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 Post subject: Profile: Wayne Schoech
PostPosted: Thu Apr 13, 2006 12:48 pm 
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Profile: Wayne Schoech
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Wayne is the editor and publisher of Stone Lantern/Bonsai Today. Born and raised in Northern California, he studied linguistics at UC Berkeley and psychology at Sonoma State College. He saw his first bonsai collection in 1978 while operating his upscale landscaping company in Berkeley. He started New England Bonsai with Hitoshi Kanegae in 1987 and sold his shares to Hitoshi in 1998.
Later, joining John Palmer at Stone Lantern/Bonsai Today in 1999, he
purchased Stone Lantern/Bonsai Today from John in October 2001 (right after 9/11 was a tough time to purchase a business).

Wayne is currently living the life of a happy fool in the cold north with his friend Madge, his bonsai collection, conifer gardens, and of course, Bonsai Today. He enjoys his three good looking and intelligent grown children and has two, no doubt good looking and intelligent, grandchildren on the way.

The following is an on-line interview conducted with Wayne Schoech:



AoB: Wayne, tell us about the history of your involvement with Bonsai Today. We know you've been around it since 1999. Did you have any involvement prior to that?

Wayne: In 1987 Hitoshi Kanegae and I founded New England Bonsai. In 1999 I sold my shares to Hitoshi. After a couple of months of trying to figure out what to do next, I decided to accept an offer from John Palmer, the founder of Bonsai Today. John had asked me to join him, on the understanding that he would retire and I would take over later.


AoB: What made you decide to take over editorship of the magazine, and how did your vision for it differ from the other bonsai publications that were available at the time?

Wayne: Basically, John made me an offer I couldn't refuse. At that time my vision wasn't really clear. That part started to happen after I became familiar with the magazine. At first, it was just that I wanted to upgrade the design and quality of photos... stuff like that. Because Bonsai Today was already different to other bonsai magazines, part of my job was just maintaining that which made it unique; which was mostly the Japanese articles. Later I decided I wanted to start moving in other directions.


AoB: Many American bonsai artists of my generation saw their first images of world-class trees in the galleries at Bonsai Today. How did you go about selecting and acquiring these images, and what impact, if any, do think that the Bonsai Today galleries have had on Western bonsai?

Wayne: Almost all of the galleries, until very recently, came from Japan. In the early days of BT, the Japanese were so far ahead that there really wasn't very much gallery-worthy stuff outside of Japan. Lately, that has been changing. I think Japanese trees have had a profound effect on bonsai in the West.


AoB: Tell us about the relationship that Bonsai Today has, or has had, with Kindai Bonsai.

Wayne: Bonsai Today started as the English language edition of Kindai Bonsai. Until recently, about 80% of our content came from Kindai. Two years ago, we began to change our mix. People wanted to see more American and Western bonsai and more good stuff was starting to become available... especially from Europe. So we started moving in that direction. Now, we run about two Japanese articles per issue. Most of the rest is Western.


AoB: Where is Bonsai Today heading in the future? Is there a grand vision that Wayne Schoech has for BT?

Wayne: I'm not sure if I have one grand vision, other than I'd like to be able to retire someday. Maybe sell BT and just putter with my own bonsai and garden. Meanwhile, I'd like to help encourage the development and enjoyment of bonsai in whatever ways I can... Particularly in North America, where I think we are lagging a bit, especially compared to Europe.


AoB: There is no doubt that your galleries of world-class bonsai, accent plantings, and pots have contributed greatly to advancing the recognition of bonsai as an art form, yet very few of your articles deal exclusively with this subject, why is that?

Wayne: I have written a little about the subject, and plan on writing more in the future, though I may not say what some people want to hear.

I think when John was editor, bonsai was so new in the West that the issue hadn't really risen to the surface, at least for most of us. When I was a partner at New England Bonsai, I recognized that most people had a pretty naive view of bonsai and I just accepted that as the way it is; imagining that it was going to take a long time for Western bonsai to mature. Lately, thanks to you guys and others, the issue is coming out of the closet.

To me, enjoyment is the most important thing... even more important than how we view bonsai. If viewing bonsai as art increases your enjoyment then view it as art. If the fact it's an art, or something else, doesn't really matter to you, that's fine too.

I do have some questions about what it means to view bonsai as an art. I think we tend to think of certain media as art and other media as something else, like craft or hobby or whatever. This strikes me as a little strange, as a whole range of activities, including bonsai, can rise to the level of art in the hands of the right person.

For many of us, it would be a stretch to call our weekend playing with little trees in pots, art. Not that's there's anything wrong with it. I do it myself and often it's quite enjoyable. It would be nice if, someday, I could find the time and the inspiration to bring technique, vision and passion together in a way that might be called art. Meanwhile, I'll just play with my trees when I can find the time.

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AoB: Wayne, it is notable that Bonsai Today concentrates almost exclusively on the US bonsai scene, apart from the Japanese root of many of its articles. Is this deliberate? It would appear sensible to offer more of the potential readers in Europe an opportunity to contribute, by making part of it relevant to them. Yes, Bonsai Europe exists, but no-one is really straddling both continents, yet.

Wayne: You bring up a good question that is often on the front of my mind. How much European? How much American? How much Japanese?
However, the majority of our issues do have something from Europe, with some issues having more than one European article. Still, it is the case that about 75% of our readers are in North America (though we do fairly well in England and Australia) and many of these readers have requested more on American bonsai.
Really, no matter what we emphasize, some people will think it's a mistake. For years, when BT had mostly Japanese content, some people objected. Then, when we reduced the Japanese content, other people objected. The same goes for more beginner content as opposed to advanced stuff. No matter what we do, someone is going to take issue with it (no pun intended).

One problem we have is getting good articles from North Americans. Increasingly, Europeans are offering articles, while we have to beg to get articles from North Americans. So, I'll beg. Please, if you are a North American, send us an article about your bonsai. Or somebody else's bonsai. Just make sure the photos are hi-res and clear. Don't worry if you write like a third grader, we can fix that part. What we can't fix are bad photos.


AoB: Is it likely you will begin to cater to the newer enthusiasts, in terms of basic care and technique articles? Many of the articles in BT are by Japanese, for Japanese, with Japanese species. These are often unavailable and even inappropriate for many of your readers.

Wayne: I don't mean to be too abrupt, but whoever wrote this question hasn't been paying attention for the last year or so. We now include something for beginners in every issue, and more and more non-Japanese articles. We even have basic care stuff in most issues. We are definitely trying to cast a wider net to promote bonsai and we certainly want to catch newer enthusiasts in that net.


AoB: Perhaps you might consider an on-line survey, open for all and sundry to contribute their ideas and/or articles, to increase BT's relevance?

Wayne: Good idea. I would like to have more back and forth with readers and online is much more efficient that just our letter section in BT. Maybe we can figure out a way to do this through our generous hosts at Art of Bonsai.


AoB: Have you considered an alliance of any sort with a website such as AoB, to cross-promote BT, and to share articles and views, for the betterment of bonsai generally?

Wayne: See above. And yes, Will and I are sharing some stuff and Andy and I have worked together in the past and I respect what both of them are doing. I see some real potential here.


AoB: One of the problems with getting BT in countries like Australia and South Africa is that it takes months and months for them to arrive (We're up to issue #99 at the moment, just as #102 is being delivered in the US. Are there any moves afoot to make it an on-line subscription service? That would cut your publishing costs and get it into the hands of readers much more quickly.

Wayne: We ship foreign subscriptions via air, so if you subscribe directly you should get yours in a timely fashion. If you wait until your local bonsai shop has it in, then it can take a long time, as overseas wholesale orders are shipped surface, and surface is very slow. However, bonsai articles aren't really time sensitive, so what difference does it make?
I am interested in online publishing. I guess the question is: Are people willing to pay enough for it so we can cover our costs and have a little left over so I can afford to fly out to California every now and then to see my soon-to-be-born twin (one of each) grandchildren.


AoB: The world of bonsai has moved on a great deal in the last 10 years, during half of which you have been at the helm of BT. Are you pleased with the direction it is taking? Do you consciously, as an editor of such an influential publication, seek to influence the way bonsai is portrayed and perceived, by the marketplace?

Wayne: Your metaphor is a good one. A magazine is a lot like a ship in that it takes some time to change direction. Especially if the captain is rather green and a slow learner. I've been at the helm for four and a half years now. The first couple of years I mostly struggled to learn the publishing and editing business. In the last couple of years the wheel has started to feel natural. Hopefully this shows in the ship's direction.

I am amazed at how far some people have come in the last few years. Particularly in Europe, where quality bonsai is popping up everywhere. In books like The Best of Bonsai in Europe (there are now 5 volumes), the improvement in quality is obvious. In the U.S., though there are some very good bonsai artists, we seem to be lagging a bit (I know, I'm repeating myself. Maybe it's an age-related phenomenon).

I think this comes back to the question of bonsai as art. Europeans have a long tradition of art appreciation. I spent a year in Europe when I was young and a large portion of that was spent in museums and galleries (and great restaurants too!). It's just what you do when you're in Europe. Art is everywhere. People even dress more artfully.

America is a little different. Though I know generalizations always have their exceptions, we seem to have less appreciation for the finer things. Many of us are hard-working, fast-moving people. When we do slow down, all we have the energy for is fast food and TV, and fast food and most TV don't rise to anywhere near the level of art.

Another related problem we have in North America is how people become exposed to bonsai. Because of mall-vending and related phenomena, the first bonsai (so called) that most Americans see are half-dead juniper cuttings stuck in pots. Hundreds of thousands of people have purchased these as indoor plants, only to have them die. So it's a double whammy. They give a false impression of what bonsai is, and they die. Then people think that it's hard to grow bonsai. This situation is unfortunate.

So, to answer the question; I am pleased in some ways, while knowing we have a long way to go, especially here in North America. And yes, we (BT is more than just me) do seek to influence the way bonsai is portrayed and perceived, and we plan on getting better at it and helping improve the view and practice of bonsai in whatever small ways we can.


AoB: One of the issues being hotly debated in the bonsai community, at the moment, is the validity of bonsai as an art form, rather than a handicraft. Do you have a particular view on this subject?

Wayne: This question keeps popping up in different guises.
I think craft versus art is a false dichotomy. Macram, could rise to the level of art in the hands of the right person. Maybe an example closer to home is pottery. Many people consider pottery to be a craft. Yet clearly, there are pots that rise to the level of art. It's the skill, conviction, passion (even lust) of the person, not the medium, that distinguishes art from craft, hobby, or whatever.


AoB: Have you made a conscious decision to pitch Bonsai Today in a particular direction, in this respect?

Wayne: I think it's me that's being pitched with these variations on the same question.

In a way I do want to pitch BT towards the question. I like that the question arises, and want to do more to provoke questions in general. Answers will always vary, depending upon whom you ask, but questioning is a good thing.


AoB: Bonsai has long been perceived to be a Japanese or Chinese (though largely Japanese, especially during the suppression of bonsai and penjing in the time of China's Cultural Revolution) art. Have you ever considered whether it may be time to support a movement to Westernize the public's perception of bonsai, or would you be more inclined to reinforce the inherent "Japaneseness" of bonsai?

Wayne: I think bonsai is evolving in much of the world. A sizeable number of bonsai enthusiasts don't care that much about Japanese or Chinese influence. If you think about something like sculpture or painting; where did they originate and how much does that matter now, I suspect that eventually, only the word bonsai will be Japanese, and most people probably won't even realize that.

Meanwhile, most of the grand masters are still Japanese, and we can continue to learn from them.


AoB: Are you satisfied with the current market penetration and awareness bonsai enjoys, in the US? If not, what might you consider doing to change the status quo?

Wayne: No. I'm not satisfied. Bonsai is still marginalized in the US. Though it's a little frustrating at times, we will continue to do whatever we can to change the situation. But it's a slow process, at least on this side of the Atlantic (and Pacific, for that matter). On the other side of both oceans, it looks like bonsai is moving forward in great leaps. Maybe it's just that the bonsai is always greener on the other side of the pond.
In addition to all the obvious stuff, I think we need to keep asking good questions and to enjoy ourselves. Enjoyment is contagious and is a very powerful way to influence others.

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AoB: Many of the players in the retail market seem to struggle to make sufficient money to maintain a viable business. Having been in the retail bonsai market yourself, do you have any thoughts on how that situation may be addressed?

Wayne: Move to Europe.
Seriously, I wish I knew. Many people who love bonsai aren't that experienced at business. And business can be a steep and expensive learning curve. I know, from the countless mistakes I've made.

Still... It's always possible to make a go at a bonsai business. I guess my advice would be to try to gather enough money to get off to a good start. Many, if not most, businesses fail because of under-capitalization.
Another essential is setting up and continuing to refine good systems. Many people get trapped in just being workers in their own company, rather than working on improving their company. If you fall into this very common trap, you'll probably end up going back to work for someone else.


AoB: Would you concede you are in a unique position to educate the general public in the US, to a greater extent than any other person or publication? Have you ever considered how that situation might be turned to the advantage of bonsai, generally?

Wayne: Are you trying to tell me something?
I think there is some truth to this, but I don't think I'm alone. All of us who care about bonsai need to work together. Online sites are important in this regard and I know you at AofB are also in a leadership position and you take it very seriously. In fact, as time goes on, more and more of what you do will strongly influence what we in the print media do.


AoB: Recently we have begun to see more articles from the magazine's US and international readership, appearing in the pages of BT. What sort of articles would you like to see readers submitting?

Wayne: Whatever excites them. Just submit! With hi-res, clean photos.


AoB: Has the success of Bonsai Today's 'Pines' publication led you to consider similar publications or even annual 'Gallery' books, in the future?

Wayne: Yes. 'Pines' has done remarkably well. However, creating books is a lot of work, as is putting out each issue of the magazine. So, BT Master Series books will trickle into the market.

We are also publishing other people's books. In the next few months we will offer a remarkably complete, visually wonderful book on Satsuki azaleas by Bob Callaham, and a greatly upgraded and expanded second edition of Nick Lenz's very popular 'Bonsai from the Wild' (it is really almost a completely new book). I am also writing (with the help of some old BT articles) a wiring book for beginners and intermediate enthusiasts. Hopefully, it will be out by the end of the year.
My son Joseph (he's our magazine and book designer) has been working on a gallery book too. I think it will be ready next year. There are others too, including a completely unique and very beautiful book on Shohin bonsai by Morten Albek from Denmark. It should be ready in 2007.


AoB: Wayne, there are some critics of Bonsai Today who claim the quality of Bonsai Today has deteriorated and the magazine has become a catalog lacking in depth. How would you respond to this?

Wayne: Time for a little hardball. Actually I was enjoying playing slow pitch.

I think we stand guilty of some of the charges. However, I would challenge you to pick up an early issue of BT and hold it next to issue 101. Look at design and other production values like the quality of the photos, or even the paper. Read some of the text in each an notice the quality of the editing and the use of language to convey meaning. You might also notice the extra 16 pages.
Still, I understand that there's more to a magazine than editing and production values. So the question deserves a direct answer. So here it is. Don't give up. If you are concerned about BT's direction, then you have my ear. Write me, wayne@stonelantern.com and I'll answer. Or log in to AoB and voice your views (please try to be kind and trust that though we may not meet your standards, we are trying to be responsive to our readers). I don't have time to follow all the threads, but hopefully Will, or someone will let me know when we are being slammed (or praised) and I'll try to reply.

Now for the prosecution's charges:
Is BT now doubling as a bonsai magazine and a catalog? Sort of. We have added 16 pages (at no extra charge) and are using some of those pages to advertise books, back issues of BT and occasionally other products. It's a question of keeping all six of us fully employed and offering products that our readers want. Again, we pick up the entire tab for the extra pages.

Finally depth vs. breadth. Yes. We have tried to broaden our appeal. The problem is readership was level for years (this started in the mid-90 and I took over in September 2001). Much of the situation is print-media wide. So we have been experimenting by reaching out to beginners and others who may not be ready for advanced techniques.

Hopefully this serves at least two purposes; to bring more people into our bonsai community and to sell more magazines. This doesn't mean that we will stop featuring articles for advanced bonsai artists. Just that we will continue experimenting in the face of rapidly changing realities.



AoB: It has often been mentioned that Bonsai Today does not publish enough work from American artists, how difficult is it to get quality articles and pictures from American artists and do you feel that showcasing artists from around the world is educational and pertinent to all?

Wayne: Yes, I think offering articles from around the world is valuable.

Don't get me wrong though, we long for more American articles. It seems like every time we ask a European for an article, we get two. And almost every time we ask an American, we get a maybe. Or a later. It begs the same old question; what's going on with bonsai in North America?

However, the trend just might be changing. There are some promising signs.
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to think out loud about some great issues. And thanks also, to the two people who bothered to read this all the way to the end.


Last edited by Will Heath on Wed Aug 15, 2007 12:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Fine profile
PostPosted: Wed Apr 19, 2006 3:28 am 
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It was nice to read the profile of the man behind the magazine. I have communicated some with Wayne, and have clearly felt the enthusiasm and clear visions that also shine through the profile. I think Bonsai Today has moved into a better position the later years, covering bonsai in both Japan, the US and Europe. It is difficult to hit the taste of everybody around, but I surely am looking forward to every issue. Good job Wayne. Do you have time for your trees too?
Kind regards
Morten Albek


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 Post subject: fine profile
PostPosted: Wed Apr 19, 2006 9:55 am 
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Thanks Morten. Yes, I do have some time for my trees but not enough. My friend Michel Paneuf says busy people have to schedule time. Put it right in your appointment book.
cheers,
Wayne


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