Penjing Defined by Master Zhao Qingquan

If you’re not familiar with the nuances differentiating bonsai – which originated in China and has been popularized by the Japanese – from the Chinese art of penjing, the two forms probably seem very similar or even identical. But with a little background, you’ll see there are important differences that distinguish most penjing from bonsai. We spoke with renowned penjing master, Zhao Qingquan, to bring you this blog.


Screenshot 2019-10-07 at 2.35.34 PM.png

Zhao was born in Yangzhou City, China, where his father – a penjing enthusiast – first introduced him to the art of penjing. Other than his father, the most influential figure in Zhao’s life was his professor Xiaobai Xu, who bolstered his penjing knowledge.

“I am always proud of my final choice of the penjing as a career,” he says.

As Zhao explained in Penjing: Worlds of Wonderment: “In the Chinese language, we distinguish between three kinds of penjing, shumu penjing (tree penjing), shanshui penjing (which literally translates to “mountain and water penjing” but is usually called “landscape penjing” or “rock penjing”) and shuihan penjing (water-and-land penjing).

Screenshot 2019-10-07 at 2.36.10 PM.png

Zhao says that artists in China constantly innovate and develop penjing forms, so the style and content of the art form is becoming increasingly varied, but all have the “same essence of applying natural materials to express natural landscapes.”

Zhao explains that bonsai is actually the same as shumu penjing (tree penjing), one of the three categories of penjing. Tree penjing (bonsai) uses containers to display natural trees and plants, and artists will use wiring, pruning and chiseling techniques to create the composition’s dominant elements, he says.

Screenshot 2019-10-07 at 2.37.25 PM.png

In contrast, the second category of mountain and water penjing take the form of landscape scenes: artists will cut and reshape rocks to embody islands or mountains and often add small live plants to flesh out the scene, Zhao says. In the third category of water-and-land penjing, artists depict more “complete” scene, using materials like soil and water, as well as miniature figurines, he adds.

Zhao points out that “as an art aiming at ‘seeing the big from the tiny,’ penjing is often created as a method of self-expression to convey personal emotions.”

He reflects that humans naturally desire a tranquil life that immerses us in nature, but we often alienate ourselves from our natural environment to focus on work and family. Zhao says the pressure to survive in a modern and increasingly industrialized world facilitates humans’ tendencies to not prioritize connections with nature.


 “Penjing art allows us to pursue peacefulness and tranquility in our inner hearts and fulfill our desires of being part of nature,” he said. “Therefore, penjing as an old traditional art has been renewed.”

Screenshot 2019-10-07 at 2.38.18 PM.png

Penjing is a traditional Chinese art that can be traced back to as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). Bonsai (tree penjing) was brought to Japan during the Southern Song Dynasty of China (1127–1279) or the late Heian Period in Japan (794–1192), Zhao says. 

Three nationwide penjing communities have been established successively in China: the Chinese Society of Landscape Architecture Flower Penjing Suiseki Association, the Chinese Penjing Artists Association, and the Penjing Branch of China Flower Association. 

“As an art form expressing the human desire to love nature and peace in the world, penjing has gained increasing popularity around the globe,” Zhao says. “Penjing is used to decorate our homes and to cultivate self-expression, helping us achieve a healthier and happier life.”

Drawing from Bonsai: Photos from Class

On Saturday, professional nature illustrator, Tina Thieme Brown taught a drawing class at The Museum. About 10 students gathered to “draw from bonsai.” Here are some great photos of the class by our Social Media Intern, Dani Grace. Read more about Tina’s creative process drawing nature in a past blog here.

Interested in taking a class with Tina at the Museum? Make sure to sign up on the form below and you’ll be the first to know if we announce another date!

Name *
Name
How did you hear about this class? *
Select all that apply.

FIRST CURATOR'S BLOG: My First Six Months as a Curator’s Apprentice

As we crawl toward the end of the summer and into the beginning of fall, I look back on my first day at The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in March. They say, “Time flies when you are having fun,” and I very much agree. Caring for and working on bonsai full-time for the past six months has been even more amazing than I could have imagined. Since my first day, I have met many talented and friendly bonsai artists from around the world, from whom I have learned specific design and horticulture techniques for various species.

Andy Bello with Michael Hagedorn on World Bonsai Day 2019 at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum

Andy Bello with Michael Hagedorn on World Bonsai Day 2019 at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum

I took some time off and traveled to Bremerton, Washington, where I had the privilege of staying and working with Dan Robinson – a seasoned bonsai professional – for a little over a week. I also visited with Aaron Packard, the curator of the Pacific Bonsai Museum and former assistant curator of The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. I learned and shared ideas about bonsai with artists who influence my personal work. I experienced and gathered inspiration from the wonderful ancient trees that still exist in the Northwestern United States. 

Bello prunes a Korean black pine with a nice view at Elandan Gardens in Bremerton, WA

Bello prunes a Korean black pine with a nice view at Elandan Gardens in Bremerton, WA

Working on the trees in the National Collection has been an extremely educational and enjoyable experience. I have worked on a diverse collection of species, while also learning when and how to apply different techniques, including when are the best times to prune, wire, fertilize and repot, depending on the season. My favorite seasonal tasks thus far are repotting in the late winter and early spring or decandling or removing spring growth from red or black pines to stimulate a second flush of growth in the summer.

Working on trees donated by prominent figures in bonsai history – including John Naka, Saichi Suzuki and Bill Valavanis – has been a humbling experience.

Post decandling on Japanese black pine ( Pinus thunbergii ) donated by Saichi Suzuki

Post decandling on Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii) donated by Saichi Suzuki

Thinning and structural pruning on the “Yamaki” white pine ( Pinus   parviflora )

Thinning and structural pruning on the “Yamaki” white pine (Pinus parviflora)

As I move into the second half of my apprenticeship, I hope I can continue to meet and befriend other bonsai artists and enthusiasts and continue to expand my horticulture and design skills. I will continue to share the wonder and joy of bonsai with the public who come to visit The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.

Best,

Andy Bello


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.

HISTORICAL TREE SPOTLIGHT: Dragon Penzai

Dragon Penzai at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, Stanley Chinn

Dragon Penzai at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, Stanley Chinn

Is it a penjing? Is it a bonsai? No – it’s a penzai! 

Many people are familiar with penjing and bonsai, but what happens when you fuse the styles together? This trident-maple – named for its trident-shaped leaves that turn red and gold in the fall – trained by local penjing master Stanley Chinn, is a great example. 

While penjing usually depict scenes, bonsai are generally single trees. Chinn, who emigrated from China as a child, spent most of his life in Silver Spring, Maryland, fusing bonsai and penjing to form beautiful creations, like this maple.

After Chinn passed away in 2002, he left most of his collection to the National Bonsai Foundation, the non-profit branch that supports the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. Former curator Jack Sustic chose 10 trees from the collection to keep at the Museum. Chinn’s trees are also on display at botanical gardens in Montreal and Brooklyn.

“He was very interested in the history of penjing and how it started, which happened way before bonsai ever reached Japan,” Museum curator Michael James said.

Not just a fan of the trees, Chinn loved spending his free time outdoors.

“If you ever wanted to find Stanley, you’d just go look in his backyard,” said James

Chinn trained the maple in the photo above to illustrate a Chinese dragon perched on a stone. James surmises that Chinn fused two trident maple seedlings together on the stone to create the configuration: one of the maple tree seedlings creates the dragon’s back and tail and the other seedling forms the creature’s neck and head.

“He was a master at the root-over-rock style, so he was really good at training little roots of seedlings down stones,” James said. 

The tree represents the “dancing dragon” style of the Sichuan school of penjing.

“The different parts of the tree become representative of the dragon’s body,” he said. “The roots grasping the rock are the claws of the dragon, the branches become the bones or the body of the dragon and the leaves emulate dragon scales.” 

James said Museum volunteers use techniques like defoliation to balance the tail and the head of the dragon. 

“The two seedlings Chinn used either have different root systems or some genetic variation, so they grow at different rates,” he said. “The tail portion is a little more vigorous than the head portion, so at the Museum we have to prune it accordingly.” 

Penjing arrangements categorized under the Sichuan style, which Chinn specialized in, are often characterized by their curvy branches and trunks, called “earthworm style.” James said Chinese artists used to use palm fiber to form exaggerated arcs that resemble the body of an earthworm.

“You just don’t see them in the Japanese collection like you do in his style,” James said. “You can just look through the Chinese collection and look at the trees and say, ‘Oh, that’s Stanley.’ He just did his own thing and it’s very evident in his work.”

The Art of Kusamono: Interview With ‘Articulturist’ Young Choe

I never thought that I would become an artist or teacher.
— Young Choe, Articulturist
Screenshot 2019-09-09 at 4.25.13 PM.png

Young Choe has spent more than 20 years volunteering at The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum and working sporadically as a horticulturist at the U.S. National Arboretum. She loves her work, but in her spare time follows what seems to be her true calling of kusamono, the art of curating collections of wild grasses and flowers in unique pots or trays. 

Choe fuses her artistic talent with horticulture, resulting in a process she calls “articulture.” Choe says that Kusamono is the perfect tie between her Asian culture, knowledge of plants’ physiology and the talent she has developed toward creating beautiful works. Many kusamono styles exist, but according to Choe, the most developed versions of the art form come from Japan and Europe.

Kusamono can be created in various vessel-like pots or moss balls and can be put on display by itself, on a tray or on a ceramic tile, paired with bonsai as an accent plant.

“It’s a living art form,” says Choe. “Every plant is different depending on how you create it, what kind of plants you put together and which pots you use.” 

Screenshot 2019-09-09 at 4.26.04 PM.png

Choe affirms that kusamono is different than ikebana or bonsai. But, like those practices, each kusamono arrangement requires a unique pruning style that builds a special form over time. 

Choe had wanted to study plants since she was young, but horticulture was not a popular subject in her home city of Seoul, South Korea. She ended up studying Asian art in South Korea, but upon moving to America she began volunteering at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, an experience that led her back to her old interest in plants. 

Soon after, Choe enrolled at the University of Maryland where she received a Bachelor of Science in horticulture. When Choe first started at The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, the little accent plants that often accompany bonsai arrangements fascinated her. Hoping to learn the art herself, she traveled to Japan three times for a week each time over the course of about five years to study under Keiko Yamane, a kusamono master.

Screenshot 2019-09-09 at 4.26.13 PM.png

“At that time, I simply learned this because I loved it,” she said. “I never thought that I would become an artist or teacher.”

She now travels around the world instructing on the art of kusamono to other budding practitioners. Most recently, Choe worked on a kusamono arrangement for a reception the Museum held for the American Public Gardens Association’s annual conference.

“When I share this art form, the students are very motivated and happy,” she said. “When I see that kind of energy from people, it makes me happy.” 

Choe says that she is grateful to the staff of the U.S. National Arboretum and members of the National Bonsai Foundation for supporting her as a kusamono artist and says she tries to work on kusamono as much as she can when she isn’t working at the Arboretum. 

“Kusamono is threatening my main job right now!” Choe joked. “I just keep doing it, I can’t give it up.”

The National Bonsai Foundation Remembers Member Solita Rosade

The National Bonsai Foundation (NBF) and the worldwide bonsai community mourn the loss of Solita D. Tafur Rosade who passed away on Aug. 31st, 2019. A beloved figure who dedicated her life to promoting the art of bonsai, Soli was born in Colombia, South America, but left at an early age to be educated in the United States, Spain and Switzerland. 

Returning to Colombia after college, Soli married and raised two children. Her love of nature and her hobbies of painting and gardening gave way to the fascinating world of bonsai. In 1984 she attended her first bonsai class in Cali, Columbia. Later while in Colombia, she authored a bonsai manual in Spanish entitled "The Essential in Bonsai," and became President of the Asociación Vallecaucana de Bonsai.

Soli’s devotion to the art of bonsai took her to many places in the world, both as a bonsai artist and as a bonsai diplomat. She gave demonstrations and held workshops at international bonsai conventions and other bonsai events in Asia, Europe, India, South Africa, New Zealand, United States, Canada and several countries in Latin America.

Screenshot 2019-09-09 at 4.22.29 PM.png

In 1992, Solita founded the Latin American Bonsai Federation (FELAB) and served as FELAB's President until 1998. From 1998 to 2002, she was the President of Bonsai Clubs International (BCI). In 2005, she became the third Chairman of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation (WBFF), and after her term ended in 2009, she continued to serve as President of the North American Bonsai Federation (NABF) until 2018. Until her passing, she was a member of the NBF Board of Directors supporting the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum in Washington, D.C.

Earlier this year Solita and Chase Rosade celebrated 26 years of marriage. Together they owned and operated the Rosade Bonsai Studio in New Hope, Pennsylvania. From this beautiful studio, they invited both masters and novice alike to share in their love of bonsai, over the years giving countless classes and demonstrations to anyone willing to learn this wonderful art. From its inception the Rosade Bonsai Studio helped lead the way in celebrating World Bonsai Day in support of peace and friendship through bonsai.

There are few whose service to bonsai was greater than Soli’s. Much like WBFF’s founding fathers, Saburo Kato, John Naka and Ted Tsukiyama, Soli possessed “the spirit of bonsai” and worked tirelessly to spread the good word of bonsai both at home and abroad. 

Soli leaves behind a loving family and many friends and admirers throughout the world whom she inspired with her boundless enthusiasm for bonsai. At the end of her life, she found great joy seeing how the art of bonsai is flourishing in every corner of the globe – and knowing that she had played a part in making this happen. Her contributions will long be remembered and her friendship will always be missed.

Interview with Bonsai Drawing Instructor, Tina Thieme Brown

How an artist achieves mindfulness, captures the natural world by drawing among bonsai trees

Screenshot 2019-08-30 at 10.09.10 AM.png

While walking through our Museum’s collections, you’ll observe the sun glinting off bonsai pots or the turmoil of greens and yellows that mix to create each tree’s flawless color with your own eyes. But how do you capture those intricate details with pencils and paper? 

We spoke with nature artist Tina Thieme Brown about her experiences drawing while immersed in natural settings and how she brings that background to her drawing class at the Museum. 

Thieme Brown received a Master of Fine Arts and Master of Liberal Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. She spent a great deal of time with the school’s science department, researching and asking questions about rainforests and natural habitats. 

Her love of nature and her sketches became even more pronounced during her time volunteering to clean sea otters after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Thieme Brown filled up her sketchbooks with drawings of the otters and other natural features of the Alaskan coastline.

“I fell in love with the intricacies and the richness and the habitats and being surrounded by scientists and drawing,” she said. “I’m stimulated by sketchbook research experience.

Thieme Brown has also worked on several books that align with her passion for illustrating the outdoors, including Sugarloaf: The Mountain’s History, Geology and Natural Lore and An Illustrated Guide to Eastern Woodland Wildflowers and Trees

“I feel the most passionate when I’m able to investigate a habitat, discover it, study it and then draw it,” she said. 

Screenshot 2019-08-30 at 10.10.41 AM.png

Drawing at the Museum

Thieme Brown begins each of her workshops at the Museum with a stroll through the Cryptomeria Walk. The class sits on a stone ledge to discuss with her the materials each participant brought, as well as warm-up techniques the class should utilize before drawing. 

“The walkway has a very calming, cooling effect on people,” Thieme Brown said. “They get so focused, they don’t even notice people walking by them.”

Students in Thieme Brown's class learn to build upon each color they use in their drawing to ensure they can capture all of the texture and vibrant energy each tree offers. The class can also spread out and choose a few trees from inside the Museum they would like to focus on during the class. 

Thieme Brown said that often she teaches people who have never drawn before. She weaves through the class, suggesting adjustments participants can make to mimic their tree’s form more clearly on their page.

“It’s a gentle back and forth. Students will come around and look at what I’m talking about with someone else, so there’s a lot of collaboration,” Thieme Brown said.

“They’re pretty excited when they start seeing the trees show up on their sketchbook page.”

Screenshot 2019-08-30 at 10.11.48 AM.png

Connecting Nature with Art

Thieme Brown maintains that even if someone is not an experienced artist, staying present with an object and exploring its dimensions and figure with your pen and paper can facilitate a meditative mindset.

“It’s a really wonderful way to connect with what’s happening in nature at a point in time.”

Thieme Brown’s session allows participants to relax without interruption – she encourages people to turn off their cellphones.

“We are so aware of the history and the magnificence of these beautifully designed gardens and beautifully cultivated bonsai trees,” she said. “There’s so much there that is rich visually that moving through that space slows people down automatically.”

Budding artists hoping to develop their illustrating techniques can sign up for Brown’s class at the Museum here. Drawing From Bonsai will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sept. 14th. Share your drawings from Tina’s class with us on Instagram or Facebook – we can’t wait to see your work! 

HISTORICAL TREE SPOTLIGHT: Bald Cypress

Screenshot 2019-08-21 at 10.03.45 AM.png

From the cliffs of San Diego to the Gulf Coast, cypress trees can be found throughout the United States. But how did this bald cypress, or Taxodium distichum, end up in a bonsai museum? 

The late Vaughn Banting, a former National Bonsai Foundation board member, a former director of the American Bonsai Society and a former director and vice president of Bonsai Clubs International, donated the tree to the Museum in 2000. 

Banting was no stranger to plant care and garden design. His history with trees dates back to his childhood when he worked on bonsai at his family's plant nursery in New Orleans. A veteran of the Vietnam War, he studied horticulture and landscape architecture at Louisiana State University. After returning home he started a horticultural service company and founded the Greater New Orleans Bonsai Society. 

Banting’s cypress tree began as nursery stock, which is a plant that has been cultivated from a seedling or cutting and grown in a container, according to Museum curator Michael James. The stock is then planted into the landscape to grow into a full-sized tree or shrub. This particular cypress was instead destined to become a bonsai and has been in training in a pot since 1972. 

The cypress in 1976 in its first form, the formal upright.

The cypress in 1976 in its first form, the formal upright.


The bald cypress, a deciduous conifer native to the Southeast United States, is often found in swamps where its roots can be fully submerged in water. One would be hard-pressed to find this particular species of cypress growing in Japan or China, because the tree would have to travel to those countries by boat or plane, James said. 

When Vaughn Banting first began training this tree, he aimed for a traditional Japanese formal-upright formation, which is the natural growth habit of young bald cypresses. But he later realized that old bald cypresses are different.

Museum curators and volunteers train the cypress in a flat-top configuration – the same style the tree sported when Banting first gifted the tree to the Museum. According to James, Banting observed the bald cypress’ unique growth habits as they matured at his parent’s nursery, which led him to create the flat-top style. 

Related Reading – Know Your Styles: A Guide to Bonsai Configurations

Banting realized that the flat-top style’s success relies on the positioning and thinning of the upper branches.

“As the trees become old and mature, they lose the triangular silhouette with a sharp apex and wide lower branch spread,” James said. “The lower branches break off over time, and that triangular silhouette of the formal upright style inverts itself. Upper branches then form a broad flat canopy with multiple apices and lower branches hold their foliage close to the trunk.” 

After nearly fifty years of training and three different training stages, Banting’s bald cypress is on display in the Museum’s North American pavilion. The flat-top configuration has become very popular, and the Museum is looking forward to the next innovative bonsai design to come our way.  

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