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 Post subject: Profile: Steve Pilacik
PostPosted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 12:40 am 
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Profile: Steve Pilacik
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Steve Pilacik
Steve Pilacik is known by many as the "American Pine Master". He is the most experienced grower of Japanese Black Pine in the United States, having specialized in Japanese Black Pine and Japanese Maples since 1977. During his bonsai career he has also written the book "Japanese Black Pine"; put out the DVD "Japanese Black Pine Expanded". In addition, he has also written numerous articles that have been published in International Bonsai, Bonsai Today, Bonsai Clubs International, American Bonsai Society and Frank Mihalich's on line bonsai magazine. Steve is also known as "Sensei Sam" in Clippings, which has been his column in the Potomac Bonsai newsletter for the last 10 years. This prolific artist has also written, periodically, for the Florida Bonsai Journal.

The following is an on-line interview conducted with Steve Pilacik:


AoB: Steve, what prompted you to specialize specifically in Japanese Black Pines?

Steve Pilacik: The JBP appealed to me initially because you could reduce needle size! After a period of time, as I began to understand JBP, I enjoyed the bark and the ease of styling of the species. Japanese Black Pine is a tree that allows you to shape with wire very easily, so you can bend braches and move them into position and have them stay there. This species is very hardy and will happily grow in many areas and climates of the world. This is a testament to the trees adaptability. Having lived in three distinct climate zones I can certainly attest to that adaptability.

During my early studies of JBP I sought and received a great deal of knowledge about these trees, from Richard Ota. Richard shared so much knowledge with me that his love of JBP became part of me. The more I study and understand JBP, the more I love the plant!


AoB: What exactly is it that makes the Japanese Black and White pines so alluring to so many bonsaists?

Steve Pilacik: I believe many people enjoy Pines for bonsai, because they look OLD IN A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME. The bark ages quickly and with an aging bark you get the feel of age. Visually the trees are impressive in containers. I have had many people over the years tell me that looking at a Pine one feels the strength and age of the tree. Another reason I believe people enjoy Pines is that they are strong trees and will withstand much mistreatment. This makes the tree desirable simply because they are easy to care for and maintain. Nothing turns off the public quicker than trees that die.


AoB: Are you concerned at all, that the weight of history constrains you to obey certain rules and styles, with this species?

Steve Pilacik: No, I am not concerned about being locked into styling JBP in a certain way. One, must as always respect the growers and artists who blazed the trails on JBP. I have studied the styles but I try to leave my mind open when I am styling and growing my trees. I even use glazed containers for some pines! I believe the goal is to have a visually pleasing tree, irrespective of the style or container you use. I am not one who feels that you should break rules just for the sake of breaking rules but if the tree looks better, then break the rule. I also believe that as we develop more and better knowledge about bonsai rules , the rules will change. Today we are constantly making new rules to further the Art Form.


AoB: You have been growing Japanese Black Pines and Japanese Maples since 1977. What changes in the ways these are cultivated in America have you observed over this time period?

Steve Pilacik: In the USA, I believe we are developing more variety in the JBP cultivars and stock one can purchase. Not many years into my studies of JBP, I could only buy tall JBP with not too much of dramatic taper. Today more growers are growing in the ground for taper. I still believe that the Japanese do the most work with JBP and constantly experiment to find new techniques for the tree.
Today I also see more maples grown from cuttings rather than grafts to develop a visually pleasing lower trunk.


AoB: What advice would you give for selecting Japanese Black Pine stock for styling?

Steve Pilacik: After a healthy tree, the most important thing to look for when selecting JBP stock is the distance between internodes. One must be careful in selecting trees that have reasonable distances between branches going up the trunk. JBP grow so fast that sometimes growers neglect pruning and you end up with a tree whose branches are just too far apart. I still, to this day, find it almost impossible to go to a landscape grower or garden center and purchase a JBP that will become a good bonsai. After we have selected a JBP that has branches at reasonable distances up the tree the next two things one should look for are roots and taper. The final thing one should look for is short internodes on the branches. Then it is up to the artist to develop their tree.


AoB: As the owner and operator of Matsu Momiji Nursery which specializes in field grown material, what advice could you give to those interested in field growing Japanese Black Pines as well as Japanese maples?

Steve Pilacik: Field grown material is labor intensive! One must prune routinely. Do not feel that you can miss a year of pruning on a JBP and develop good material. We prune at least once a year but in most cases twice each year. Maples are easier in that if you miss a year or so, you can prune back and back buds will develop. Weeding is more than a chore, so if you want to grow in the ground you must be prepared to work the trees.


AoB: What cultivars of Japanese Maples are best suited for bonsai, in your opinion, and why?

Steve Pilacik: There are many cultivars of Japanese Maples that are excellent choices for bonsai. The trees should be from seed or cutting! The trees should also have a reasonably small leaf to begin. If you corner me and ask which one it would be Katsura. This tree's spring color is orange! It also grows relatively quickly and responds well to bonsai techniques. But I grow many varieties.


AoB: What other species do you like to work with, for bonsai?

Steve Pilacik: I work with many species i n my collection of bonsai. I love Sierra Juniper when the material has been collected. I grow Princess Persimmon, Shimpaku Juniper, Hornbeams, Elm varieties, Japanese and Chinese Quince, Camellia, and a few more in the fields. I now am getting very interested in Satsuki Azalea. The Satsuki grow so beautifully in my area. When my greenhouse is up I will even grow some tropicals. You know, writing the book on JBP has been a blessing and a curse to some extent. When people ask me to speak to their group most of the time they ask about JBP, but I do many other things.


AoB: How do you feel about the often heard remarks from certain people that it is pointless to talk about art in bonsai and all that matters is just to enjoy it?

Steve Pilacik: ALL people in the art form should enjoy their trees , but at the highest level bonsai is ART. In fact it is the only living art form. And we do not pay enough attention to all of the detail that is involved in art.


AoB: We often encounter people who start their hobby in bonsai by acquiring young material or seedlings. Do you advise them to grow their own material from scratch, or rather to buy something in an advanced stage of development as their first tree?

Steve Pilacik: This depends on the level of patience that the beginning hobbyist possesses. One can learn much from growing a seedling. However a seedling requires time. Most beginning bonsai people do not understand bonsai, so I advise them to take a lesson or three before buying the tree. Bonsai is a living art form, so learn to keep your tree alive first.


AoB: What was the most exciting thing... and the most disappointing thing that has happened to you during you bonsai career?

Steve Pilacik: The most disappointing time in bonsai for me was moving to West Virginia. As Chase Rosade says, I took a seven year vacation. The most exciting is every day that I am able to work on trees and teach people about bonsai.


AoB: Over the course of the last 25 years what are the most important changes you have seen in the art of bonsai?

Steve Pilacik: The most important change is that bonsai is now a world wide art form.


AoB: If you could only teach one thing about bonsai, what would it be?

Steve Pilacik: That bonsai is an art form.


Last edited by Paul Stokes on Wed Jan 30, 2008 8:47 am, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 30, 2006 4:31 pm 
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Joined: Fri Dec 16, 2005 7:29 am
Posts: 515
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Steve,
I notice black pines, in containers, tend to grow one disproportionately long low branch. It often seems to me that it reinforces the "bonsainess" rather than "treeness" of a potted tree. What are your thoughts on keeping that branch?
Hector Johnson


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