline: There are some incredibly talented bonsai artists in the USA and all of NA. Since we are so spread out, we are not able to bring together the kind of shows that we see in Japan or at shows like the Ginkgo in Europe. I have seen wonderful trees in every area of NA. I wish there was a way to get people to bring them all together to show the world what we are doing. (Watch one of our board members is working on such a project in the Midwest)

AoB: ABS also encourages cooperation between all the bonsai organizations and works hard to set an example for others to follow. What led to this outlook and has it been successful?

Pauline: We think so. By having board members that are on regional boards and BCI also, we have improved communications. Bonsai is an art form that attracts extremely friendly and cooperative people by and large. I have heard that in the past there were some problems and I hope that the attitudes that those problems fostered are disappearing. Bonsai Organizations should not be political. If we want to spread our art and increase the success of those practicing it, cooperative learning is the key.

AoB: The ABS Journal is read by many bonsai enthusiasts, is it difficult to publish such a magazine that caters to a niche market?

Pauline: Very. God bless and care for the editor, Bob King and his helpers. Good articles and pictures are hard to come by. He is always in need of them. Also it is costly to produce in small numbers as most niche magazines are. Since the quality of the magazine has increased so much and now provides lots of the meat of bonsai that is needed, we hope to attract more members and with more members, more advertisers.

AoB: A common complaint by many bonsaists is that most bonsai magazines do not have enough articles that deal specifically with cultivating bonsai in their own geographical location. The ABS Journal seems to always have an abundance of articles wrote by bonsaists right here in America, are articles from local authors difficult to obtain?

Pauline: Yes. We have a number of good authors that help us out but we always need more. I often wonder if many of the most successful bonsai artists are resistant to putting their knowledge out there for all to read or perhaps it is just plain lack of time to write. I do know that we want more articles like our regional series that Doug Hawley and Tom McCormack set up for us.

AoB: ABS has a program called "Bonsai and Beyond" which addresses the concern of many bonsaist as to what will happen to their collection in case of illness or death. This is a remarkable idea, could you tell us how this came into existence and elaborate more on this idea?

Pauline: I will have to defer an answer on this until we have completed the project.

AoB: Another great ABS sponsored program is the "Joshua Roth New Talent Bonsai Competition" which is set up to recognize and promote new bonsai talent in North America. How has the entries for this been and do you foresee greater applicant numbers in the future?

Pauline: This program now gets more applicants than places. Joshua Roth Tools has been very generous in its co sponsorship of this worthwhile project. Each year the talent is better and better. I would not like to be a judge. Jack Douthitt has done a terrific job with it. Harold Johnson is now taking on this task and after some years of experience, we have made some changes to the contest that you can see at the abs web site.

A pink flowering Azalea.

AoB: You have been involved in bonsai for quite some time now. What would you describe as the biggest changes in bonsai culture that you have seen?

Pauline: The recognition that bonsai requires good horticulture as well as artistic talent. We are learning to study the growing habits and requirements of each species and as a result our bonsai are healthier and develop faster than before. Also we are observing better and learning to really style our trees as art. Look at the pictures of bonsai in the early books. Most people were happy to have their trees survive year after year. Now we spend the time and patience to wire and fertilize and trim and create truly beautiful bonsai. We are truly becoming an art form, when you look at an outstanding bonsai, you can often name the artist!!

AoB: As an instructor of bonsai, what in your mind is the most difficult thing about teaching?

Pauline: Patience. This is the land of instant everything. One of my favorite bonsai teachers is my friend Nick Lenz. Nick teaches the long term approach to bonsai projects. Do some today, some tomorrow, more over the next years, watch your trees, care for them, eventually you will create bonsai.

AoB: If you could only teach one thing about bonsai, what would it be?

Pauline: Bonsai takes time. Give it time with your care during it's progression from tree to bonsai.

AoB: You do many demonstrations and workshops around the country, how do you compromise between the "Instant Bonsai" most clubs want to see and the more realistic outcome of a tree that is styled for the future?

Pauline: I refuse to do instant bonsai. When I do a demonstration, I bring lots of visuals to teach from. I demonstrate bits and pieces of techniques that deal with the ideas I am teaching. I then present the club with a "completed" bonsai on the topic that I worked on over several years for their raffle or auction. It is so sad that we create "Slash and Burn" bonsai at demonstrations. The poor winner of many auctions and raffles end up only with memories or perhaps a pot. Even at MABS, when I assist, I really try to prevent potting up a newly styled bonsai. It is too much too soon. See question above.

AoB: Women are still very much a minority in the bonsai community and women with your vast experience, more so. Why do you think this is?

Pauline: Really? There are MANY women in bonsai in the world but I do not usually see a balance of women on programs. This I can not explain. When I look at the membership of clubs, I see many women. I guess we need to ask the organizers of events why more women are not chosen.

AoB: In your opinion, what is needed to correct this?

Pauline: Convention and club program chairs need to invite more women on their programs and not just the same few. There are many good bonsai teachers out there waiting to have the chance to share their art. As a science teacher I promoted the sciences, technologies and mathematics to young women (and young men of course) by example. If we want more women in the art, then we need to showcase successful women.

AoB: Do you think women have to work harder to be accepted in the world of bonsai?

Pauline: Why? I really do not know one way or the other. I have always felt accepted by my club from the beginning. (My club was founded by a woman.) To succeed at anything, a person must study and work. When I see today's successful bonsai women like Kathy Shaner and Cheryl Manning, I see workaholics and very nice people. They are extremely talented and are willing to share all they know with everyone who is interested. This is the key to success for men and women.
Learn, work, grow, friendly and generous to all.

AoB: You are a proficient author and have written many useful articles on developing bonsai. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Pauline: Share what you know. Be sure that you have tried and succeeded with the advice you are giving. Share both failures and successes so that you can save someone else from disappointments. Have a good friend read and edit for you and thank them with all your heart.

AoB: In your bonsai career you have met most of the experts. Who made the biggest impression on you and why?

Pauline: This is so hard. There are so many great teachers out there but I guess among the known experts I would choose John Naka. Each time I was able to listen to or work with him, I learned not only from his vast store of knowledge but from a gentle and caring spirit that taught with love and humor.
A collected cascade potentella with a tiny orchid accent.

AoB: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Pauline: Nature. There is no greater master.

AoB: Which people would you say, in your opinion, are leading the art of bonsai into a new era today?

Pauline: Wow, you do ask the hard questions. There are so many. I truly believe that each and every teacher who shares this art form with others is bringing bonsai into a new era.

AoB: Why bonsai?

Pauline: I love this art form not only for the trees and my beloved accent plantings but for the people in bonsai. Each convention, club meeting or study group brings together such a wonderful group of friends.
It is my wish that all bonsai artists work together to share this art form and help each other.
Seasons pass
Friendship grows
Life is sharing
Pauline F Muth

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