Winter Tokonoma 2014

Happy New Year! For the first post of 2014 I wanted to showcase the current display in our tokonoma.

For this display I wanted to try and use some objects that are not my immediate choices for a winter themed arrangement. This would not only show off more of the Museum’s collection but also challenge me to be more creative with them.

From the start I knew I wanted to use a scroll we have of a white hawk on a pine branch.

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The scroll makes me think of a remote snowy mountain where this white hawk remains vigilant through the falling snow.

The second object I wanted to use is one of my favorite stones at the Museum because of its name. 30,000 Foot White Beard is the name of this figure stone donated by John Naka. The stone’s name comes from a white strip of minerals running down this otherwise black  figure stone which John envisioned as a very long flowing beard.

The white “beard” reinforces the feeling of winter as its shape also reminds me of an hanging icicle or perhaps a frozen waterfall on a distant peak.

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John collected the stone from the Kern River in Northern California and I assume the daiza was made by himself and that he collected it in 1966 as both his name, the year 1966, and the date 10-29-66 appear on the bottom of the daiza.

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The biggest challenge I encountered was finding a stand that would work within the display. Like picking a bonsai pot you never have enough options and none are ever perfect. I wanted the stone to be elevated enough to be properly viewed and to further enhance its verticality. I also needed the stand to be limited in it’s width so that stone was not visually lost when placed on it.

The first few stands were more traditional in style but weren’t the right size. I then pulled out a stand that seldom gets used here as it has a very narrow range of objects it would work with. However, once I put the stone on it I knew this was the one. Its size was the closest to what I wanted but more importantly it turned a static display into a story I could imagine.

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Now, the display became more than just a stone on a stand but a white bearded man walking over a bridge among snow covered trees being watched by a white hawk.

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Takahashi Shotei, “Bridge in the Snow” ca. 1910

The addition of a winter grass in a cream colored pot completed the setting as I could hear the cold wind rustling their dried stalks.

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Haiku by Matuso Basho

First snow
Falling
On the half-finished bridge

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Hope you enjoyed the display. Thanks for reading and for accompanying  me for walk in the snow.

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Hamano, “Evening Snow at Edo River”1932

I am also very excited to say that I will be making my first trip to Japan next week. I will be studying at the historic Daiju-en nursery for 3 weeks in conjunction with the upcoming Kokufu-ten exhibition. I look forward to sharing my experience here and will be also be posting pictures to my Instagram feed @capitalbonsai

2009 Golden State Bonsai Convention Show

In conjunction with my last post about Peter Adams at the GSBF convention in 2009,  I wanted to share these photos I took of the bonsai on exhibit . Please forgive some of the blurry photos, when I took these 4 years ago, I didn’t expect to be posting them online. Also I normally attribute the owner but again I failed to capture that info. Enjoy.

IMG_4145California Juniper

IMG_4146California Live Oak

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There were also a number of viewing stones on display.

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Brazilian Pepper

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Olive

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Viewing stone, most likely from the Eel River.

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California Juniper

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Chinese Elm

IMG_4156Eleagnus

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Chinese Juniper

IMG_4159California Juniper

IMG_4160Olive

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Redwood

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Japanese Black Pine

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Boxwood

IMG_4164California Juniper

IMG_4166Twisted Pomegranate

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California Juniper

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Shari detail

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San Jose Juniper

IMG_4174Virginia Creeper

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Sierra Juniper

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Dead wood detail

Bob Watson’s ‘Suiseki’ – Forty Years of Viewing Stones at The Huntington

After viewing the Huntington’s Bonsai Collection and viewing stone exhibit, I made my way to the Ikebana House in search of American suiseki history. Inside was an exhibit featuring the viewing stones of Bob Watson, former head of the Huntington’s Japanese Garden and American suiseki pioneer. All following text is taken from the various labels within the exhibit which was written and curated by Jim Greaves, founder of the American Viewing Stone Resource Center.

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‘Suiseki’ at the Ikebana House.

Robert Watson first exhibited ‘suiseki’, a “display of beautiful and unusual stones created solely by nature” in this Ikebana House in November of 1975. The recorded attendance for the week was an astonishing 2538 visitors with 171 recorded as attending his lecture on suiseki. There was a second show in the Ikebana House in 1976 and others through at least 1979 (recorded attendance of 600), but records of the stone exhibits are confusing and incomplete. There are enticing newspaper references to sponsorship by “the San Gabriel Valley Suiseki Club”, including a partial list of participating members. However, of these, only Cliff Johnson remembers exhibiting with Bob and he does not recall any such club. We assume the name was simply coined for one of the exhibits when other friends exhibited a few stones along with Bob.

With the exception of a few local newspapers clippings that feature one or two of the stones, no photographs have been found of any of these early exhibits in the Ikebana House. Various accounts note the Tiger Stone, Rain Shelter, Pinnacles, Castle on the Rhine, Glacier, Frozen Wave, and the large Butte (from Palos Verdes). We have labeled these cited stones and marked with a dot those stones for which photographs appeared in local papers. It is very likely that most of the stones you see mounted on daiza (custom fitted wooden bases) were shown in one or more of his exhibits. Bob’s original ‘poetic’ titles are printed in Bold.

All of these stones were collected by Bob Watson, however, most unmounted stones were probably never formally exhibited. Indeed, several were discovered among boxes and loose stones in his backyard when he held sales later in his life. For historical accuracy in representing his viewpoint, or rather, in not wishing to misrepresent his viewpoint, those stones that were likely never displayed by Bob are indicated with a black dot. With the exception of those stones displayed out in the bonsai court, the extent to which Bob presented loose stones in suiban is unknown. It appears that he owned very few suiban. One of the two suiban that we are certain belonged to him is the large, fine gray rectangular suiban from the Tokoname pottery used with an Indian Blanket stone.

In conversations, Bob emphasized the importance of understanding Japanese practice. He was openly disdainful and dismissive of the ‘new’ collectors. Ironically, the purism he preached was not reflected in his own practice; over time it has become apparent that a great number of his ‘natural’ suiseki were enhanced with heavy surface coatings of oil and varnish and even coloring to a degree that virtually no one would consider acceptable today. The Butte Stone from Palos Verdes is actually a white limestone that he apparently dyed yellow by soaking in a coffee or tea solution. This may not be as strange as if first sounds, because the myriad of Japanese Suiskei magazines and publications of the 60s and 70s were replete with instructions for altering stones ( and to a much greater extent than Bob ever did). Many of these stones have received a single flat cut to assist in positioning and mounting. Of the stones he found, only the ‘thread’ stone from Canada has been physically altered and polished to create a biseki (beautiful stone). The small purchased Asian stones have also been worked and polished.

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“Robert Watson was the head gardener responsible for the last grand expansion of the Huntington’s Japanese Garden prior to this past year’s renovations and addition of the tea-house.”In 1968 his efforts added the original bonsai court and, most famously  the karesansui or dry landscape garden commonly known as the ‘Zen Garden’. Less known, Bob displayed suiseki in the Japanese Garden at the Huntington and introduced the Japanese art of stone appreciation to non-Japanese Americans. bigzengardenHis followers eventually combined forces with members of the Japanese community to create a vibrant suiseki-viewing stone presence in Southern California. One of Bob’s stones, a rugged mountain stone collected from Garnet Hill, has remained in continuous display for 40 years and may now be seen at the entrance to the this exhibit. Appropriately, we are also showing two bonsai that were donated by Bob to start the Bonsai Court in the Japanese Garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Tiger Stone- This is by far one of Bob’s best known stones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis bamboo stand was built by Bob Watson sometime in the 70s.

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Toyama ,Distant Mountain Stone. One of the earliest American viewing stones published in color. (1974)

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Glacier StoneHyoga-ishi, British Columbia.This distant mountain stone is the best example of Bob’s ‘suiseki’ style stones.

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Indian Blanket Stones, Saddle Peak Hills, California. (Note that this area is now closed to collecting).

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Tokoname Suiban, This fine Tokoname ceramic that Bob purchased in the 1970’s is one of the few that he owned. It would have been too valuable to use for display in the garden.”

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Mountain Range, Garnet Hill, California. This is the first large natural (uncut) for which Bob and Cliff Johnson made a daiza.”

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Garnet Hill, Palms Springs, Riverside County (Discovered as early as 1964) The first productive desert site, Garnet Hill was long known by geologists as a source for ventifacts created by the strong winds whipping down the Coachella Valley. Unlike most desert sites, this site has considerable granite and a signature composite of fossilized oyster shell and limestone.

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Garnet Hill, Palm Springs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Watson purchased Japanese artwork,tea articles, and several suiseki, but only these few have been located:1. Sun Flower Stone, Korea. 2. Biseki (beautiful stone), China. 3. Biseki, Japan. 4. Furuya-ishi, Japan. 5. Chrysanthemum Stone, Japan.”

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Tea Cady, Object Stone, Keisho-seki, British Columbia.

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A Watson Prophecy

“Over a period of twenty-five years the American public has come to know and enjoy the beauty and pleasures found in bonsai. In the future, I feel certain that an equal enjoyment will be found in suiseki, as people see and learn more about these creations of nature. It is my hope that a sponsor may be found who would be willing to finance the formation of collection of suseki, biseki, meiseki and top quality mineral specimens to be house in a suitable building for public viewing…”

Robert T. Watson

International Bonsai Digets presents Bonsai Gems, 1974

Biographical Information and Abbreviated ‘Suiseki’ Timeline

Robert Truesdell Watson, born 2/6/1912

Served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was stationed in Japan after the War.

Became interested in bonsai as early as 1944

1964- Became a full-time gardener at the Huntington Library. Reportedly began exploring his local deserts in search of stones suitable for suiseki. Discovered the Garnet Hill site outside  of Palm Springs.

1968-Opening of the Huntington Zen Garden and Bonsai Court designed by Bob.

1969 or 70- Trip to Japan where he purchased suiseki for his personal collection. Unfortunately  these stones have been dispersed.

1971- Met Cliff Johnson at the Santa Anita Bonsai Club and invited him home to see stones. First collecting trip with Cliff Johnson to Garnett Hill near Palm Springs. Round Lake Hill site with direction from Bob Sharp, geologist at Cal Tech.

1972-In an article , Bonsai Had Interesting Beginning, he noted suiseki are on display in the Huntington bonsai court.-Star News.

1973- Los Angeles Meiseki Exhibition, Los Angeles Museum of Natural History: the first significant suiseki exhibition in the United States.

1974- Pacific Asia Museum exhibition of suiseki shown with 17th and 18th century Japanese prints during the Mishima-Pasadena Sister City Celebration. National Bonsai Convention, Pasadena : Watson was featured lecturer on suiseki. International Bonsai Digest-Bonsai Gems (1974); Suiseki, a short introduction including photographs of two stones from the Dumont Dunes area. Bob expresses the hope that a public suiseki collection will be created. Year of the first collecting trip to British Columbia (possibly early 1975)

1975-First Suiseki show in the Ikebana House, Huntington Library [Attendance:2538]; Nov 7 & No 8 lectures: “Suiseki, the Oriental art of appreciating beautiful and unusual stones created solely by nature. [Attendance: 171]

1976- International Bonsai Digest -Bicentennial Edition: Thoughts on Suiseki with photos of the Tiger Stripe Stone, Glacier Stone and Garnet Hill Mountain. [The Bicentennial gift of 5 suiseki to the U.S. National Arboretum stimulates the formation of the National Viewing Stone collection of the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the United States National Arboretum, Washington D.C. Melba Tucker donated an Indian Blanket Stone from Death Valley that was collected by Bob, Subsequently published in  Awakening the Soul.]

1977- Bonsai- Magazine of Bonsai, Japanese Gardens, Saikei & Suiseki: photo of Glacier Stone (Bonsai Vol. xvi, No. 7, p217)

1978- Bonsai- Magazine of Bonsai, Japanese Gardens, Saikei & Suiseki: photo of Tiger Stone mislabeled as from California. (Bonsai Vol. xvii, No. 5).

1977-80- Los Angeles County Arbretum Suiseki Exhibit. Display done with Cliff Johnson and included Japanese antiques and furniture. Lecture “Suiseki” Robert Watson, Head Gardener, Japanese Garden (March 18, 1980).

1983-84- Attended first formative meeting of California Aiseki Kai, but did not continue participation with the club.

1984- Publication of The Jpanese Art of Stone Appreciation, the first and still the most important book on suiseki in English: photos of Bob’s stones including the Glacier Stone, Tiger-stripe Stone, Garnet Hill Mountain and large Butte.

1986- Bob Watson retired from Huntington Library. Pacific Asia Museum Exhibition with Cliff Johnson (date uncertain).

January,1991- First Annual California Aiseki Kai Suiseki and Viewing Stone Exhibition at the Huntington Library-A special selection of 7 Watson desert stones honored Bob.

1991- Robert T. Watson died.

California Aiseki Kai 22nd Annual Show

Going back to Southern California for Christmas provided me with an opportunity to visit the Huntington Gardens in San Marino northeast of L.A. The California Aiskei Kai held its annual stone show at the Huntington Garden’s the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s.

In addition to the stones, a few bonsai,accent plants and okimono were used to enhance the displays. Here are just a few of many amazing stones that were on display.

Each stone had a label with the owner’s name and where it was collected, unfortunately due to technical difficulties that info was lost. Fortunately the stones can be appreciated on their own.

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Autumn Tokonoma Display

The first tokonoma display of fall is traditional three point display made up of a stone, a scroll, and an accent plant. A typical three point display contains a primary element  that holds the visual weight of the space. This is typically a bonsai or viewing stone but can also be a scroll. The second element has less visual weight and can also be a bonsai, stone, or scroll.
The third component can be an accent plant, small stone or some decorative art object like an okimono.

The primary element in this display is a Chrysanthemum stone from Sado Island donated by Ralph Johnson.This close-up view of the stone shows the various mineral deposits within the stones matrix.

The second element is a scroll depicting a moon with falling maple leaves, possibly from the tree in the summer display. This scroll was painted by Matsumura Keibun 景文 松村 (1779 – 1843)  “He was a leading figure in the Shijo school established by his half-brother, Matsumura Goshun (1752-1811). Their father, a fourth-generation official of the Kyoto gold mint, died when Keibun was two years old, making it likely that he would follow Goshun, 27 years his senior, into an artistic career. Keibun mastered the techniques of painting taught at Goshun’s studio at Shijo-Sakaimachi in Kyoto. He studied the work of Maruyama Okyo (1733–1795), whose blend of realism and decorative beauty exerted a major influence on him. Keibun’s numerous sketchbooks reveal his lifelong adherence to Okyo’s dictum to draw from nature. Additionally, he was familiar with Chinese literati painting (Bunjinga) and art theories of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) periods. In his later years he associated with Koishi Genzui (1793–1865), a leading figure of Confucian literati circles in Kyoto. In 1797 Keibun’s work was chosen for exhibition by the leading literati scholar and painter, Minagawa Kien (1734–1807) who from 1792 sponsored twice-yearly exhibitions of new works of painting. By 1801 his designs were being included with those of Goshun and other Kyoto artists in woodblock-printed picture-books (ehon). After Goshun’s death in 1811 Keibun shared the leadership of the Shijo school with fellow-pupil Okamoto Toyohiko (1773-1845), and the two became the most popular painters in Kyoto. Keibun was particularly noted for his bird-and-flower (kacho) compositions.(MyJapanesehanga.com)

Signature and chop of Matsumura Keibun.

The third and last component is an accent planting of Sumac, Rhus copallium, in fall color with fern, Selaginella sp.

This display was only installed for a few days as the Sumac quickly dropped its leaves. Fall is a wonderful time to create displays as trees and plants are changing color on a daily basis.

On that note, our annual Fall bonsai exhibit opens tomorrow, Saturday October 20th and continues through November 4th.

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Ryan Neil visits the Museum

Bonsai artist Ryan Neil recently made his first visit to the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. Ryan was in the area conducting workshops and spent one of the few days he has off touring the Museum.

Ryan got a chance to see the entire Museum, including a portion of our Viewing Stone Collection.

Whenever we have a bonsai professional visiting we want to get their input on how they care for certain types of trees. Ponderosa Pine is known to be Ryan’s favorite species for bonsai so I asked him to go over his approach.

According to Ryan, in order to get back budding never bud/candle prune Ponderosa. Also do not remove any needles except those on the bottom of branches. The reason for this is that the more photosynthetic surface area the tree has the more energy it can invest in creating more buds. If Ponderosa are treated like Japanese Black Pine they will eventually weaken and die.

Ryan uses a 1:1:1: mix of Akadama, Lava, and Pumice for his Ponderosa. I asked if lava or pumice could be substituted for something like granite. He said that the porous nature of lava and pumice provides more pore space for water and air near the roots. Old collected Ponderosa like this one only need to be repotted every 15 years so long as you use a hard baked Akadama.

In the Chinese Collection Ryan was really drawn to a few of the antique containers like this lotus shaped pot. Here are some of the other Chinese pots that Ryan appreciated.Antique Chinese pot with blue-green glaze.

I asked him what he liked about this antique pot. He identified the black coloring created during the firing process when this pot came in contact with the fire. You can see that some of the glaze has actually bubbled off the pot. Ryan said this would have originally been considered a mistake by the potter however now it is what gives it more value.

He also liked this literati pine that I feature in a previous post, “The Graduation Progression of a Literati pine bonsai” He suggested that the main branch could be longer to really emphasize the Chinese character of the tree.

Perhaps the most significant piece of information I got came up when we were discussing the principles of the Clip and Grow technique.

For most bonsai enthusiasts, myself included,  the Clip and Grow technique is one of the basic concepts first learned when studying bonsai.

The concept outlined in every book I have ever read is that new growth can be directed by pruning to a bud which is pointing in the direction you want. What I have never come across is that this only works if you leave a stub above the bud you want to grow. Ryan showed me an example of what he was talking about with this Sageretia theezans.

You can see on this branch that there is a stub above the new shoot that is growing to the left. The reason for leaving a stub is that it forces the new growth away from the branch. If no stub is left the new growth will grow along the path of least resistance .

On this branch you can see no stub was left and the new growth is not growing away from the branch but continuing to grow straight.

All of us at the Bonsai Museum really enjoyed having Ryan here and look forward to his return visits.

Magic from Earth & Water (Part 2)

In part 1 we looked at the Chinese viewing stones put on display by the Potomac Viewing Stone Group (PVSG). Part 2 features viewing stones from Japan and North America. Enjoy.

Coastal Rock Stone, Patapsco Valley, Maryland. Collection of Brian McCarthy.

Plateau Stone, Thomes Creek, California. Collection of Eorl Carlson.

Coastal Rock Stone, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan. Collection of Chris Cochrane.

Hut Stone, Shenandoah River, Virginia. Collection of Chris Cochrane.

Waterpool Stone, Tamagawa River, Japan. Collection of Chris Cochrane.

Celestial Object Stone, “…and then there was light”, Redwood Creek, California. Collection of Glenn Reusch.

Pattern Stone, Patapsco Valley, Maryland. Collection of Brian McCarthy

Coastal Rock Stone, Rappahannock River, Virginia. Collection of Glenn Reusch.

Near Landscape Stone, Rappahannock River, Virginia. Collection of Jack Sustic.

Mountain Stone, Puerto Rico, Collection of Potomac Viewing Stone Group.

Mountain Stone, Thomes Creek, California. Collection of Eorl Carlson.

Multi-stone display

Celestial Pattern Stone, “Desert Sun”, California. Collection of Camilla Ng.

Mountain Stone, Maryland. Collection of John Carlson.

Near Mountain Stone, Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Collection of Howard Campbell.

Plateau Stone, Shenandoah River, Virginia. Collection of Chris Cochrane.

Waterpool Stone, Eel River, California. Collection of John Carlson.

Plateau Stone, Clear Creek, California. Collection of Glenn Reusch.

Near Mountain Stone, Greenbriar Creek, Maryland. Collection of Glen Reusch.

Mountain Stone, River in Vermont. Collection of Leo Cleutier.

Distant Mountain Stone, Shenandoah River, Virginia. Collection of Glenn Reusch.

Mountain Stone, Patapsco Valley, Maryland. Collection of Brian McCarthy.

Waterfall Stone, Eel River, California. Collection of Jack Sustic.

Distant Landscape Stone, James River, Virginia. Collection of Chris Cochran.