Used with permission from the artist, Arthur Joura
The Thirteenth Annual Carolina Bonsai Expo. Hmmmm; thirteen, how about that? And there is a black cat featured behind a bonsai on the flyer art for the event. Nick Lenz is the scheduled artist, but alas, becomes unavailable due to travel restriction advice from a doctor. Uh oh, did Mister Murphy just show up?
Well, North Carolina Arboretum Bonsai Curator, Arthur Joura, has a good sense of humor - he actually is the artist who created the "black cat" Expo flyer - along with maybe just a touch of superstitious concern. Imagine a couple of weeks before a major regional bonsai event; your scheduled guest artist suddenly becomes unavailable. Pass the Maalox please! Thirteen...thirteen....THIRTEEN, heck even some high-rise building forego the thirteenth floor and go straight from twelve to fourteen. I guess that's not really possible for an annual event though.
Sometimes fortune will have mercy on us. A replacement search for the guest artist was launched and soon, one was located. A good one at that. Mr. Peter D. Adams agreed to take the place of Mr. Lenz. Maybe this “thirteen” thing ain't so bad after all.
Now there is still a bit of a dilemma. The Carolina Bonsai Expo (CBE) is a show based on CLUB level displays, not just individual entries of bonsai. The clubs compete for coveted awards based on the impact of their display. Herein lies the dilemma; it was made known that Nick Lenz was the scheduled artist not too terribly long before the event was going to occur. Enough time though for club coordinators to seek out designs of displays that would appeal to the more eccentric - yet wonderful - taste of Mr. Lenz. Creative juices flowed and displays were designed and assembled. BAM, now Mr. Lenz is out of the picture. Enter in Mr. Adams. Scuttlebutt is that he has more traditional tastes. What to do? Answer, you roll with the changes.
The CBE historically provides sixteen linear feet of display area for each club. Coordinators are encouraged to use this space in their own way (within some guidelines), although two eight-foot tables are provided for clubs who wish to use a more traditional approach to showcase their member's bonsai. In the beginning years of CBE, almost all clubs did exactly that, but in more recent events, clubs have started to integrate a display theme to add more perspective to their efforts. This adds to the event and it is encouraged by Mr. Joura who seems to enjoy a reasonable departure from the status quo.
On Friday, October 10, 2008, club members were allowed to set up their displays in the Education Center at the Arboretum. At the same time, retailers were preparing their vending areas in the Baker Building, several hundred yards away. This year, clubs were from a total of six different states. Over eighty bonsai were to be on display as well. While most clubs took advantage of the allotted table space with tastefully traditional and straight-forward displays, three others did depart from such. Of these three, one involved a four-section tokonama, another provided a flowing display of landscape-style compositions that integrated each one to the next, and the final display was described as a "down-home country" theme. Needless to say, this event really provides a diverse feel to bonsai.
Later that night, club members, after a long day of set-up, are treated to a demonstration by Mr. Joura at the covered area of the Arboretum's Bonsai Exhibition Garden. Attendees were allowed to stroll through the area at dusk, which is normally closed at that time. Some rain happened to fall - which for the drought-stricken area of western NC was actually welcomed - and not really that much of a problem. A classical violinist played live during all of this, and quite frankly, mesmerized me. I just sat there and listened. While I'm not exactly an aficionado of classical music, it was nonetheless very enjoyable and appreciated.
October 11th was the main day for the event. The display is open to the public and other than a modest parking fee for the Arboretum, completely free of charge. The public is encouraged to vote for the "People's Choice" award to signify the most popular individual bonsai of the event. Bonsai enthusiasts, club members, and just regular folks who were interested by the event all mingled together in appreciation of the bonsai. Great fun. Also, several workshops were taking place on the grounds, and the bonsai retailers were being descended upon.Grass planting with ceramic tiger - Photo from John DixonRock planting - Photo from John GeanangelMame display - Photo from John GeanangelShohin Black Pine - Photo from John Dixon
The night of the 11th was a scheduled demonstration by Mr. Adams. This event was limited to 100 paid attendees and quickly sold out. The crowd prepared themselves for an evening of bonsai education and anxiously awaited the guest artist's appearance. Instead of that, a tall, handsome young man (who bears an uncanny resemblance to a member of the Joura family) took the stage and we all -well, at least I - learned that Mr. Adams was important enough to have a "personal introducer". I'm not even sure how you submit a resume for that. Still, with a quasi-English accent, the "introducer" commenced to introduce the audience to Mr. Adams. I'm not sure if that young man retained his job, but between finding out that Mr. Adams was kicked out of the "Fab Four" for his constant ridicule of Ringo's hair, had attended a "poultry" school, and eventually gave up wealth and fortune in the UK to come over to the colonies and teach the woeful "Yanks" some real bonsai skills, I had a deeper appreciation of the word diverse! This was great fun (a skit, of course) and really set the mood for the rest of the night. Personal Introducer - Photo from John Dixon
Mr. Adams was offered three different pieces of material to base the demonstration on. In a departure from the norm, Mr. Adams set up the demonstration in the middle of the crowd, rather than from the stage area up front. He took each piece of material, discussed the merits and faults, and gave the crowd guidance of his vision with artistic sketches that he had developed for each one. This is a wonderful strategy, and to see a classically trained artist use this technique was not lost on the crowd. Finally, Mr. Adams selected the last piece, a large Podocarpus, to do the actual demonstration with. As he was styling this, he continued to discuss fine aspects of art, such as static and dynamic movement, and how to integrate these teachings into bonsai composition. He went into some detail about the intricacies of jin and shari, and how different shades of color within the deadwood are much more desirable than just plain bleached out white. The additions of subtle colors and the advice of using alum to maintain colorfastness were very intriquing.Demostration photos from John Dixon
October 12, 2008 - This is it. At 10:00 am a two-hour critique of displays and individual bonsai takes place. The critique is only open to members of participating clubs. Mr. Adams provides feedback on each club's display as a whole, and also an individual study of each bonsai on their own merit. This makes attendance very important to club members who submit specimens and why attendance is strictly limited. A total of over eighty bonsai from around fifteen clubs takes every bit of the allotted two hours.Adams' critique - Photo from John Geanangel
At the conclusion of the guest artist critique, the event was opened back up to the public until 4:00pm. During this time, Mr. Adams had a closed workshop with a lucky few. At 3:00pm, the annual bonsai auction took place. Auctioneers Extraordinaire Randy Clark and Jim Doyle (also 2/3 of the Instructor's Award Judging Group more commonly known as the "Old Geezers") provided the registered potential buyers a chance to buy some pretty darn good bonsai and bonsai material, that was donated to the NC Arboretum and being sold to raise funds. I myself made off with a nice little Satsuki - which I plan to make into stellar bonsai art - at a killer deal. How good a deal you ask? I ain't tellin', says I. If you want to know, you gotta be there!
At the conclusion of the auction, Bonsai Curator Arthur Joura presented the awards in all judged categories. The winners are:
Best in Show (BIS), Individual, as chosen by the guest artist: Red Pine literati, by Michael Dietz of the Mid-Appalachian Bonsai Kai, Johnson City, TN.
Instructor's Award (Howard Kazan, Jim Doyle, Randy Clark) for BIS, Individual: Red Pine literati, by Michael Dietz of the Mid-Appalachian Bonsai Kai, Johnson City, TN.Bonsai submitted by Michael Dietz - Photo from John Geanangel
BIS, Group Display, as chosen by the guest artist: RMBB Study Group, Columbia, SC.Display of RMBB Study Group - Photo from John Geanangel
People's Choice Award for BIS, Individual: Baldcypress formal upright, by Ed Lauer of the Triangle Bonsai Society, Raleigh, NC.
Peer Award for BIS, Individual: Baldcypress formal upright, by Ed Lauer of the Triangle Bonsai Society, Raleigh, NC.Bald Cypress displayed by Ed Lauer - Photo from John Dixon
Curator's Award for Most Creative Group Display: (co-winners) Bonsai Society of the Carolinas, Charlotte, NC; Hinoki Bonsai Club, Roanoke, VA.Display from the Bonsai Society of the Carolinas -Photo from John DixonDisplay of the Hinoki Bonsai Club - Photo from John Dixon
There are some winners who were not mentioned. They are the bonsai enthusiasts and regular people who took advantage of this wonderful event. In the current debacle we Americans call an economy, it is so refreshing to see an event - basically free of charge - with so much substance and commitment. It is my personal opinion that the Carolina Bonsai Expo has a unique character among bonsai events. This show, albeit competitive, stresses the importance of enjoyment with the art of bonsai. While technical proficiency and styling skill remain very much a part of the submitted bonsai, the fun factor has to be realized. This is not a stuffy environment where a novice feels intimidated to even ask a question. Questions are encouraged and the resulting impact can very easily help to jump start the journey of the next great bonsaist. This is the kind of show where one can imagine John Naka walking around in his double-billed hat with the caption "I am their leader, which way did they go?". Bonsai artistic worth remains as important as ever, but without the fun, is it really what we are striving for?
If you made it to the end of this article, you've already answered that. Good for you. The author would like to add that Mr. Lenz very graciously donated a bonsai of his own to the Arboretum. A very respectful gesture from him that should not go unnoticed.