Bill Valavanis

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.