Events

Current Exhibit

THE THREE AGES OF A BONSAI

July 17 - October 17, 2021

Curator: Bob Hilvers

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Slim, straight trunks with upward reaching branches would be the design. Other bonsai might depict ancient trees in the twilight of life, with bent and twisted trunks, bowed and damaged from a long difficult existence battling time and the elements.

Curiously, or maybe not so much, the most interesting bonsai, and the ones that offer the most ancient appearance are those created from collected wild plants that are indeed of extreme age. Collecting naturally stunted wild plants is, in fact, the origin of the art of Bonsai. The true age of collected specimen bonsai, many being several hundred years or older, is perhaps the origins of the expectation by many that all bonsai are of extreme age. Called Yamadori (dug from the mountains) in Japanese, the practice of locating, collecting and transforming native plants into bonsai is still practiced to this day and is the source of some of the most valued bonsai. However, there is another truth to be understood about the age of a bonsai.

While it is true that there are bonsai that have been a bonsai for hundreds of years. Some in the Imperial Japanese Collection have their origins traced to the Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu (1623-1651), who had one of his ministers beheaded for criticizing his devotion to bonsai at the expense of affairs of State. Most bonsai, even the ancient Yamadori, have only been a bonsai for a few years. In this country there was a bonsai extinction event in May of 1942 when an Executive Order by President Roosevelt required all Japanese and Americans of Japanese descent be confined to relocation camps. As a result, all but an extremely rare few bonsai in the United States perished when their owners were interned. All others have been created since then.

In the final analysis, the question of age in bonsai is one of perception. Is the true age of a plant the most important factor, or is it the skill and talent of the bonsai artist to convey the image of age?

Examples of "Ages of a Bonsai."

This Sierra Juniper was collected in the Cisco Grove area of the Tahoe National Forest. in 2003 by Scott Chadd when it was a 200-300 year old 5 foot in diameter shrub.

This old-growth olive tree has undergone transformation from a traditionally styled bonsai —a replica of an old olive tree—to this much more contemporary, dynamic interpretation which reveals and accentuates its gnarled and aged trunk.

This very old (800-1000) CA juniper was collected by Harry Hirao aka “Mr California Juniper,” from a high altitude in either Jawbone or Sand Canyon. It took 4 years of careful husbandry to get the two small foliage buds to flourish enough to allow for styling. It is not a traditional bonsai, but rather an alpine style inspired by the bristlecone pine, said to be the oldest tree species.

This Trident Maple is rare because it is one of a handful in the US that was planted prior to WWII. This one was planted in 1939 by Toichi Domoto, a 4th generation Japanese American who was interned during WWII.

See details of all 26 Bonsai HERE

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