Winter is the best season to view bonsai trees: The presentation of the deciduous bonsai tree is bare and stark with no leaves to distract the viewer from the essence of the tree. Photo courtesy of Homer Gee Greene Jr.

Winter Bonsai Silhouette Exhibition

Winter is the best season to view bonsai trees: The presentation of the deciduous bonsai tree is bare and stark with no leaves to distract the viewer from the essence of the tree. Photo courtesy of Homer Gee Greene Jr.

By Homer Gee Greene Jr.

The Golden State Bonsai Federation’s Clark Bonsai Collection in the Shinzen Japanese Garden has rotated to its Winter Bonsai Exhibition. The collection is rotated quarterly to display the four seasons of the year and the seasonal appreciation and experience of viewing bonsai trees.

This rotation was accomplished by leaving the deciduous trees currently on display that have dropped their leaves and have exposed their winter silhouette. Most of the evergreen trees were removed and replaced with winter silhouette trees from the collection’s reserve area.

The Japanese art of bonsai has been practiced for more than 1,000 years. In Japan, the winter silhouette exhibitions are not a rare occurrence.

It is believed that the first winter silhouette exhibition in America was in California—in Los Angeles organized by Frank Nagata. He was a nurseryman and bonsai teacher who passed away in 1980 at the age of 90.

The Nagata family, daughter Kay and son-in-law Khan Komai, both bonsai teachers, decided to continue his tradition of the winter silhouette exhibition of deciduous bonsai trees. The Clark Bonsai Collection honors the memory of Frank Nagata and the tradition of exhibiting deciduous bonsai trees in their yearly winter silhouette exhibition.

What is so enlightening about the winter bonsai silhouette of deciduous trees? Winter, for many, is the best season to view bonsai trees.

The presentation of the deciduous bonsai tree is bare and stark with no leaves to distract the viewer from the essence of the tree. The architectural silhouette of the tree is revealed.

The silhouette is created by the artist, or the curator of the collection, to imitate a mineralized version of a natural tree in winter. If the tree is wired, you will be able to see and appreciate how the wire snakes from the trunk to the branches, shaping the tree into the envisioned aesthetic shape of the artist.

To observe the tree is to experience the dialectic of a live tree in its dormant state denoting the stillness of living and the living process of a deciduous tree.

When observing a bonsai tree in the winter silhouette, focus on the trunk, the textured or smooth bark, the weak or strong branches, and the ramifications of the branches. This experience puts one into a Zen state of total focus.

View the tree with a harmonious balance of my mind and body. Similar to the tree dropping all its leaves, drop all illusions, seeing and feeling events without distortion created by one’s own thoughts or desires. This creates a Zen way of being and the creation and development of a state of a Zen mind through meditation.

Viewing a winter silhouette tree on a foggy or rainy morning will connote a Zen sense of stillness, peace and calmness. You can create oneness between you and the tree or Zazen: an awareness of the nature of existence. We hope that visitors to the Winter Bonsai Exhibit will experience their own Zen moment.

The spirit of a Zen monk visited the collection and the winter silhouette display of deciduous trees and wrote the following haiku:

Winter Leafless Trees 
Architectural Vistas 
Zen Mind Reflection

Winter is the best season to view bonsai trees: The presentation of the deciduous bonsai tree is bare and stark with no leaves to distract the viewer from the essence of the tree. Photo courtesy of Homer Gee Greene Jr.

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