Patrons of American Bonsai: Ryan & Chelsea Neil

Ryan and Chelsea Neil are the Founders of The Artisans Cup and the dynamic duo behind Bonsai Mirai. They grew up together in a small Colorado mountain town, were old-fashioned pen pals through college and after, eloped in 2012, and have an almost two-year old son. Ryan has practiced bonsai since the age of fourteen. He holds a degree in Horticulture, and completed a six-year bonsai apprenticeship in Japan. Chelsea is passionate about social and cultural justice issues, and worked as an immigration attorney before becoming Director of Operations at Bonsai Mirai. 

NAME
Ryan & Chelsea Neil

FAVORITE BONSAI-RELATED QUOTE
RN -
In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks
-John Muir

CN
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
— e.e. cummings

FAVORITE TREE SPECIES
RN - Ponderosa pine. Hands down. No other species of tree has been more influential in my life and more formative in the continual expansion of my passion for bonsai. The Ponderosa pine embodies the ideals of the pioneering spirit, the pursuit of the greater unknown, the wild imagination of the West, and the romantic aura surrounding this notion of exploration.

CN - I’m terrible at choosing favorites. Top three: Bald Cypress (because they look like Dr. Seuss’ imaginative creations), Rocky Mountain Juniper (because their deadwood is breathtaking), and Colorado Blue Spruce (because they remind me of home)

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN BONSAI?
RN - My fascination with Martial Arts led me to discover bonsai when I was really young. However, it wasn’t until an unfortunate injury ended my collegiate athletic ambitions that I actually started pursuing bonsai seriously. Serendipity prevailed once again. 

CN - I married this guy who’s obsessed with bonsai, you might know him…

WHO HAVE BEEN YOUR MOST INFLUENTIAL MENTORS IN BONSAI?
RN - No one individual has been more formative in my bonsai journey than Harold Sasaki of Colorado Bonsai Limited. Harold took me under his wing when I was a young, passionate kid and really opened my eyes to a plethora of possibilities of what bonsai could be. 

I also owe a significant amount of credit and gratitude to Ted Matson and Ben Oki. Ted spent a lot of time with me helping me establish a solid technical foundation. Ben Oki helped fuel my passion for bonsai and escorted me to Japan to introduce me to Mr. Kimura. 
Of course, I could not answer this question without giving credit to my master, Mr. Kimura, who helped build me as a man as well as a bonsai professional. Mr. Kimura told me I needed to do something great for American bonsai. I hope I’m not letting him down.

CN - Ryan Neil :)

WHY ARE YOU PASSIONATE ABOUT BONSAI?
RN - Bonsai is the only thing in life I know of where imperfection is so consistently beautiful and appreciated. Bonsai aren’t ashamed to be, they simply are, and I love them for it. They teach me so much everyday. 

CN - Bonsai is an intersection of a few of the things that bring me the most joy in life - nature, creativity, culture, and people. 

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON I’VE LEARNED THROUGH PRACTICING BONSAI IS…
RN - Patience is something that happens after the hard work has been done, not a justification for not doing the hard work. 

CN - Loyalty and stewardship. In our life as a bonsai family, the trees come first. And they deserve to. They’ve been on this Earth for centuries, and they’ll hopefully live long after we’ve returned to dust. It is an honor to care for these beings and to live and work amongst them. 

WHAT DO YOU HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF BONSAI?
RN - I hope bonsai evolves to something beyond “bonsai” and into something identifiably American in form and context. We cling to this notion of bonsai as something that is only bonsai if it is authentically Japanese. As we continue to evolve and use our natural surroundings as a reference, bonsai has no choice but to turn into something else as an iconically American art form. Someday, I see a moment where our rendition of bonsai is called something else entirely.

CN - I hope for a new generation of bonsai artists and practitioners across the world to approach the art with introspection, reverence, and, most importantly, a strong horticultural foundation. I hope that we will continue seeing bridges crossed between cultures, and egos dismantled, so that bonsai can truly become a diverse, cultural representation of nature in miniature. 

WHY DID YOU WANT TO BECOME A PATRON OF AMERICAN BONSAI?
RN - Having seen bonsai cultures around the world, I became acutely aware of the potential for American bonsai to be something innovative and entirely unique. In order to realize the potential that our native material and our culture possesses, I have no choice but to push hard and support American bonsai’s evolution.

CN - We’re deeply invested in seeing bonsai in this country exalted to its rightful place as a respected art form. And we’re doing our best to innovate and inspire through our own creative endeavors. That’s why we’ve poured our hearts into The Artisans Cup and American Bonsai.

AMERICAN BONSAI IS…
RN - largely unexplored but just beyond the horizon

CN - invigorating! and paradigm-shifting!