A Miniature Forest in the Middle of Santa Rosa

REBS member Michael Murtaugh was interviewed by Press Democrat Arts & Community journalist Meg McConahey on August 22, 2022. A comprehensive article about Murtaugh’s bonsai collection, REBS “Build Your Own Bonsai” classes and local bonsai resources appeared in print on Saturday, August 27, 2022. The digital version of the interviews conducted by McConahey can be found at the link below.

A miniature forest in the middle of Santa Rosa (pressdemocrat.com)

Demonstration by Randall Lee – Cyprian cedar

On August 25, 2022, at the Garden Room, Rohnert Park Community Center, Rohnert Park, CA, Randall Lee performed a bonsai demonstration for the members of the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS). Randall is a professional aesthetic pruner, long-time bonsai enthusiast, and avid bonsai experimenter. He started bonsai in 1984 by reading books and attending a few demonstrations. He is a member of East Bay Bonsai Club and the Merritt Aesthetic Pruners Association. His favorite species are Hinoki cypress and Cedar.

There are only four true cedars: Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) aka Blue Atlas cedar, Cyprian cedar (Cedrus brevifolia), Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), and Deodar cedar tree (Cedrus deodara). Others are false cedars.

Randall brought in for showing the Atlas cedar, Cyprian cedar and cedar of Lebanon. He demonstrated on a nursery stock Cyprian cedar (Cedrus brevifolia). The demo tree was tall and skinny. The trunk had little or no taper. It was healthy and full of green foliage. Based on the overall appearance, height, thin trunk, the tree was best suited for a Bunjin style bonsai.

Bunjin bonsai comes from the Japanese word “bunjin-gi”. The style is traced to Chinese culture. Bunjin is also referred to “literati” style.

John Naka in his book Bonsai Techniques stated the following: “The Bunjin style of bonsai is so free that it seems to violate all the principles of bonsai form. The indefinite style has no specific form and is difficult to describe, however its confirmation is simple, yet very expressive. No doubt its most obvious characteristics are those shapes formed by old age and extreme weather conditions.”

Bunjin may appear to have been collected from the wild or “yamadori”, but it is not.

Some guidelines for Bunjin, include: Tall with little or no trunk taper. Trunk movement is desired. Twists, turns, radical bends lend value. Nebari or surface roots are not important as in other bonsai styles. There are few branches. The first branch is at least two thirds up the trunk. Foliage on the branches should be sparse.

The appearance of Bunjin is that of a tree influenced by severe environmental conditions, such as a mountain cliff or storm damage.

The aesthetics of Bunjin or literati style is difficult to achieve.

Randall studied the demo tree before starting anything. He identified where branches were thick or large on the trunk. He would first remove those large branches near the top of the tree, leaving only the small branches. Branches that were too close to each other were removed. Negative space was critical to the aesthetic design. Randall cited that some branches were left alone for not wanting to stress the demo tree all at once. A branch can always be removed later. In creating a Bunjin style, the saying “less is more” comes into play.

The demo tree was wired using copper wire. Movement in the branches was achieved by use of the wire in a downward position for the most part.

Randall recommended post demo care to include shade for the tree to recover from the shock of pruning and wiring. Cedars like indirect sun. Water daily and do not let the tree dry out completely. Too much water will tend to turn the needles yellow.

Upon conclusion of the demonstration, the Cyprian cedar bonsai tree was raffled.

Kathy Shaner, Sensei

On August 20, 2022, Redwood Empire Bonsai Society (REBS) members said thank you and farewell best wishes to Kathy Shaner, our beloved club Sensei of more than 20 years. Kathy is in the process of moving to a home waiting for her in Alabama.

Kathy is internationally known as a Master Bonsai professional, who apprenticed under the contemporary Bonsai Master Yasuo Mitsuya in Japan and became the first non-Japanese citizen and the first woman to be certified as a professional Bonsai artist and instructor by the Nippon Bonsai Association of Japan. She has been a devoted Bonsai practitioner for over 30 years.

She is leaving behind an era of Bonsai teaching and community service. She was the club’s Sensei to REBS members and the driving force in making the club well known for its August Annual Bonsai Show. Once an exhibition of more than 200 bonsai displays and the largest club show in the US for many years. Kathy with the help of REBS members ensured we had quality Bonsai displays. There were large, medium and small Shohin Bonsai trees all artfully displayed. For years the August Annual Show at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building was the single Bonsai event, and Bonsai enthusiasts from around the country came to take part in the activities; see large Bonsai displays, shop in the major vendor area and member sales, see Kathy’s demonstrations with demo tree raffles, bid on silent auctions, and enjoy Bonsai Café refreshments.

Kathy performed expert demonstrations and taught REBS members advanced techniques six to seven times a year. She also served as the curator for the Golden State Bonsai Federation Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. She trained associate curator volunteers who care for and maintain the collection trees. In addition, Kathy performed demonstrations and advanced workshops for other clubs  and individuals located in the greater San Francisco, South, East, and North Bay Areas. She has travelled throughout the US providing Bonsai instruction to individuals and clubs. Kathy often performed as a headliner to regional conventions and seminars.

Kathy is kind and generous in welcoming new students of Bonsai. She teaches all levels of Bonsai – beginning, intermediate and advanced. It is well acknowledged that the best way to learn Bonsai is to join a local Bonsai club. In 2004, a dear friend introduced me to Bonsai to take up as a hobby in retirement. I visited REBS in September of that year and observed Kathy perform a demonstration. I was so impressed with her passion and confidence in teaching Bonsai skills, I decided to join REBS that evening. She has been my top-tier instructor ever since.

And, so REBS members thought it was most appropriate to take part in a “thank you” dinner and wish her well, hoping she will find the time to return to Northern California, her second home, for a visit.

George Haas