“I’ve been living bonsai for 50 years,” says William Valavanis, who is known for founding International Bonsai magazine and organizing the biennial U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition. He also is the proprietor of the International Bonsai Arboretum in Rochester, New York, where he maintains a collection of classical bonsai and offers classes, seminars and symposia.
Valavanis first became interested in bonsai and horticulture at age 11. He pursued those interests by studying ornamental horticulture at SUNY Farmingdale and Cornell University. Since then, he has made more than 50 trips to Japan and apprenticed with Kyuzo Murata and Kakutaro Komuro in Omiya Bonsai Village. A 30-year study and association with Yuji Yoshimura combined with his formal horticultural degrees, apprenticeships in Japan and his artistic talent have led him to promote and teach the art of classical bonsai around the world.
Valavanis started the quarterly International Bonsai magazine 36 years ago. In addition, he is the author of seven books, including his recent “Classical Bonsai Art, A Half Century of Bonsai Study: The Creations & Passion of William N. Valavanis.”
The U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition, held in Rochester every other year, attracts bonsai artists from around the country. The next gathering is scheduled for September 2016.
In addition, Valavanis is also a longtime member of the National Bonsai Foundation Board of Directors and supporter of the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. “The Museum plays an important role in the American bonsai community as a research and educational institution and for its seasonal exhibitions representing different styles of bonsai,” he says.
“Here, in one place, Museum visitors can view bonsai from different parts of the world and representing different styles,” he adds. “It’s a place where those who are new to bonsai or are already involved can see examples of both classical and naturalistic bonsai.”
Some like to make bonsai that remind them of the grandeur of nature, while others are attracted to bonsai as an art form. Valavanis teaches and displays the classical form. “It’s not for everyone,” he says. “It’s not flashy. It’s very austere. It’s simple. I prefer that.”
On a recent Saturday, Valavanis taught a workshop in the morning and another in the afternoon. After his students had left he worked on one of his own trees. “That’s what I call a perfect day,” he said.