National Bonsai & Penjing Museum Enters into Historic “Sister Museum” Relationship with Omiya Bonsai Art Museum in Japan

Photo Credit: Stephen Voss

Photo Credit: Stephen Voss

The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum officially became a Sister Museum to The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum in Saitama, Japan on Monday, Aug. 5th! 

Our Museum was formed in 1976 as the result of Japan’s Bicentennial Gift of 53 masterpiece bonsai. The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, created in 2010, is located in the famous “Bonsai Village” that has been at the center of bonsai in Japan for almost 100 years.

Many board members and leaders from both museums attended the ceremony, which was held at our Museum in Washington, D.C. Dr. Richard Olsen – Director of the U.S. National Arboretum, which houses our Museum – and The Honorable Hayato Shimizu, Mayor of Saitama, signed the “Sister Museums Declaration.”

Photo Credit: Stephen Voss

Photo Credit: Stephen Voss

Attendees heard remarks from Dr. Olsen, Mayor Shimizu, Felix Laughlin – National Bonsai Foundation Co-President – and Takahiro Shimada, Minister for Communications and Cultural Affairs at the Japanese Embassy. A luncheon in the Exhibits Gallery followed the ceremony, and Dr. Fumiya Taguchi – Manager of The Omiya museum – gave a presentation called “The History of Bonsai in Japan.”

Photo Credit: Stephen Voss

Photo Credit: Stephen Voss

In the advent of their new partnership, the two museums plan to share information about their upcoming educational bonsai exhibits and programs. 

“Both museums hope to help increase awareness and appreciation for the other as premier destinations to experience the art of bonsai at its highest level of creativity and development,” Laughlin said.

Photo Credit: Stephen Voss

Photo Credit: Stephen Voss

Photographing Bonsai with Stephen Voss: An Introduction

As a photographer who now makes a living snapping pictures of some of the world’s most influential figures, Stephen Voss didn’t always know that photography could be more than a hobby. 

Now that he’s an accomplished photographer, Voss wants to share his “tricks of the bonsai photography trade.” He will be writing a monthly blog covering everything from lighting, angles and mindset needed when photographing the trees, beginning with this introductory blog. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram to never miss one of his entries!


Voss’ photography journey began while growing up in New Jersey, when he photographed his friends skateboarding and printed the pictures in a self-published magazine called “Skatedork.” 

Screenshot 2019-08-02 at 10.50.30 AM.png

After graduating from The George Washington University, where he took some black and white darkroom courses, Voss moved from D.C. to Portland, Oregon where he took photos for the city’s weekly paper and cemented his love for photography.

“Coming out of college, I knew I wanted to be a photographer, but I didn’t really have a sense of how that could become a career,” Voss said. “My degree in computer science helped me pay the rent, while I developed my photographic career shooting just about everything you can think of for the paper in Portland.”

The paper’s “on-the-job education” exposed him to many interesting people and situations every day, which he said is one of the most alluring aspects of photography. 

“The experiences made me realize that what I loved most about photography was the way it could serve as an entry point to pursuing my curiosities,” Voss said. 

One of Voss’ first big projects led him to Zhengzhou, China, where a local environmental activist showed Voss multiple villages that had fallen victim to water pollution induced by factories located upstream.

(Voss) Pollution enters the river in Zhengzhou, China.

(Voss) Pollution enters the river in Zhengzhou, China.

“I saw empty homes where all the people living there had died from various forms of cancer,” Voss said. “I saw blackish, foul-smelling water coming out of pipes originating from a fertilizer factory, just upstream from where people fished and drew water from wells.”

(Voss) Trash accumulates in the river in Zhengzhou.

(Voss) Trash accumulates in the river in Zhengzhou.

News organizations like CNN and BBC that picked up the story featured the photos he took in the villages. Voss said his shoot in Zhengzhou taught him the power and limitations of photography. 

“While the factory eventually stopped polluting the river, it was the work of the activists who effected change, any contribution the photographs made was peripheral at best,” he said. 

Photographing Bonsai

Voss has been visiting The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum since 1998, when he was still a college student. He and his girlfriend, now wife, took the long cab ride from Foggy Bottom to the U.S. National Arboretum to wander through the Museum and marvel at the Capitol Columns, Voss said. 

“When we moved back to D.C. in 2005, we visited the Museum on the morning of our wedding and frequently bring our children there to visit the trees,” he said. 

Voss now frequently brings his children along on his Museum visits. Voss’ son looks through the view finder.

Voss now frequently brings his children along on his Museum visits. Voss’ son looks through the view finder.

Voss now frequently brings his children along on his Museum visits. Voss’ daughter enjoys the view.

Voss now frequently brings his children along on his Museum visits. Voss’ daughter enjoys the view.

Voss’ first attempt at photographing bonsai stemmed from frustration in his professional work, taking portraits of famous politicians and athletes. He said the work is fast-paced, which is exciting but can also be hectic. Voss said that when he wanted to begin a new personal project, he turned to the trees.

“I may have just a few minutes to try to make a meaningful image of someone before they had to rush off to their next appointment,” he said. “I wanted a subject that would allow me to take my time, and the trees felt like a perfect fit.” 

Voss spent months photographing the trees without thinking much about what he would do with the finished products, and he struggled to find what he could add to the living works of art through his project. 

Voss composing bonsai photos at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.

Voss composing bonsai photos at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.

“Sometimes it felt similar to photographing paintings in a museum,” he said. “At some point, I realized I was more interested in trying to portray something of the spirit of the trees, not just a literal representation.”

Early on in his project, Voss debuted a selection of his images to Jack Sustic, who served as the Museum’s curator for 13 years. Voss said Sustic supported his mission to capture the trees’ essence through a camera lens and encouraged him to continue his project. He took about 12,000 images of the Museum’s bonsai collection in one and a half years.

“I knew I had the makings of a book project once I had a selection of 50 or so images that I liked,” he said. 

(Voss) One of Voss’ favorite shots of a red maple, which has been in training since 1974, at the Museum.

(Voss) One of Voss’ favorite shots of a red maple, which has been in training since 1974, at the Museum.

Voss then raised money to print the book through a Kickstarter campaign and worked with a design company to lay out the pages. 

“The printing process took quite a long time,” he said. “I only received my first books from the printer in Hong Kong the day before the book release party!”  

After his years of working hard and delving into the world of photographing bonsai, Voss’ book, “In Training, A Book of Bonsai Photos,” is now widely circulated. You can purchase a copy of “In Training” here

Takahiro Mori Performs Bonsai Demonstration at U.S. National Arboretum

Mori works on bonsai during demonstration.

Mori works on bonsai during demonstration.

Japanese bonsai master Takahiro Mori held a bonsai demonstration at the U.S. National Arboretum on July 20th.

In February, Yoshiko Higuchi of the Japanese Embassy wrote to Museum curator Michael James that Mori, a Japanese bonsai master who operates a nursery in Saitama, Japan, planned to visit D.C. in July. Higuchi and James then asked Mori to perform a couple of public and private demonstrations while he stayed in the District. 

At the public Museum demonstration, Mori held a talk about bonsai and performed a one-hour demonstration on a juniper collected on the Arboretum’s grounds five years ago. Museum staff members who have been caring for the tree since its collection will complete any remaining wiring and pruning the juniper needs.

The juniper collected on the Arboretum’s grounds five years ago that Mori worked on during the demonstration.

The juniper collected on the Arboretum’s grounds five years ago that Mori worked on during the demonstration.

MEDIA ADVISORY: Sister Museum Announcement

Untitled design (2).png

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


The U.S. National Arboretum’s National Bonsai & Penjing Museum and the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum of  Saitama City, Japan to Sign Sister Museum Declaration


Official signing, private celebration and special presentation will take place August 5th at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum

WASHINGTON, DC – On Monday, August 5, 2019, the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, located at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, DC, will officially become a “Sister Museum” to Omiya Bonsai Art Museum of Saitama City, Japan. The National Bonsai Foundation (NBF) will help host a formal dedication ceremony to mark this occasion at the Washington, DC Museum. Discussions around this idea started in 2012 when NBF Co-President, Jack Sustic visited OBAM to discuss beginning a relationship between the two museums. 

On August 5th, Dr. Richard Olsen, Director of the U.S. National Arboretum, and the Honorable Hayato Simizu, Mayor of Saitama City, will sign the "Sister Museums Declaration.” This will be followed by brief remarks from Richard Olsen, Mayor Simizu, NBF Co-President, Felix Laughlin, and Minister Takehiro Shimada, of the Japanese Embassy.  There will be lunch in the Museum’s Exhibits Gallery followed by a presentation from Dr. Fumiya Taguchi, of Omiya Bonsai Art Museum on "Japanese Bonsai History."  

This event is invite only. Members of the press interested in attending can contact Kendra@KendraRubinfeldpr.com


The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum will be closed from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. for this special event.

###

Founded in 1982, the National Bonsai Foundation is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit that works in cooperation with the U.S. National Arboretum to supply financial, programmatic and curatorial support for the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. The Foundation offices and Museum are located on the grounds of the Arboretum in Northeast Washington, DC.

www.bonsai-nbf.org

FIRST CURATOR'S BLOG: Stories of Struggle and Survival

Screenshot 2019-07-12 at 2.42.18 PM.png

When viewing old and ancient trees – whether they grow in a city, forest, desert or alpine slopes – one comes across stories of struggle and resilience. These stories are depicted in many ways depending on the species of tree, the characteristics of its wood and the environmental event that caused damage to the tree. 

Deadwood on bonsai is generally spoken about using the Japanese words “Jin,” meaning dead branch, and “Shari,” meaning deadwood on the trunk.

Screenshot 2019-07-12 at 2.43.31 PM.png

Damage that results in the contortion of a tree can occur in bouts of extreme weather, like heavy snow, droughts, wind, lightning and more. Biological damage – events like animals grazing, insect infestations and human activities – also affect the contortion of a tree. 

All these impacts occur throughout the life of trees, sometimes over the course of thousands of years, like the ancient bristlecone pines in the White Mountains of California which have been dated to about 6,000 years old.

After the damage occurs, deadwood features can take on many different appearances, depending on the species and environmental conditions that the tree resides in. 

In wet climates, many deciduous species with softer wood may form large hollows due to rotting and decay. But the deadwood on many junipers in dry climates will be sun bleached white by the sun, resulting in a look that is naturally preserved for longer periods of time. 

Screenshot 2019-07-12 at 2.45.08 PM.png

In bonsai design, deadwood adds interest and a “survival story.” Sometimes an artist might collect a tree that already has naturally occurring deadwood. But artists can also create deadwood by breaking branches, stripping away bark and carving wood using hand or power tools. 

Artists generally treat deadwood on bonsai with a solution of lime sulphur. This solution protects it from rotting and bleaches the deadwood, giving it a white appearance that contrasts well with the rest of the tree. Penetrating wood hardeners can also be used on the deadwood if a bleaching effect is not desired.

Screenshot 2019-07-12 at 2.46.07 PM.png

Each bonsai artist can decide whether to create deadwood on all trees or leave the variation to certain species. The real beauty of bonsai is not whether the tree has deadwood features, but is demonstrated in each person's ability to create and share their view of nature from their own life experiences. Bonsai is an art, and with any art there is no right or wrong.


Andy Bello (Stephen Voss)

Andy Bello (Stephen Voss)

Andy Bello has been selected as the Museum’s 2019 First Curator’s Apprentice. The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum's First Curator's Apprenticeship for 2019 is funded by generous grants to the National Bonsai Foundation from Toyota North America and The Hill Foundation. More on Andy here.

U.S. National Arboretum Hosts Receptions for American Public Gardens Association Conference

The American Public Gardens Association annual conference was held in Washington, D.C. from June 17th to the 21st. The U.S. National Arboretum hosted a dinner and five small receptions for APGA on June 20th.  

Before dinner in the Great Meadow, the Arboretum held receptions in five different locations on the grounds: The Washington Youth Garden, Friendship Garden, The Turf Grass Exhibit, The National Herb Garden and The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.  

Photos Courtesy of Olivia Anderson Photography

Photos Courtesy of Olivia Anderson Photography

The National Bonsai Foundation hosted the Museum’s reception, serving sushi and Japanese beer. Guests were able to enjoy the Museum’s renowned tree collections throughout the party. 

Photos Courtesy of Olivia Anderson Photography

Photos Courtesy of Olivia Anderson Photography

During the reception, Museum curator Michael James and 2019 First Curator's Apprentice Andy Bello gave bonsai pruning demonstrations. Museum volunteer and artist Young Choe composed a kusamono (the Japanese botanical art of a potted arrangement of wild grasses and flowers). 

Landscape architect, Joseph James from Reed Hilderbrand fostered a discussion about upcoming renovations to the Museum complex and presented a display of preliminary renovation plans. 

Photo Courtesy of Olivia Anderson Photography

Photo Courtesy of Olivia Anderson Photography

Authors Sandra Moore, Stephen Voss and Ann McClellan also staffed a bookstand that held books they have written about the Museum. The National Bonsai Foundation and U.S. National Arboretum are grateful to all who attended and helped make the event a big success!


Know Your Styles: A Guide to Bonsai Configurations

Walking through the Museum, you’ll find plaques with titles, donor names and dates next to most of the bonsai. But do you know how to tell which style our trees are exhibiting?

To help you wow friends on your next visit, Museum curator Michael James walked us through the main styles of bonsai on display in our pavilions: cascade, upright, root-over-rock, forest and windswept. James said these configurations simplify and categorize trees’ common forms or growth habits after enduring forces of nature – like wind, ice and snow – that shape trees in the wild.

“These are just styles that mimic what’s found happening in trees growing in harsh conditions,” he said.

The formal upright style is a simple design: the tree’s apex stands directly over the base of the trunk, and the tree is perfectly straight. James said the informal upright design is a bit looser and more whimsical than formal upright. The tree’s apex remains in line with the base of the tree, but the trunk twists and turns on its way to the top.

An informal upright bonsai.

An informal upright bonsai.

Forest style displays are created to mirror the different heights and trunk thicknesses found in natural forests, so the trees should differ randomly in size, James said. He added that the displays are usually arranged in odd numbers, ranging from about five to 11 trees.

A forest bonsai display.

A forest bonsai display.

Seeds that land on a small patch of fertile soil germinate and send roots down into the earth to create a tree. But over the years that bit of soil can erode, exposing the rock underneath where the tree began to grow. This process creates the root-over-rock look.

A root-over-rock style bonsai.

A root-over-rock style bonsai.

To replicate this style, bonsai masters will plant a bonsai on top of a rock. In some plantings, the masters attach the bonsai to the rock with wires and the tree lives entirely on the rock, growing in a special soil mix.

In other cases, as the above picture demonstrates, the rock and attached tree are planted in a container filled with soil, and the bonsai roots grow into the soil. In this instance, each time the bonsai is repotted, the master may lift the rock and attached tree higher in the container and remove some of the soil, exposing more of the roots and the rock.

A full-cascade bonsai.

A full-cascade bonsai.

Bonsai in the cascade style also come in two configurations. In the semi-cascade design, the trunk of the tree might lean over and drop below the lip of its pot. But the tip of bonsai in full-cascade reaches below its container, to emulate a tree clinging to a cliffside.

A bonsai in the windswept style.

A bonsai in the windswept style.

The Museum has one tree that displays the windswept look: the iconic Chinese elm. Branches of windswept bonsai grow in one direction and look as if the tree is growing while enduring a strong wind blowing from only one side.

James said some styles are more common in certain trees, but many trees can be trained into myriad configurations. One exception is with cascade bonsai. Trees in the cascade category are often flowering trees or conifers, like pines and junipers, which are found in mountainous areas. Their low hanging branches are pulled down by the weight of fruit or snow and ice that accompany high-altitude conditions, creating the cascade look.

He added that some styles fit specific occasions, as certain designs are more formal than others.

“If you were displaying a bonsai for a special occasion you would use a formal tree, which would be very stately, maybe austere – very proper,” James said. “But an informal tree lends itself more to having a party or a big celebration. Something fun, maybe even more playful.”


Looking to learn even more about bonsai, and get your hands-on experience while doing it? Join our Museum Staff and Volunteers as they offer several Intro to Bonsai classes this July. Learn more here.

HISTORICAL TREE SPOTLIGHT: “Spring Rain” Stone Penjing

Screenshot 2019-06-17 at 12.58.47 PM.png

When thinking of bonsai or penjing, one naturally imagines perfectly manicured trees. But in this month’s Historical Tree Spotlight, we’re shifting gears and taking a look instead at a unique stone presentation called “Spring Rain.” Museum curator Michael James says the rocky display exemplifies a fundamental difference between bonsai and penjing.

“Penjing, in the literal translation, is more of a theme or a landscape in a shallow container, whereas bonsai is really the minimalist, iconic tree we all know,” he said.

A gift from the Shanghai Botanical Garden to the Museum in 2006, “Spring Rain” is usually on display during the summer months in the Chinese Pavilion.

The penjing sits in a nearly five-foot tray crafted from white marble – a prolific resource used often in Southern China – which is meant to portray the surrounding sea. Its jutting landscape is a representation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site composed of a group of land masses protruding from Halong Bay in the South China sea.

Screenshot 2019-06-17 at 12.58.58 PM.png

Although “Spring Rain” represents a physical place on Earth, James said penjing are not always crafted to resemble real locations. The displays are often created as a poetic representation of an imaginary world or whimsical place.  

“With some of the other penjing we have in the Museum, the trees are so curvy they don’t even look the way trees naturally grow,” he said. “But they do look like an amazing place to be if you were miniaturized in that setting.”

Screenshot 2019-06-17 at 12.59.10 PM.png

According to James, the small boats under the main rock signify another capital difference between bonsai and penjing. The tiny pewter or ceramic figurines are accents used in penjing to create a humanistic scale. James said the presence of greenery is minimal in penjing, and the lack of plants in “Spring Rain” speaks to the minimalistic approach of the art.

He added that penjing artists use a freeform “clip-and-grow” method, rather than training the trees with wire, to redirect the trees’ energy into the desired form.

“With penjing, artists and creators allow the tree to do more of what it does naturally,” James said.






The Museum is Alive with the Sound of the National Symphony Orchestra!

(L-R) Janice Vitale (NBF Board Member), Amy Grossnickle (Kennedy Center), NSO Musicians, Johann Klodzen (NBF Executive Director) posed with the Juniperus chinensis var. Itoigawa (donated by the Kennett Collection).

(L-R) Janice Vitale (NBF Board Member), Amy Grossnickle (Kennedy Center), NSO Musicians, Johann Klodzen (NBF Executive Director) posed with the Juniperus chinensis var. Itoigawa (donated by the Kennett Collection).

It was a great honor to have the National Symphony Orchestra perform a Chamber Concert at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum on Saturday, June 1st in the Upper Courtyard.

The quartet, made up of National Symphony musicians Hanna Lee and Jing Qiao (violin), Eric deWaardt (viola), and Loewi Lin (cello) treated the crowd of nearly 70 visitors to a range of compositions from Vivaldi to Glass, all inspired by nature and/or Asian culture in someway to match the beautiful setting.

Jack Sustic, NBF Co-President welcomes the crowd.

Jack Sustic, NBF Co-President welcomes the crowd.

Jack Sustic, National Bonsai Foundation’s Co-President, was there to welcome and introduce the program. Board Member, Jim Hughes, and Janice Vitale were also there. The free program was a huge success, with many of the visitors asking for more programming like it in the future.


Read an interview we did with the musicians before the concert here.


We Won Washington City Paper’s “Best Place to Take An Out-Of-Towner” Best of DC Award For Second Year in a Row

FB_Best Place to Take..._.png

We are thrilled to announce that The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum has clinched the “Best Place to Take An Out-of-Towner” award in the 2019 Washington City Paper BEST OF DC Readers’ Poll.

We would like to thank all of the visitors and followers who voted for us in the poll. We are grateful for all of your support throughout the year, and we hope you continue to enjoy our collections, exhibits and events.