It may come as a surprise to some people to learn that National Bonsai Foundation (NBF) Director Johann Klodzen doesn’t own a single bonsai. “In the same way that you can enjoy a fine painting or sculpture without being a painter or sculptor, one can appreciate bonsai without actually collecting or creating these works of art,” she says.
Established in 1982 to sustain the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, the nonprofit NBF collaborates with the U.S. National Arboretum in promoting the art of bonsai and penjing to visitors through exhibitions and educational programs while fostering intercultural friendship and understanding. NBF also provides valuable support to the museum through its board of directors and other individual and corporate partners. Each year, an average of 300,000 people visit the museum – from school groups and tourists from all over the world to bonsai masters and other enthusiasts who own hundreds of trees.
Klodzen, who has master’s and doctoral degrees in Roman Catholic theology, was an avid gardener when she arrived at the Arboretum in 1993 in search of a job. Much to her delight, there was an opening in the research unit – watering plants. She was in! After eight months, she was “promoted” to weeding the conifer collection. By then she was reconsidering whether she wanted to be a professional gardener. Just in time, the head of the gardens unit offered her the opportunity to work on special projects, which provided a window into the bonsai museum. In 2001, she was hired as NBF’s first full-time director.
Klodzen says her priority is raising critical funds to improve existing facilities and expand the museum’s reach. “We are experiencing a period of exciting growth,” she said. “In 2013 alone, we redesigned our web site, developed an app featuring a virtual tour of the museum, have grown our presence on Facebook to reach a younger audience, and are producing a film on the museum’s rich history and renowned collection.” At the same time, NBF is raising funds to renovate the original Japanese pavilion. The museum’s three open-air pavilions are exposed to the elements and therefore degrade faster than those of a traditional museum.
Klodzen sees NBF’s role as ensuring that the museum is here for future generations to enjoy. She is grateful to the museum’s passionate and generous board, headed by Felix Laughlin, for providing vision and leadership in spreading the message of bonsai across the country and around the globe.
In her free time, Klodzen tends to her ornamental garden in the Maryland suburbs. In addition, she enjoys traveling and is especially fond of Italian Renaissance art. “Just as I can visit Italy’s museums over and over again, I hope people will return to our museum to appreciate the history of our trees and admire the skill it took to create them and their quiet and graceful beauty.”