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. 

Sponsored Award - Best Companion Plant

Kusamono accent plantings by Young Choe

When we display bonsai, it is customary to also include companion elements. When you look at a bonsai display, the companion pieces should round out the display to form a complete impression of seasonality, environment, and culture. Commonly, the companion element is a planting of minor understory flora, often collected from the same area or region its accompanying bonsai originated from. You can imagine that it is winter or spring, or that you are in the woods, a meadow, a bog, or high in the mountains. Donor Kora Dalager has sponsored a $500 prize for the best companion plant in The Artisans Cup exhibition. She, along with Bill Valavanis (of Intl. Bonsai Arboretum) and Young Choe (a respected kusamono professional) will judge the companion plants and award the prize at the Awards Brunch Sunday, Sept. 27th.

Here’s a brief interview we had with Kora to hear about her background and why she’s so passionate about companion plants.

Name: Kora Dalager

Where are you from: Switzerland, emigrated to the US as a teenager, lived first East Coast, then Mid-west and now California

What is your experience with bonsai/companion plants:
I have been involved in bonsai for 30 years, first in San Diego and now in the Bay Area. I have gradually focused on companion plants, because I felt nobody was really teaching this subject. I was so often disillusioned at  many bonsai shows, and often felt, that many companion pieces  demeaned the tree, rather than elevate the display,  nor complete the picture.The 3 most glaring defects have  been: Too tall, too small, too big.

What inspired you to sponsor this award:
Just as judging trees, has a tendancy to improve an exhibition, so I felt, if we give a prise, then people would try harder.

What is the purpose of companion plantings? 
Displaying a companion plant has evolved, just as bonsai has evolved. In the past, in Japan, some bonsai were displayed with plants that grow in the same environment as the yamadori. Gradually it became the  common way to display bonsai at shows and in tokonomas. Now it has become standard, in most exhibitions mandatory.

Why do companion plantings elevate and accentuate the art form of bonsai?
When we display a bonsai, a companion plant should be able to complete a visual picture of nature. It can convey a mood, it should convey the season, it may convey a location.

What are the things you’ll be looking for in companion plants as you judge?
We will be looking at relevance in relation to the tree, proportion, seasonality, shape and size, and execution.

American bonsai is… dynamic & evolving.

What are you most looking forward to about The Artisans Cup?
I am looking forward to seeing some of the best and most interesting bonsai in the US!

Collaborator Feature: Connie Wohn

Connie Wohn is a Portland-based event producer and self-proclaimed “First Lady of Hustle.” We couldn’t agree more. Connie has produced events for giants like Ace Hotel, Adidas, MusicFest NW, Weiden+Kennedy, Levis, and more. The Artisans Cup would surely not be happening without her expertise in handling the complex logistics and relationships involved in an event of this scale, and we’re eternally grateful to have her on our team. We asked her to share some of her background, and how bonsai has influenced her both professionally and personally. Here’s what she had to say.

What do you do?
Concept & produce large scale events for cultural brands. From private dinners to music festivals. 

How did you get started?
Via the music industry. I was a booking agent, PR agent, did music licensing. Events where a natural next step. 

What excites you most about The Artisans Cup?
The uniqueness of the story. The opportunity to expose people to a new art form and culture. 

What initially drew you to The Artisans Cup? What made you want to partner with us?
The DeSpains are amazing creatives & the opportunity to work with them was exciting. Upon meeting Chelsea & Ryan it was clear that the team was full of bright, capable and creative folks. It was a no brainer when all the right elements are in place. 

Who has had the biggest influence in your career (living or dead)?
My father. His professionalism and work ethic have paved my path. 

Tell me about your creative process.
Often I need to exercise to create solutions. It’s being in my body and not in my head that lets things flow. Also, lots of nature. Turning off is a great ignitor for me. 

Where do you find inspiration?
Nature. Books. All around really. 

Does your work often involve collaboration? What’s your perspective on collaboration?
Yes, I believe collaboration is one of the main strengths in creating something great. Input, perspective and dialog are elemental. 

Have the principles of the art of Bonsai influenced you since working with The Artisans Cup? How?
Yes. More peace and a slower pace. Intention has become highlighted.

See more of Connie’s work

Follow Connie on Instagram

Collaborator: ADX Fabrication Team

One of the greatest strengths that allows The Artisans Cup to exist is the team of people who contribute their skills and creative perspective to make the vision take form. Among those teammembers are the folks at ADX who are contributing to the fabrication of the event space. ADX is a shared creative space where people bring together tools, knowledge and experience to create excellent work. We chatted with them about their contribution to The Artisans Cup. 

Why did ADX want to work on The Artisans Cup project?
We were excited for to work on the displays for The Artisans Cup project because the event struck us as an experience that could be unique for Portlanders.  Plus, the team at Bonsai Mirai are top-notch folks, and we always love working with great collaborators.

Bonsai is…
...simply beautiful!

Why are you excited to come see The Artisans Cup bonsai exhibition?
ADX loves craftsmanship of all kinds.  We are excited to see a testament to the care and craft of these remarkable artisans in our city!

In addition to the displays we're working with the ADX Fabrication team to create beautiful signage structures for the exhibition space. Come see the work come to life at The Artisans Cup, September 25–27, 2015. Buy Tickets.

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.

Select Sponsor: Joshua Roth Limited

Joshua Roth Limited was founded in 1980 by Joshua Roth. As a fine woodworker he fell in love with the high quality of Japanese woodworking tools. These tools were virtually unknown and unavailable except to a select few in the States. Those that had access to these high quality tools coveted each tool they owned. Not wanting to compete with his close friends in the woodworking industry, Joshua felt that high quality Japanese-made gardening tools would be welcomed in the US. After much research, he decided to sell only tools from Japan - the country renowned for its originality and pride in gardening and horticulture. Joshua was dedicated to providing not only the best quality tools but also quality customer services. This remains the focus of Joshua Roth Limited today.

Whole distributor of a wide range of quality Japanese bonsai tools and supplies
Tools to shape the dream
Albany, Oregon

After selling my hardware business, I wanted a business that would allow me to use my business skills as well as allow us to concentrate on customer service. Working with the bonsai community as a wholesale provider of high quality bonsai tools has not only allowed me to do this, but it has also been exciting to work with so many people dedicated to this art form. 

We are seeing many new and younger enthusiasts. It is so great to see these up and coming artists. 

We want them to know that customer service really is our number one priority. We care about our customers and we want them to have the best experience they can have when dealing with our company. We also want them to know we stand by our products and want to deliver quality tools that they can use in the development and care of their art.
Japanese bonsai will always be the standard by which all others are judged but there is no reason that American bonsai artists cannot thrive and continue to grow the art form here in the United States. 
The American bonsai art form continues to grow and mature and we are delighted to have the opportunity to have some small part in its continued development. We want the bonsai community to know we believe in them and want to be a part of what is to come.

Collaborator: Chris Hornbecker

Chris Hornbecker is an award-winning photographer specializing in environments, portraiture, and sports for clients such as Nike, Eddie Bauer, Pendleton, Time Magazine,  Adidas, and the Portland Timbers. He has travelled all over the world shooting everything from pro athletes to everyday people to empty parking garages. Chris was the first person who came to our minds when looking for a photographer that would perfectly capture bonsai as a true art form, and we’re excited to have him along with us for the ride. We sat down with him to ask a few questions about his background and how bonsai has influenced what he does. Here’s what he had to say.

What do you do?
As a photographer, I am driven by my passion to capture those small fleeting moments that have a kernel of honesty.  It’s that feeling that you get when you recognize something about a person or place and are able to capture. A little connection that draws you in for a closer look. It's these moments of enhanced reality as seen through a different lens that drew me into photography. 

How did you get started?
I've always found ways to bring my creative outlook to the things that I do in life.  It's your creative fingerprint that you put on whatever you do. I started with photography in high school and then focused on making skateboard videos, skateboarding, DJing and art. It wasn't until later in life that I discovered how to turn that passion into a profession in the photography industry. I stumbled into photo assisting in 1998 and worked on learning as much about photography as I could before starting to shoot full time. 

What excites you most about The Artisans Cup?
For me creativity is a way to remix ideas. I see the artisan cup as a way to remix people’s notions about what bonsai is.  It represents a way to bring together craftsman and showcase their unique perspectives on presentation. It shows that you don't have to live within a boxed set of notions and that you can grow beyond and to wherever your mind wants to take things. 

What initially drew you to The Artisans Cup? What made you want to partner with us?
I met Ryan Neil and was instantly taken by his craft, his approach to his craft, his dedication, his patience, and passion that he has for not only bonsai but art and the processes of getting there.  I've always been attracted to shapes and forms and here was a chance to stop, study, and immerse myself in these beautiful living sculptures. When they asked me to help on this project there was no hesitation in jumping on board. 

Who has had the biggest influence in your career (living or dead)?
For me, I see influence as the collective whole. I take little bits from everything I see, the good and the bad.  Beautiful composition taken from an inspirational image or even something from a really bad image, then taking a little nugget of lighting or posture or emotion.  There's inspiration in all of it.  Getting to see Mark Gonzolas skate in person, walking around giant chunks of ice on the black sand beach in Jökulsárlón Iceland, Nadav Kander, Richard Avedon, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Gregory Crewdson, Christo and Jeanne-Claude to name a few.  But I would say skateboarding has probably the biggest influence.  It taught me the subtle nuances of how each person does the same trick in their own way.  The dedication and the amount of practice to achieve that goal. It's a combination of the technical, the artistic, and the energy that’s all put into the one moment of doing a trick solely for the sake of doing that trick and nothing more.  It's like life.  It comes and it goes in the blink of an eye.  So stop, take a look, and enjoy it. 

Tell me about your creative process.
I take an idea and I try to see it from different angles and approaches and assess the overall feel. I spend a lot of time revisiting ideas, slowly changing and refining them over time. I keep an ongoing list of ideas that keep getting rearranged and slowly developed.  I go over the shoot in my head and try to visualize all of the details: how does the lighting feel, what would it look like in these other environments?  I'm always looking for ways to merge several different ideas into one shot. It boils down to the remix.  Everything has been done before so how do I take those same elements and mix them up?

Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration comes in many forms for me.  It's in the subtle things that people walk by every day and never notice. Trying to find a different angle on the familiar subject. It's the intuition to follow a certain path just to see what's there.   A lot of times I glance and think I see something, then upon closer inspection it's not what I thought I saw at all, but it inspires an idea, shape or technique.

Does your work often involve collaboration? What’s your perspective on collaboration?
I really like what collaboration with other people brings to the table.  A lot of times there's a simple solution right in front of you that someone from a completely different background might see right away.  I like the bouncing back-and-forth of ideas as a way to evolve what's behind the idea and elevate the project on the whole. 

Have the principles of the art of Bonsai influenced you since working with The Artisans Cup? How?
It's given me a greater appreciation for "time" and how that is such a huge part of the creative process that doesn't always get the attention it needs or deserves. In this fast-paced world we forget that it takes time for the ideas to grow and cultivate. 

See more of Chris’ work

Follow Chris on Instagram