Andy Bello

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.

FIRST CURATOR'S BLOG: Stories of Struggle and Survival

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

Museum Appoints Andy Bello as Curation Intern

Andy Bello, the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum’s 2019 First Curator’s Apprentice. (Stephen Voss)

Andy Bello, the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum’s 2019 First Curator’s Apprentice. (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.

Bello, a 24-year-old Illinois native, earned a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources Conservation and Management from the University of Arizona in 2016. He then moved to Eugene, Oregon where he designed and built ornamental ponds, propagated pond plants and bred koi and goldfish at a local store.

His fascination with bonsai catalyzed after he stumbled across Peter Chan’s “Bonsai: The Art of Growing and Keeping Miniature Trees” in 2016.

“I took this book home, and the second I opened it I could not put it down,” Bello said. “Everything from the history of the art, the horticulture aspects, and the design techniques amazed and intrigued me deeply.”

His readings prompted him to join the Eugene Bonsai Society, a group of Oregon bonsai enthusiasts. Bello said he felt welcome in the society, but after spending a year in the group he wanted to delve deeper into the bonsai realm and craved hands-on experience.

His big break occurred on a trip to the Oregon Coast, when he inadvertently stopped at Driftwood Nursery in Bandon, Oregon. Bello befriended nursery owner Tom Roberts and soon began a monthly apprenticeship at Driftwood, where he learned basic bonsai skills and developed his passion for the trees.

Bello said he and his girlfriend soon began to discuss moving east to solidify their careers and settle down close to family. In preparation, he explored available permaculture and organic farming jobs on the East Coast – eventually discovering the Museum’s curator apprenticeship – and immediately sent in his application.

In his newly-appointed position, Bello aims to deepen his understanding of different species’ needs in all seasons, and looks forward to improving his horticulture skills and bonsai designs.

His year-long internship will consist of performing various bonsai care-taking duties, from repotting and wiring to pruning, and spreading the joy and wonder of bonsai to Museum visitors.

“I am extremely excited to be part of a new community of fellow bonsai artists and create new connections from all different parts of the world,” he said. “I hope to learn and grow as much as possible in the world of bonsai.”


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. If you’d like to help fund these types of programs, please consider becoming a member of the National Bonsai Foundation. More information here.