Heart + Hands: Notes of gratitude from The Artisans Cup

In the months since The Artisans Cup, we've received an amazing amount of correspondence from people who took part in the exhibition. We are humbled by your stories and well wishes. Here are a few that touched our hearts:

Paul Pikel, The Artisans Cup, Exhibitor

From:    Daniel Meyers, AIA (Skylab Architecture, Design Director)
To:        The Artisans Cup

Chelsea, Ryan -

I wanted to send along a quick note, on behalf of the entire team here at Skylab, expressing our deep gratitude for the opportunity to be involved in The Artisans Cup, and to congratulate you on what was, by any measure a massive success. 

Your vision and commitment were on display this weekend. You set an example for anyone with a dream, and you should feel very, very proud. Thank you so much for bringing us along for the ride, and here's to the future!


 Lee Cheatle, Bonsai Society of Portland,  President

Lee Cheatle, Bonsai Society of Portland, President

From:     Kathy McCabe (Pacific Bonsai Museum, Executive Director)
To:         The Artisans Cup

When I think of you, I think of this quote:

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back-- Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”  ~ W. H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition, 1951

Not only did you dream big, you took action, created community and moved mountains--you changed the world--all with a smile and tremendous gratitude. Thank you for leading, pushing the American bonsai movement forward and for being a true friend of Pacific Bonsai Museum. I feel honored to have participated in the inaugural Artisans Cup.
With great respect and admiration,


From:    David DeGroot (The Artisans Cup, Judge)
To:        The Artisans Cup

Ryan and Chelsea,

Congratulations on conceiving and creating and event of outstanding quality in every way!  I am sure you have created a mechanism that will in fact encourage the growth of quality and creativity in American bonsai, and that with your diligence and perseverance will allow you to realize your dream.

On a personal note, I very much appreciate your hospitality and consideration during my stay. I can’t think of how you could have done anything more to make us judges feel welcome. 

Thanks for all your work, and your commitment to quality in all things.


 Karen Harkaway, American Bonsai Society,  President    

Karen Harkaway, American Bonsai Society, President


From:    Jeff Donaldson-Forbes (Portland Art Museum, Event Coordinator)
To:        The Artisans Cup

Hi Ryan, Chelsea, Brinn & Connie:

It was a remarkable event—your team was top-notch and it was a beautiful experience; I certainly hope you received good feedback because it was extremely well-executed and a pleasure to work with all of you.  Much as I understood what you hoped to do in terms of transforming the space into a custom exhibit, it was still incredibly dramatic to take it all in and wonderful to see how beautiful the overall effect was when it was fully installed.

My partner Greg was in hog-heaven and completely bonsai-geeked out during his volunteer shift (and beyond) so thanks for looping him in on that front.

I’ll hope the opportunity to work with you again comes up at some point—whether here at the Museum or somewhere else—it truly was a pleasure.

Jeff Donaldson-Forbes

From:    Ryan & Chelsea Neil (The Artisans Cup, Founders)
To:        120+ volunteers & creative team members

Dear Volunteers & Creative Team Members,

It’s been two weeks since The Artisans Cup, and we are still reeling from the excitement and the rigor of that experience. We’ve been reflecting on all the components of the show, and what made it so special. What we keep coming back to is that the highlights center around the connections and bonds we made with our community to bring the exhibition to life. That is what made it so spectacular. 

What began as a dream for me, evolved into a collaboration with Chelsea and our creative team, and then developed into a full-on community-engaging vision. We know some of you spent hours working alongside us, carrying heavy things, doing trivial tasks, moving priceless trees, directing thousands of visitors, loading and unloading, speaking on panel discussions, etc. We saw your sweat and exhaustion setting in after days of unrelenting work, and we saw your smiles shine through all of it. 

Thank you, each and every one of you, for your personal investment in The Artisans Cup, however large or small. Thank you for taking time out of your own busy lives to work with us. We quite literally couldn’t have done it without you, and we will be forever grateful to you for what you contributed to the exhibition.  We hope you look back on that magical weekend with good memories and gratitude for the experience of seeing what passion, hard work, and collective heart can evoke. 

We appreciate you! 
Ryan & Chelsea 


One more prize awarded for the 2015 Artisans Cup


We couldn’t have asked for a more seamless, successful inaugural exhibition for The Artisans Cup. For being the first of its kind, the weekend went extremely well thanks to the tireless efforts of the incredible team of people who made it happen. Thank you once again to those involved.

However, it came to our attention this week that an oversight had been made in the competition’s final score tally. Amy Blanton’s Rocky Mountain Juniper was awarded 3rd Prize with 50 points, and it was discovered later that the same score had been marked for Konnor Jenson’s Japanese White Pine. Due to this oversight, Mr. Jenson was not considered in a tie-breaking decision that would otherwise have been conducted by jurors Michael Hagedorn and Ryan Neil. 

In response, we have decided to award third prize position along with the accompanying award certificate, plaque, and $3,000 purse to both Mr. Jenson and Ms. Blanton. Congratulations to them both, as well as all of the exhibitors who poured their hearts and souls into making the inaugural Artisans Cup the incredibly special event that it was!

Ryan & Chelsea Neil

Analyzing The Artisans Cup: Evolving Methodologies for Judging Bonsai

It’s been nearly three weeks since the inaugural Artisans Cup, and we’ve had ample time to hear people’s feedback and process the event in its entirety. Chelsea and I poured our hearts into doing everything we possibly could have to make The Artisans Cup a success as an exhibition of art and a benchmark of quality that American bonsai can build on. This is not to say The Artisans Cup was in any way a finished product, a capstone achievement, or a normative prescription for how bonsai exhibitions should look. Instead, our aim with The Artisans Cup was to raise the level of thought and consideration with which we approach the art form, and to present the elevated product to the broader public in a manner that helped define bonsai as art. 

There are a lot of discussions to be had about each aspect of the exhibition and the conversation it’s generated. However, the aspect that seems to have evoked the greatest response, and perhaps has the potential to impose the greatest sway on western bonsai’s evolution, is that of exhibition judging and its components. Following the exhibition, Dan Yamins, a bonsai enthusiast who attended the exhibition, offered to share his feedback on the scoring results with us. Dan holds a PhD in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University, and had some very interesting insight into the varying methods of judging calculation and some potential advice for how The Artisans Cup could further improve its judging methodology. We are excited by Dan’s analysis and we sincerely appreciate his willingness to offer constructive insight.

Dan Yamins currently works as a Postdoctoral Associate at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Excitingly for the west coast bonsai community, Dan accepted a professorship position at Stanford and will be moving to California in September 2016. In future Artisans Cup exhibitions, to further evolve and improve our judging methodology, we plan to adopt the z-scoring method that he advocates. It’s through this continued expansion of collaborative knowledge and technique that American bonsai will advance and improve. 

Ryan Neil

Download Dr. Yamins' Analysis

The Results Are In!

Our greatest thanks to all of the exhibitors, your tremendous work helped to make The Artisans Cup the success that it was. We are thrilled with the response from the bonsai community and the attendees experiencing bonsai of this calibre for the first time. 

First Place:
Randy Knight's Rocky Mountain Juniper

Second Place:
Tim Priest's Sierra Juniper


Third Place:
Amy Blanton's Rocky Mountain Juniper (with Mike Blanton in memoriam)

Best Companion Piece:
Randy Knight's Companion Plant with Coastal Redwood

The scores from our judges as well as our judges rubric for scoring trees are shared below. 



If you didn't pick up a printed event program — download the PDF here which contains the tree details that correspond with the tree numbers on the judges scores. 

Sponsor Feature: Bonsai Mirai

Mirai is a premier full-service American bonsai nursery and school located just outside of Portland, Oregon. The secluded garden and facilities are overseen and operated by Bonsai Professional Ryan Neil and his wife, Chelsea. Through his rigorous six-year apprenticeship under world-renowned Bonsai Master Mr. Masahiko Kimura (of Saitama prefecture, Japan), Ryan obtained a deep and refined knowledge of the history, practice and art of bonsai. With an honest approach and American innovation, Ryan and Chelsea are now pushing the limits of what bonsai can be.

Bonsai Mirai

We create high-end, finished bonsai trees; we curate public and private bonsai collections; and we educate the most dedicated bonsai practitioners in the world.

Mirai — Pioneers of American Bonsai

Close to Portland, OR

Ryan’s practiced bonsai since he was 14 years old. He conceptualized Mirai to be the resource that he always wished for as a young bonsai enthusiast. It is an incubator where the most innovative, highly-skilled bonsai is being created. It is also an educational resource for the most dedicated individuals who, regardless of whether they’ve practiced bonsai for 2 months or 20 years, are willing to start from the ground up to build a solid foundation of horticultural knowledge, design savvy, and technical proficiency.  

The Artisans Cup is the most exciting outgrowth of Mirai that we’re currently focused on. After The Cup, we’ll shift our attention to other endeavors that will continue to innovate the practice of American Bonsai. Stay tuned!

We’re not only sponsoring The Artisans Cup, it’s our brainchild! 

We are all looking for some way to slow down and reconnect, with each other, with the earth. Bonsai forces you to be patient, to slow down to the pace of the trees. Bonsai is an art form that entices us to reflect on and foster our symbiotic relationship with the natural world. It is also a generational practice that transcends the boundaries of time and culture.  

Patron of American Bonsai: Jerry Curtis

Jerry Curtis was born and raised in Rochester, NY.  He served as a combat medic in Vietnam and served 17 years in the Army Medical Corps. After he was discharged from the military, Jerry moved to Oregon and worked for the state in the mental health field for 14 years before retiring. Today, Jerry lives in Salem, Oregon with his partner of 17 years, Jan Campbell. He is active in the bonsai club in Salem, and served as a board member for years. In addition to working on his trees, Jerry is an avid stamp collector, and enjoys building classic military models such as tanks and other armored vehicles. 

Here's a recent interview we had with Jerry to ask him more about his passion for American Bonsai.

Favorite tree species.
Trident Maple because it is a sturdy tree and there are lots of shapes and forms that can be brought on it. 

How did you get started in bonsai?
I saw a bonsai tree on display by the Salem Bonsai Club about ten years ago. I attended a meeting, and I’ve been hooked ever since. 

Most influential mentors
Richard Johnson (Salem, Oregon). I’ve attended his bonsai classes, and he has become a close friend and mentor.

Why are you passionate about bonsai?
Not only is it a form of art, it is living art. You can actually watch it develop and grow into something that you’re creating.

Most important lesson I’ve learned through practicing bonsai is…
Patience. It takes time to create and form a tree into how you want it to look. It’s a long process, sometimes it takes up to ten years.

What do you hope for the future of bonsai?
I think it would be nice to see the expansion of bonsai as it touches the younger generation. Mostly individuals involved in bonsai are middle-aged on up. It would be nice to see the younger generation get involved, from teenage years. What a neat idea it would be to have a merit badge for bonsai in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts?

Why did you want to become a Patron of American Bonsai? 
In order for the idea of the art of bonsai to become successful, people have to support it and get involved. Unfortunately, not enough people have been involved in bonsai to this point, and it’s a shame. So, I decided to set the example. 

American Bonsai is…
an art form that really needs to be rediscovered and brought to life. 

What are you most excited about for The Artisans Cup?
I think it will be interesting to observe how the judges are going to judge the different types of trees. What do they look for? If you take five judges and show them a tree, each one of them will come up with a different answer.

The Artisans Cup is made possible by the generous support of Patrons of American Bonsai.