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Advanced Techniques => Advanced Display Discussion => Topic started by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 12:16 AM

Title: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 12:16 AM
 Bonsai Deconstructed

This subject has been talked about from time to time and I thought it time to visit it under different circumstances.

I will preface this essay with one small caveat. When in the future I speak of the “West”, I am not meaning to include Europe in this context. I am speaking of the West to mean America exclusively. Why not Europe? Because Europe for the most part gets Bonsai. It is viewed as an art form, and is judged on the trees merits and not the maker, exhibitor, owner.

 Bonsai when displayed is meant to be enjoyed. It is not meant to be deconstructed to the point of exhaustion. Bonsai are to be revered and taken in with a spiritual quality as any painting or sculpture. For the most part bonsai are divided into two categories. Those designed and styled by their owners or bonsai bought in a near finished state and kept by a collector. There are gray areas between the two but detailing that is akin to why I am addressing this issue. There is only one way to enjoy bonsai when displayed. That is to look and feel the bonsai, not deconstruct it. As soon as deconstruction starts the bonsai has been minimized to basic elements like trunk line and branch structure and ramification and all those small elements that go into making bonsai. We lose site of what is really great about the tree and seem to zero in on all it’s flaws. The flaws are what make a bonsai unique and special, not fodder to distract the eye from the story being told.

Our club has a judged exhibit during the fair. They are entered as “styled” or “acquired”. When two trees are exhibited in a class and  two trees tie, the ribbon is awarded to the styled tree rather than the acquired tree. I feel that there must be a better way to determine a winner rather than falling back on this small detail. Who did the work is immaterial when it comes to judging a tree. Since this is a fair and the purpose is to showcase “owners work” we have never taken issue with this method. If this was an outright contest and the “trees” were being judged, I would assume the judge would come to a better conclusion than this method.

A display of bonsai should be a time for looking at what was done right. I have been doing bonsai for over 25 years and I can tell you that the first 15 years were spent with trying to make tunuki’s, strip all the bark off in an effort to make a 5 gallon procumbens look 500 years old, and build a collection out of 100 crappy nursery trees that would never be anything because of poor nebari and trunk lines. It was not until I started to really travel the state and seek out the best trees in the state to study and appreciate. Out of this appreciation came the opening of the mind to how certain things were done. I was able to see close up how branches were manipulated to fill voids on the trunk with no branches, how carving the trunk in the right places added the needed taper that was not there before. Seeing this up close and with the needed time to really ingrain it into my brain became my apprenticeship in bonsai technique. I could read a thousand books and would have never seen the way the techniques in the book really work without seeing the finished process up close and personnel.

It is OK to go to an exhibit and think what you would have done different. It is OK to deconstruct bonsai and put it back together in your own mind with a different purpose and feeling. Of course the tree is not your and will never be in a position for you to change, so why not look at the tree and it’s positives and see how those might be put to use on your own trees. Start your apprenticeship on the cheap and grow with bonsai. It all can be found at the exhibit.

On another forum, I posted pictures of the recent Toko-Kazari in Hanford California at the Clark Center for Japanese Art. While the pictures were well received I asked for the “what was good and what was bad”. I mostly got the what was bad. I was a little disappointed that many did not find more things that were done well and appreciated that to a greater degree. I feel the idea about display was missed. I will take the opportunity to repost the images here as well as the artists and the titles so they can be better appreciated.

(ed. Note. I have been informed that a book of photos as well as artists notes about their inspiration and meaning for the display will be available soon at $20.00 a copy. Many of my photos may be there, I have not received confirmation yet.)

Let’s take a new look at the first annual Toko-Kazari
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 12:21 AM
First Place
Jim Gremel

"Serenity"


This composition of a cascade Blue atlas cedar was one of the best displays I have ever seen. At first I didn't get the moon scroll and when I watched Jim set up the display which was next to mine, I though "oh boy Jim you really blew the season on this one". Then later when I studied it more I began to remember when I was a kid I would see clouds in the summer at dusk that would obscure the moon while I was trying to watch with a telesope. I would cuss those clouds for moving in and out of my pristine view.

Jim took me back to that time and stole my 2500.00 bucks.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 12:29 AM
Second Place
Hideko Metaxis

"Feel as you wish"

This display is very religious. The tall stand places the tree in very high reverence. The Gingko tree is the guard of the Temple shrine, while the Kanon, Goddes of mercy watches the door of the shrine. The scroll of Kanji reads "kan ge sai (sp) or "Feel as you wish" or "look into yourself". A very nice display with everything in its place as only Hideko can do.

I might add that displays like this can only be appreciated when one understands all the things that each item represents. I must confess it was not my favorite staright away because I did not understand the meanings of the pieces. Once known, it all makes sense. So is the way of Kei-do*.




* Kei-do the only school for formal Tokonoma display in Japan.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 12:37 AM
Third Place
Ted Matson

" Sierra Reflection"

I was most happy about this piece. For one I have respected Ted for many years and work with him 8 times a year. I was also very happy to see him recieve these very nice accolades for decades of years  of service to the bonsai comunnity.

At first glance this piece is disconnected. The scroll is very high in the display. This could only be acheieved by the fact that the ceiling in the museum was tall enough to give us the freedom to make these presentations. Ted's inspiration for this was a waterfall plunging many feet into a pool below supporting a small conifer forest in the mist. It is very easy to see the inspiration and I think it was very well executed. I feel it totaly and will provide a photo of what I feel Ted was trying to say.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 12:42 AM
Fourth Place
John Wang

"Hein Spring"

This display is all about the dance of spring. The focus was on fans. The trees are in the shape of a fan and the scroll depicts a fan and the dancer accessory depitcs a fan dancer. While the redundancy of the fan is executed here and would normally be a fault, the interplay of all the lements was making them all work, which they did. John was the most complex person I ever met. He agonized over this display for two hours tring to get it just right. He had as many as 5 scrolls spread over the floor of the museum trying to get the right mood.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 12:49 AM
Fifth Place
Charles Nelson

"High Sierra"

Chuck nelson lives aout 1/2 mile from my home. We share bonsai as very good friends, almost brothers in the art. Chuck was very hesitant when I asked him to display a piece in our Kazari, he did not feel that he had the chops to succeed.

Chuck built the stand, with my help, for the tree. He did not spend alot on wood so decided to paint the stand. I think it worked adding a sharp contrast to the bleached wood of the great formal upright C. juniper. He dug that juniper with Harry Hirao 35 years ago. The waterfall scroll was ordered from Japan and was dilivered the week before the event.Talk about timing.
I think the composition was very good and my only criticism of the piece was that the accent was on a stone. I also did not like the domestic flowers in the accent and would like to have seen some alpine weeds.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 12:55 AM
Sixth Place
Kenji Miyata

"Cloudy Design"

This piece was a very evocative piece. It makes very good use of "white space". The nana juniper is the finest I have ever seen and is displayed on an antique Japanese stand worth more than all the trees in the museum. The small maple tree used for a accent tree is very well done. Kenji chose a more rustic, not overyl manicured maple tree on purpose. The accent tree must not compete for attention and lend support. This it does masterfully. The scroll is unusal being fired tiles put together on a plank holder. I did not get a close up but it depicts a cloudy scene along a Japanese river.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 01:01 AM
Sixth Place (tie)
Seiji Shiba

"Serene Feeling"

I have seen Seiji's C. juniper many times around the state. I have never seen it in this type setting. It is a very large tree being nearly 45 inches tall and a trunk as thick as your thigh. The branches are marvelous and it provokes thought when it is seen. being possibly a 1000 years old it was around when the Anazazi indians ruled the southwest, and Mayans were ruling South America. It is too bad that there was not enough room to fully execute what Seiji had in mind, because he brought a scroll to use with this piece. Hideko told him that using the scroll would diminish the powerfull tree and to not use it. I think she was right. We will never know where it may have placed with the scroll being a very powerful tree.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 01:06 AM
Eighth Place
Hanford Bonsai Society

"Crossing the River"

This piece was a filler piece that remained to be judged since it was offered by a club. Some people at the last minute cancled due to trees not looking sharp enough or things like that. Bob Hilvers and I worked together on this piece and it lacked many things to make it a top notch piece. The tree is a nana in a semi cascade form on a rock cliff. the rock offers enough vertcality to give the viewer the message that it is a cliff. The scroll depicts a fishernam in a boat going down the river. The accent is a bronze turtle that is found near these rivers.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 01:19 AM
Ninth Place
Al Keppler

"Butterflies and Barbs"

My inspiration came from drives with my wife on Sunday afternoons in spring when the foothill are carpeted with wild flowers. I live very close to the beginning or end (depending on how you look at it) of Hiway 49 the golden Hiway. This is the hiway the traversus the foothills where all the gold was found in 1849 and brought about western expansion in the USA.

Many of the fences around this area are nearly a hundred years old and the barbed wire is brittle and will break instead of bend. The fence posts are rittled with acorn holes by woodpeckers hiding their winter snack. My piece exhibits a pyracantha full of barbs with an accent piece of wild grasses and a woodpecker holed fence post with more barbs on wire. To soften the harsh barbs I selected a picture of a butterfly fliiting over the wild flowers.

The head judge felt this was the most evocative piece in the entire exhibit. Never before had he seen an accent piece so "out of the box" before. When Bob Hilvers and I set this annual affair up it was out intention to highlight more of an American flare on display. Due to Larry Ragle, (Head Judge) being classically trained in Kei-do in Japan, that is what he judged on. My piece had too many man elements in it. The fence post, the barbed wire, the domestic lilies in the scroll, and so points were deducted for that. Larry commented that had I taken the tree out and displayed the scroll and accent only I probably would have won on technical merit alone for those two pieces of art.

As a side note... being a Japanese Museum and many Japanese people attending, it was brought to my attention that five people asked about my use of barbed wire in my composition. They asked if I was trying to show peace thru the relationship of butteyfly and internment camp. On hearing this it brought goose flesh to my arms, in fact it does again as I type. To know that I stirred that type of emotion in people viewing my work when that was not even a consideration of mine was mind blowing. To me that is the essence of Bonsai display.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 01:25 AM
Tenth Place
Peter Tea

"Summer Days"

Just before bonsaiTALK went down Vonsgarden (John Kirby) had talked of a guy in San Jose that had studied with Boon. He spoke of him as an up and comer. We invited him to participate and he did. His tree, a Bouganvilla was extraordinary. All the blossoms were the same size and distributed all over the tree. The stand was nice and accent adaquate. a small bronze snake was displayed along side the accent. I did not see this untill later and felt it may have turned off the judges being a little kitsch. Being a tree with flowers I feel that a scroll with kanji saying summer days would have really helped make this composition sparkle.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 01:28 AM
Eleventh Place
John Roehl

"Soon Shade and Rest"

This piece was very nice. Once again I did not get it at first. Someone told me that the scroll depicted noon day sun. Then it all started to make sense. The lonely Japanese wanderer is seeking the shade of the grove of elms from the blistering heat of the noonday sun. Simple and to the point....I like it.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 01:35 AM
Twelveth Place
Katsumi Kinoshita

"Memory of Mount Fuji"

Kats is my teacher. He is an old Japanese man around 78 years old. He has had a hard life being a landscaper most of his life. This old Monterey pine used to be so much more beautiful when its lower two branches were intact. About 4 years ago something went wrong and he could not save them. They died leaving the skeletons of years past. This display depicts a time when an old man can look at a mountain and remember his youth in a land far away. Bonsai is all about provoking feeling and I can feel what he feels when I understand the language.  Back bent, and broken withered limbs but a spirit and memory to last a life time.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 01:39 AM
Thirteenth Place
Fresno Bonsai Society

"Spring in the Sierra Nevada"

In the other forum this display garnered no discussion at all. I wondered why? Is it so perfect that no one could say anything, or was there so much wrong that no body knew where to start?

Maybe this time it will stir some discussion. I will leave it to you all.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 01:43 AM
Fourteenth Place
Fred Miyahara

"The Joy of Spring"

I have to say that of all the displays this one I did not get. I didn't get it even when I was told what it was from the artist. It is a four point display and not very well executed. The trees are the same size with neither dominating. The chojubai quince while used as an accent seems the larger of the two and that makes it all the more difficult to figure out. I didn't get the stone at all and I feel this is a case when "maybe one more piece will turn the tide in my favor" The scroll was too little and the root stand was too "over the top" for my taste.

I didn't see spring here. Maybe flowers on the quince would have changed my mind...maybe not.


Discussion...?
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: johng on June 21, 2009, 07:14 AM
First Place
Jim Gremel

"Serenity"


This composition of a cascade Blue atlas cedar was one of the best displays I have ever seen. At first I didn't get the moon scroll and when I watched Jim set up the display which was next to mine, I though "oh boy Jim you really blew the season on this one". Then later when I studied it more I began to remember when I was a kid I would see clouds in the summer at dusk that would obscure the moon while I was trying to watch with a telesope. I would cuss those clouds for moving in and out of my pristine view.

Jim took me back to that time and stole my 2500.00 bucks.

Michael Hagedorn mentions this very notion about the moon and clouds being related to Summer.  Although it is not that long, he has a section in his book, 'Post Dated" in which he discusses the subtlety of display.  I am not surprised that so many people don't really get display...especially Japanese display.  There is often information in the display that is culturally significant and we just miss it!!  His teacher, as well as many others, seem to always suggest that display should be a local phenomenon...this way hopefully the audience will pick on the details that inform the story.

Thanks Al...I really enjoy display although I have sooo much to learn.
John
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: johng on June 21, 2009, 07:25 AM
Second Place
Hideko Metaxis

"Feel as you wish"

This display is very religious. The tall stand places the tree in very high reverence. The Gingko tree is the guard of the Temple shrine, while the Kanon, Goddes of mercy watches the door of the shrine. The scroll of Kanji reads "kan ge sai (sp) or "Feel as you wish" or "look into yourself". A very nice display with everything in its place as only Hideko can do.

I might add that displays like this can only be appreciated when one understands all the things that each item represents. I must confess it was not my favorite staright away because I did not understand the meanings of the pieces. Once known, it all makes sense. So is the way of Kei-do*.


I knew that this display was one of the winners from your other threads...I had know way of knowing what the message was and was therefore not impressed with display...nothing to do with the elements...it just had no story to tell me
John
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: johng on June 21, 2009, 07:59 AM
Thirteenth Place
Fresno Bonsai Society

"Spring in the Sierra Nevada"

In the other forum this display garnered no discussion at all. I wondered why? Is it so perfect that no one could say anything, or was there so much wrong that no body knew where to start?

Maybe this time it will stir some discussion. I will leave it to you all.

I must admit that the vertical piece of wood and the door make it more difficult to enjoy this display...if this were the spot I was given in a judged contest I think I would have been very disappointed.

There are also a couple of technical details that cause disharmony for me...
i think the tree and the scroll would flow better if they were reversed
I am not sure that the slab is large enough and I thinks it arms visually compete with the tree.
Its difficult to say for sure but the bird in the scroll reminds me of a kingfisher and as such seems out of place in the Sierre Nevadas.
Two slabs used...maybe one should have been a stand???

For me personally, with limited knowledge of the Sierra Nevadas, I think the tree is right on the money!  I like the fern accessory as well and I suspect it works in the given theme.

Although I do realize they should not, some of the details of this display distract me significantly from really enjoying this display.

I notice that this display was put together by a society/club...I wonder if these dynamics played into the results of the display...  In my experience, display by committee is extremely hard to pull off successfully.

just my thoughts...
john

Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: johng on June 21, 2009, 08:07 AM
Thank you Al...this was a ton of work. I have always really liked the display aspects of bonsai.  I have had only the rare opportunity to formally display my own trees in a singular fashion.  I have actively participated in creating club displays for the Carolina Bonsai Expo for 13 years and our local clubs show for several years prior to that.  I had the good fortune of having Tom Dimig (a student of Bill V's from long ago)share much of his knowledge about display.  I was also influenced by a video on display from the Kei-do school.  I have commented on a couple of the displays and will comment more as I get time....not that anything I say means anything..I just enjoy the opportunity to share my thoughts.
Thanks,
John

Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 11:15 AM
Thanks John...All thoughts add to the enjoyment and education of bonsai.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: johng on June 21, 2009, 08:57 PM
Third Place
Ted Matson

" Sierra Reflection"

I was most happy about this piece. For one I have respected Ted for many years and work with him 8 times a year. I was also very happy to see him recieve these very nice accolades for decades of years  of service to the bonsai community.

At first glance this piece is disconnected. The scroll is very high in the display. This could only be acheieved by the fact that the ceiling in the museum was tall enough to give us the freedom to make these presentations. Ted's inspiration for this was a waterfall plunging many feet into a pool below supporting a small conifer forest in the mist. It is very easy to see the inspiration and I think it was very well executed. I feel it totaly and will provide a photo of what I feel Ted was trying to say.

With your picture Al, this display speaks to me.  I really like the forest...it may never be a masterpiece but it has a very natural feel.  I think this is a very good example of letting the local nature guide the development of the display, much like your display.  I think that in general people outside of Japan worry way to much about the physical setup and placement of a display...as you point out these things are important but are secondary to the story/message.

Thanks,
John
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: johng on June 21, 2009, 09:10 PM
This is a general statement but I really think we need to work on not cluttering the display area with name cards or numbers.  I notice small white cards in each of the display areas here. To my recollection nearly every American display of bonsai that I have seen have some sort of numbers or cards or something causing a distraction in the display area.  At the Carolina Bonsai Expo clubs are required to report the display information weeks before the display.  After the displays are setup a numbered list is generated and a small number card is placed near each tree.  I understand that educating viewers is important to the process of a public display but I just think a little more consideration could be used when it comes to placing that info.  What does it say to the viewer about the value of display if we are cluttering it up with non essentials?

Has anyone else noticed this...  I cannot recall off the top of my head, does the BIB show including anything like this???
John
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on June 21, 2009, 11:59 PM
Actually the small numbers were an oversight and we totally missed removing them. The cards were there because it gave the artists name, the title of the display and the theme of the display as well as the name of the plant as the main tree.

The numbers were left there after it was judged because there were no name cards before judging, and the numbers were the sole means of collating who was who. The numbers should have been picked up after judging but were missed.

Ahh well next year.

BIB uses a number systen where a card is placed at the back of the exhibit. Upon entering the exhibit you are handed a program and it lists all the pertinent info to the corresponding displays.

We will probably do something similer next year. We really wanted a program but ran out of time and man power.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: bwaynef on June 22, 2009, 09:53 AM
#13: Spring in the Sierra Nevada

I haven't spent a lot of time in the Sierra Nevada.  (That was the opposite of hyperbole.)  I don't know how well the artist did in depicting that environment.  I don't recall seeing the titles for the display when I first saw this display. 

At first glance I usually focus on the tree in displays.  I saw a tree that looked like it might have a high-mountain feel to it.  Then I saw the accent and the scroll and they suggested something else to me.  In those two elements I get the sense of being near a pond.  One would probably be hearing the hum of mosquitoes and the unmistakable bullfrog.   Going that route the tree became secondary.  Merely a suggestion.  After immersing myself in that display I got it.

When I viewed this display from that viewpoint I was taken immediately to a town in which I used to live.  My neighborhood backed up to another with a pond right off the road.  There were constantly herons patrolling the shallow water around the edges.  In the middle of the road was a GIANT Bald cypress that slowed traffic right as the pond opened up.  There was a little deadwood throughout the very upright canopy.  In the mornings the air was a little damp.  In the evenings the area was teeming with wildlife. If I still lived there I'd snap a picture and you all could see how well this display captured that environment.


So, I'm not sure how well the spring in the sierra was accomplished, but after a little study, I was smitten with this display because it was a scene I'd known well.  I'm sure it would've been better w/ a different tree.  Maybe that was a fault in the display.  Maybe I'm not versed in "Sierra Nevada" enough to get it.  Either way, I really liked this display.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: John Kirby on June 30, 2009, 09:22 PM
Al,
Looks to have been a marvelous gathering. I was on my way when work stepped in and forced me to cancel.

I really like your composition as well, very well thought out and a nice touch. I believe hat when Peter does his time in Japan and comes back, he will have matured in to one of the finest.

John
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on July 10, 2009, 01:18 AM
Just before BT went down you had posted the review about Peter Tea. I was really delighted when he accepted the challange and came down for a Tokonoma spot. Come to find out Peter is president of Midori Bonsai, the club Matt Chroust is/was from. We talked about Matt and his challages he faces between work, family, and discussion forum. Guess which one takes a back seat.

There are very few people that have ever been in Matt Chroust's back yard. In fact I have never spoken to anyone that has ever been there. I have been there twice. Out of respect I did not take any pictures, but lets just say I have seen photo's of what nurseries in Japan look like and what Matt has in his back yard rivals anything I have seen. Matt had posted a few pictures before on Bt of a Boulevard cypress and a maple or hornbeam. These are just fluff. Unbelievable stuff back there.

After meeting Peter.. I found out that I had Peter's email address in my computer and didn't even know it! Needless to say, I will be supporting Peter at Midori's exhibit later in Sept.

Thanks for the kudo's John, next year I will blow them away, Al
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on November 23, 2011, 08:05 PM
Al,
Looks to have been a marvelous gathering. I was on my way when work stepped in and forced me to cancel.

I really like your composition as well, very well thought out and a nice touch. I believe hat when Peter does his time in Japan and comes back, he will have matured in to one of the finest.

John

I have not noticed the Japan connection when it comes to Tokonoma display. In fact my largest dissapointments have come from those that should be "in the know" if you know what I mean. This venue just completed its third exhibit, with this one being a late fall/early winter exhibition. First time I have ever displayed a tree in winter form....ever! While this is the usual for BIB it was a first for me.

I have photos of the last two years which I will present here for discussion later after I take the neighbors out for pizza and beer. Once again there are some real hits and a few misses. I will also point out a couple that stand out for peer review and will validate some of my feeling on this Japan POV when it comes to display.

Since I have a personality that always seems to be a few steps ahead of me, and I am a lone wasp that has mistakenly flown into a Boonhive...I will have to temper my remarks as if walking on eggshells. Of course I am always up for the challange!

BRB, al
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: MatsuBonsai on November 23, 2011, 08:11 PM
Enjoy the beer and pizza.  I look forward to reading your thoughts and seeing some good pictures.

Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: John Kirby on November 23, 2011, 08:48 PM
Al, no eggshells. My point about Peter is that he has a very good sense of art, sensitivity and organization. I don't expect that he will return as just a "stylist" like some. I look forwad to the pictures as well. I for one, find it difficult to show trees at any time other than winter...........
John
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on November 24, 2011, 01:48 AM
For the exhibit year of 2010 we had some really great displays. Probably had the best year so far for the caliber of trees. While I have been studying very hard about the subtlies of bonsai display in a formal tokonoma, many that come to this exhibit still consider this a "tree" competition. That idea could not be further from the truth. Tokonoma display is not so much about any one componant, but rather about the sum total of each article chosen to tell the story.

The Scroll
The idea here is to assemble small articles of art into a cohesive story that can be instantly read by the viewer and deciphered with out hesitation. The idea is to tell the story through artistic depiction using a scroll, and secondary articles. I mention the scroll first becuase that is the heart of the display. I am very fortunate in the fact that since beginning in 2008 I began purchasing tea ceramony scroll and have assembled quite a collection of scroll suitable for tokonoma display in the venuse we use. I have over 40 pieces now and all are quite simple in arrangement and allow the scroll to easily tell the season of feeling while not overpowering the display.

So many times I see wonderfull presentations only to be ruined by the wrong scroll. I might use this time now to talk about the use of Japanese scrolls to display westeren themed art. Scroll making in Japan is very old, centuries old in fact. And centuries before that China offered tea ceromony scrolls in temples where monks would study sutra written on the scrolls for hours. In Japan, scrolls have always been displayed in the traditional alcove with Ikabana, vase art/ insense burner, and Butsudan. More recently bonsai and Suiseki. These scrolls have always been relied on to help tell the season either in celebration or actual season. The Japanese use the sky, ocean and mountains to tell their story, as well as the moon, birds, animals and insects. The clever use of certain animals or insects, birds and fish tell stories of the seasons as well. In fact those that covet scrolls for display and follow traditional ways of years gone by understand fully the significance of what is depicted on a scroll.

The image of Fuji, a famous and sacred mountain in Japan is celebrated each year at New Years. Fuji can be depicted with snow, clouds, rain, smoke, green trees, leafless trees and so on with each depiction capturing a specific time of year and even the time of day. The same of the moon. Cloudy, half moon, crecent moon, fuzzy moon hazy moon, crisp moon etc., etc.

No where else on earth is the depiction of nature and its surroundings and mans place in it found on something so special as a well executed scroll. Why not just hang a picture? One could. In fact the entry blank provides for a hanging picture upon entry. Why are they not used? A scroll offers somthing no framed art can. Soft edges. Carl Bergstrom wrote some years ago about the principle of the steelyard in bonsai display useing the Japanese styled scroll. The scroll while long, verticle and displayed seperating the tree and the accent goes a long way in balancing each of those elements. The placement of the scroll in relation to the tree, in relation to the accent can make or break a display.

The Tree
While I am writing the piece, hopefully each will understand these are my points of view and surly cannot deemed concrete. I am no expert in the field of Tokonoma Display, but I am placing, and I am getting it from the judges perspective. All I can do is offer ideas the way I see them and hopefully some will agree. Having said that, I can now say the tree is secondary to the diplay. Anyone who thinks the tree is the anchor and the scroll and accent are supporting will never win a prize in tokonoma display. Being the only person to have won two prizes, second twice, I can tell you I have the least favorite trees in the museum, but this idea is not about how good the trees are, it's about how well you elevate the trees feeling thru story. With the right scroll, the worst tree in the competition can win the whole thing. It's not a tree competition. Kokufu is a tree competition and they are displayed as such. Seki-Kazari. (Table top display)(More about that later) This is Toko-Kazari (Tokonoma display)and has absolutely nothing to do with Seki-Kazari, yet many come to this competition and set up wonderful Seki-Kazari displays with wonderful Kokufu caliber trees and then get all miffed when they don't win.

It is not paramount that a person hold steadfast to making the scroll the star of the show. The scroll and tree are interchangable in that regard. Either can be chosen first to set the mood of the display, but always keep in mind that no matter what, the scroll is always going to be seen first. That split second will and should sell the season immediatly while not always being overtly obvious. When done right the visual speed between objects in lighting fast. When it is, the viewer is captivated and will linger. It is then that subtlies will be recognized and small items are picked up on. When it is not done right the viewer is left confused and boredom is quick. Time to move on and see the rest of the displays. No payday today. Better luck next year.

A tree can be used to depict almost any season any time. The real key is to make sure the tree used fits the theme of the scroll in telling the story or the season. This year was like that. Since it was a late fall, early winter season, I was struck at the lack of diciduous trees. Though here in the valley and the state, many with some of the best winter ready trees do not participate in this competition. Too bad since $2500.00 dollars in on the line. This year I also learned soething very important. I was always under the impression that since we use such large scrolls, in many cases over 7 feet long, the tree had to be large. This year a very small juniper was displyed with a very large scroll and the composition really worked well. In fact so well I am working on a display for 2013 with a much smaller tree than I would normaly use.

The Accent
This is probably where the most work needs to be done. In spring flowers should be held to one or two blooms and the rest in buds. Toko Kazari is about sublety. The size of the stand under the accent. Is a flowering plant used, should it be a stone or a carving? In the end this last item is really very important. In fact it may so important that the best course of action is to leave it out. In Keido display, formally introduced by Takeyama and then taught to Kobayashi, Kimura and Sudo, the accent is left out and only a trtee and scroll are diplayed. Why? Sometimes that is all that is needed to encapsulate the perfect feeling. Don't schlock it up.

On to some trees.
2010 Toko Kazari.

First place, Katsumi Kinoshita, Montery Cypress
Second place, Al Keppler, Trident Maple
Third place, Seji Shiba, California Juniper
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on November 24, 2011, 01:51 AM
The rest of the field in no special order.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on November 24, 2011, 01:53 AM
More of the field
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on November 24, 2011, 01:54 AM
More of the field
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on November 24, 2011, 02:05 AM
Toko-Kazari 2011

Some old faces and some new people.

First place, Charles Nelson, California Juniper
Second Place, Al Keppler, Trident maple
Third place, Brian Underwood, Green Atlas Cedar
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on November 24, 2011, 02:07 AM
The rest of the field in no special order.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on November 24, 2011, 02:10 AM
More of the field.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: akeppler on November 24, 2011, 02:11 AM
Views inside the museum.
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: John Romano on November 24, 2011, 07:10 AM
thanks for the great pics Al.  Wonderful.
John
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: John Kirby on November 24, 2011, 07:38 AM
Yeah, what John Romano said. Thanks for the pics. John
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: bwaynef on November 24, 2011, 08:46 AM
I noticed that I really liked several of these displays, and not all of them just the ones you've identified as placing.  One other thing I noticed was that repetition really does seem to kill the harmony of a display.

Thanks for an awesome post.  I imagine there's a lot to digest for most of us and I'm going to have to come back to it again and again.
Title: Re: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: Joshua Hanzman on October 06, 2013, 03:14 PM
Beautiful stuff here, really showed a lot about how tokonoma is used to convey a scene, the best ones to me need no explanation, unless it's an explanation on the characters or the cultural significance. Ted Matson's in the first set was amazing and really captured, to me, a waterfall scene similar to ones I see here all the time when collecting in east coast mountains, except until you reach high north, most of the trees are deciduous.

I must say that I understand the level of emotion that the Japanese who saw your barbed wire felt. As someone who was brought up in the shadows of the holocaust with my family taking many trips while I was young to the museum in Maryland, I felt a cold chill run down my spine when I saw this. It reminded me of the exhibits there, and nightmares I used to have of another holocaust happening here. It used to scare the hell out of me so much. But then I saw the new life, springing up amidst the barbs, and new beauty fluttering around it, and it cooled my emotions. I knew then that beauty and life cannot be held in by barbed wire, but will always burst through! If I might venture a reason why this piece creates such a stir. I think it's just the shock of an element as strong as barbed wire married with a delicate vulnerable element like a butterfly/flowers in an environment that fosters interpretation of the elements before you, that makes that level of emotion evoke. If I might use the metaphor, it's a much softer version of seeing a snail slink near a bright, honed straight razor...

Sent from my KFTT using Tapatalk 2
Title: Re: Bonsai Deconstructed
Post by: Don Dunn on June 01, 2014, 02:25 AM

Peter is home now and though not the president of Midori Bonsai Club he does attend the meetings.  Midori Bonsai Club is now also on Facebook.