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. 

Patron of American Bonsai: Michael Pollock of Bonsai Shinsei NY

About Michael
Bonsai spoke to me from an early age, but it wasn’t until I had settled a bit and was raising kids that I concentrated on developing that interest into a vocation. Without Colin Lewis’ Ho Yoku school, I believe I would have quit after stagnating in an area with no accomplished teachers. My studio, Bonsai Shinsei New York was born from a desire to spend more time on my trees and to help others interested in learning bonsai get a start the way I learned. I continue to learn from both experience and pursuing my education with Ryan Neil at Bonsai Mirai. 

I’m still involved in the healthcare company my wife Roslyn and I started 25 years ago. I also enjoy photography (which I took up again to document my trees’ development) and have joined that to my love of music at the many live performances I can see in the New York CIty area.

"Don't try to make your tree look like a bonsai, try to make your bonsai look like a tree.” - John Naka

Juniper and Larch

I stumbled on a course taught by Yuji Yoshimura at the New York Botanical Garden. 

My primary teachers, Colin Lewis and Ryan Neil. 

I’m not sure I know. I find it infinitely deep; always more to learn from and with the trees. 

One of the most important things I’ve learned in bonsai is the importance of not forcing my will too strongly on a situation. Although we often do major work on trees, if we aren’t sensitive to their condition and how far we can go, the tree will often correct us. The same is true about displaying bonsai. The best time to exhibit a tree is when it’s at it’s peak. Once again, we can influence this through knowledgeable application of bonsai techniques. But ignoring a tree’s reaction to this work will usually result in a mediocre display. 

So trying to remain humble and sensitive to the partnership of tree and person has been a great lesson. Recognizing when I’m trying to overpower a situation and refraining from doing so has served me in just about every other aspect of my life. 

I hope many more people are exposed to high quality bonsai and that bonsai is seen as a fascinating craft that reaches art in the hands of the best practitioners. Like fine art photography’s evolution, I hope the bonsai market can grow in a similar way. 

As bonsai has spread around the world, many wonderful local species have been incorporated into bonsai. What has lagged is the appreciation of some of these trees as bonsai and a more culturally meaningful method of display. The Artisan’s Cup is a major inspiration for people selling and creating trees as well as the artists and craftspeople making the pots and display pieces to complement a new American bonsai vision. 

American Bonsai is at an exciting tipping point. I can’t wait to see what’s next. 

Patron of American Bonsai: Amy Blanton

Mike and Amy.jpg

Mike and Amy Blanton were born and raised in Murfreesboro, TN, thirty-five miles southeast of Nashville, TN. They grew up on the same street and attended the same neighborhood schools, but didn't start dating until college. They married after graduation and spent two weeks shy of 36 wonderful years together. Mike bought his first Bonsai on a trip back from Florida from a guy hawking on the side of the road. The little tree survived the summer fine, but when winter came and Mike took it inside the home, you know the rest. That first masterpiece died, but not the desire to try again. They now have around 100 trees ranging from California Junipers to Rocky Mountain Junipers and Alaskan Cedars to Shohin Maples.

Mike has had the opportunity to study with some of the best artists and friends in the United States such as Roy Nagatoshi, Ryan Neil, Warren Hill, Bjorn Bjorhalm, and many others. In November 2009, Mike and Amy entered a tree in the 29th Grandview Bonsai Exhibition (Nippon Bonsai Taikan-ten) in Kyoto, Japan. They were honored to receive the "Superior in Shohin Bonsai Section Award" becoming the first Americans to receive an award in a Japanese Bonsai exhibition.

Mike believed it’s time to take American Bonsai to the next level as the greatest trees in the world are right here in our back yard. Mike’s favorite tree to work on was any kind of Juniper and he had many varieties in his collection. He especially liked Yamadori and was successful in sustaining these collected trees in the South. He used Bonsai for twenty-five years as a form of stress relief from his duties as a firefighter with the City of Murfreesboro. After his retirement, he spent eight years full time in the yard with his trees. Amy was an educator and administrator for thirty-five years. They enjoyed traveling and spending time in their yard that is modeled after Japanese gardens including two Koi ponds. They were members of Master Gardeners, local pond and Koi groups, members of the Nashville Bonsai Society where Mike served as vice-president and Amy as secretary for many years. Mike served as Membership Chairman and Board Member for the American Bonsai Society, and club member in various clubs throughout the region as well as a member of the Nippon Bonsai Society.

Since Mike's passing in December 2013, Amy has been carrying on Mike's legacy by maintaining his trees now known as The Blanton Collection.

Caring for bonsai is a commitment that requires time, skill, and patience. Everyday the bonsai artist tends to the tree, little by little, working toward a masterpiece that can be shared for generations.

Patron of American Bonsai: David Segal

Patron of American Bonsai: David Segal

David Segal is 34 years old and lives in Sydney Australia. He's been practicing Bonsai for approximately 5–6 years. In his professional life he owns and manages businesses across the cosmetic medical and food sectors. When he's not working on Bonsai he enjoys keeping fit, traveling to unique places around the globe, motorsport and spending quality time with close friends and family. As one of our Patrons for The Artisans Cup, we wanted to ask him a few questions about how Bonsai has impacted him both personally and professionally. Here’s what he had to say.