Feature Article

Displaying Shohin Bonsai

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Text and photos by Morten Albek (C)

In light of the recent completion of our first annual display contest, we are pleased to present a trio of articles by Morten Albek on display. In this one, Morten gives us the basics for placing Shohin on a stand made for multiple bonsai.

Morten Albek is an important presence in the bonsai community, his accomplishments in the art of bonsai are rivaled by very few others, his energy and willingness to share his knowledge truly makes him a leader in the art. AoB is proud to feature a gallery of some of his work "The Accent Plants of Morten Albek", "The Shohin Bonsai of Morten Albek", and an on-line interview with this artist that can be read here. Morten's personal web site at Shohin-europe.com is one of the most referenced siites on the web.

Displaying Shohin Bonsai

Displaying Shohin-bonsai isn't the easiest thing in the world compared to displaying traditional bonsai. Shohin-bonsai demands more trees available at the time of displaying, and more creativity must be put into the display some times.

The main theme of displaying Shohin or Mame-bonsai is the seasonal approach. Good quality trees must be at hand, and using a traditional Shohin rack demands at least three good Shohin-bonsai to succeed. It is "allowed" to replace a tree with an accent planting or a figurine i.e., as long as the aesthetic approach is all right.

Setting up a rack with Shohin-bonsai may be full of compromises. How many of us yet have a load full of quality Shohin to choose from? So compromises has to be made until a good collection is available, fulfilling the needs at the time of year the trees are at their best.

If one is not importing already styled trees it will take a while to build up such a collection, but until then it is still possible to play with the set up of a Shohin or Mame display. In the start smaller displays are the goal, and later racks with room for more trees will be appropriate.

In these three examples I will give my view on the display issues, and describe the faults and the good parts of the selected displays.

First Example

This display is a summer presentation.

This display is a summer presentation. The scroll isn't used traditionally at Japanese Shohin displays when leveled racks are used. I felt though the scroll was underlining the summer theme and that it wasn't taking up too much space. The scroll with butterflies contributed well to the overall feeling, without taking too much space out of the display. Normally it is better to avoid overloading the display though, but in this example it seems to work well. The scroll is shorter and lighter looking than other scrolls.

The accent at the bottom of the rack has a little too much volume, but was chosen because the fresh leaves and small flowers added the right mood to the display.

If a tree should have been used, it should have movement toward the Cotoneaster at the right.

Second Example

This display clearly shows the seasonal

This display clearly shows the seasonal summer theme by the use of flowering accents. Notice that it is the same top tree used as in example one. Normally the top tree must clearly show the direction toward the center of the display, but often formal trees like this one, can be used for both directions, because their movement isn't clear. This is often seen at the Japanese exhibitions, where many formal styled Pines are selected as main top tree.

Therefore also Japanese displays sometimes show a main tree, that doesn't clearly points toward the center of the display. The binary tree at the right, a Rhododendron, is too big for this display. It will work better in a display with only two bonsai present.

Third Example

The top tree shows good movement

The top tree shows good movement toward the center in this Mame-bonsai display. Also the binary tree at the left, a Satsuki Azalea, point toward the top tree and the center of the display.

The main problem at this Mame-bonsai display is the necessity of using accents instead of Mame-bonsai according to the ideal display. Not enough Mame-bonsai was available at this time, and it is all right to replace bonsai with other items, accents or ornaments, to fill in the room.

The accents give a nice feeling of the season. Although their size is relatively big compared to the trees, Mame-bonsai gives some room for compromises though, and personally I don't feel the relative sizes of bonsai and accent bothers much, when dealing with trees as small as these ones.

The main goal is to give a clear feeling of the season, and it isn't possible to make impact with accents that are scaled down below the size of Mame and Mini-bonsai in a display like this. Freedom is allowed, and the goal isn't to reassemble a naturalistic scene, with bonsai and accents scaled as in normal bonsai displaying, but primarily to give an impression and overall feeling of the season.

The reason to use many objects in this display was to give impact of the vigorous growth of late spring, and a more practical reason; to fill the pre-selected area at the exhibition. Much air is still present in the display, securing simplicity and peace in the view.

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Profile: Morten Albek