How Big Was Naka’s Bird?

Pacific Bonsai Expo 2022 Special exhibit

There were two special exhibits included in this show that underscore the exchange of ideas and perhaps the creative tensions regarding the future of bonsai between East and West. The central area of the exhibit space featured an original art installation by Eric Shrader and Linda Mahara, an origami artist and owner of Paper Tree, LLC. Taking advantage of the 19 foot high ceilings of the hall, the work irreverently named “How Big was Naka’s Bird?”, featured hundreds of origami birds suspended from the ceiling that had morphed from the paper pages of an open copy of Naka’s Bonsai Techniques I into a spiraling flight pattern.

First part of the installation
Second part of the installation

Suspended just above the book along the beginning of the bird’s flight path is a mame juniper bonsai with dense foliage. On the table next to the open book is a large juniper with deadwood and separated foliage pads. According to Shrader, the work arose from his contemplation of Naka’s advice to “leave room for the birds to fly through” the branches of your bonsai. In a larger sense, it his attempt to square Japanese bonsai teaching with his own experience growing up in a rural California environment far from Japan. Despite the differences, the birds‘ flight suggests the dispersion of Naka’s teachings. Shrader has written that the birds flight pattern also represents the “independent life that ideas gain when released into the environment”.

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