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Artists branch out
By Kathleen Ostrander

One of the most ancient arts involves a living form that can be passed down from generation to generation. There are stories of bonsai trees carefully tended and bequeathed to a worthy heir.

The ancient art of bonsai (bone-sigh) involves rules and regimes and years of work.

Scott Day, a member of the Springfield Bonsai Society, has one tree that he has been working with for 10 years.

"I started it from scratch, and it's one of the first trees I had," he said.

Trees are started from cuttings or seedlings, and they are manipulated to look like older trees. Everything about the art of bonsai, from the container to the way a tree is displayed at a show, is carefully crafted.

Roland Folse, who helped form the Springfield Bonsai Society more than 30 years ago, said the trick is to pick a tree native to the area.

"It also helps to pick a tree that is smaller than normal and work with that," he added.

The idea is to use a variety of methods to make the tree appear older, more venerable and even weathered. And the tree needs to stay healthy. The trees are planted in porous soil, rocks or are encouraged to grow from a large rock. Day said the trees must be watered frequently -- even up to once a day -- and fertilized. Completed bonsai pieces are enhanced with moss or tiny plants to make the tree appear to be old and established in a forest. The tiny accompanying plants, as well as the moss, must also be tended by the artist.

Azaleas can be made into bonsai trees, and the subsequent blossoms appear all the more spectacular because they are normal size perched on a tiny tree.

Folse said most bonsai trees do well outside, and it is recommended when working with the trees to try to mimic the seasons to keep the tree healthy.

Bonsai artists try to cultivate the trees they are working on in a certain style. Among the styles are formal upright, informal upright, slant style and forest style. The styles involving angles are self-explanatory -- forest style is several trees cultivated together to look like a forest. Cascade style is more complicated -- the trunk of the tree is gradually worked sideways while the branches with leaves or needles on them are worked with so they grow upright. The completed bonsai looks like a tree growing off the side of the mountain or over a river.

"Formal upright is actually one of the hardest styles because trees just don't naturally want to grow upright," Folse said.

Most bonsai artists don't just have one tree, Day said. Folse has more than 70, and he's a busy guy because most bonsai artists work a little on each specimen every day. To achieve a certain look, branches can be wrapped with wire to encourage them to grow a certain way. It is proper to display bonsai art with the wire at shows because it gives spectators the idea of how an individual artist is expecting that tree to grow.

Because the idea is to make the tree look old, certain techniques, such as stripping part of the bark off and bleaching an area, are done. Having "deadwood" on a piece of bonsai art is very desirable, Folse said.

Both Day and Folse said artists may envision how they want a tree, but trees grow with a mind of their own, and something that starts out as one style can and does evolve into two or three different styles as it grows.

It isn't a difficult hobby to start with, Folse said.

"Actually, many of the garden shops have small or stunted trees they are willing to part with -- sometimes at no cost."

Dick Adoran, a member of the society who participated in a recent exhibition at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, had a bonsai tree that looked like a perfect miniature geranium. It was.

"I found it tossed in the corner at a garden store, and it turned out perfect," he said.

The container a bonsai is displayed in is very important. "Think of it like a picture frame around a piece of art," Folse said.

Bonsai trees usually are displayed in cubicles and have a stand or a mat. "The pot is supposed to harmonize with the bonsai," said society member Gary Trammell. He said he enjoys the hobby because it is very relaxing.

Trammell said new members are welcome at the bonsai society, which holds regular workshops, and newcomers are mentored and coached. Members bring their projects to meetings and get suggestions on changes or improvements.



Springfield Bonsai Society

The Springfield Bonsai Society meets at 7 p.m. on the second Monday of the month from February through November at the Washington Park Botanical Garden, 1740 Fayette St.

Annual membership is $20 for an individual, $30 for a family. The July meeting has been moved from July 12 to July 19 because it is being conducted by a guest bonsai artist. Craig Coussins is an international bonsai teacher and demonstrator. He is the author of five best-selling bonsai books. For more information about the meeting as well as the society, contact Gary Trammell at 741-4849. On the Web: www.bonsaisbs.com

Cass Bonsai in Edwardsville carries a large selection of bonsai materials - www.cassbonsaigardens.com



Story published Friday, July 2, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 4 )

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