Review of the 2022 Pacific Bonsai Expo
The inaugural Pacific Bonsai Expo was held at the Bridgeyard, an industrial site adjacent to the Port of Oakland, on a strip of land within view of the ships, giant cranes, containers stacked five levels high, and other machinery of the global economy. Billed as a regional bonsai show by organizers Jonas Dupuis (Bonsai Tonight) and Eric Shrader (Bonsaify), the Pacific Bonsai Expo has already achieved the level of organization, quality and impact of the National Bonsai Exhibition currently held in Rochester, NY. The organizers have said that they hope to hold future expos on an alternate year schedule with the National Exhibition currently held in Rochester, NY. While the vast majority of trees were sourced from the thriving West Coast (and Western US) bonsai culture, thanks to entries by Bill Valavanis and Mark Arpagh, the show can claim to have drawn from a national artist pool. The Bridgeyard (a former maintenance facility for passenger trains that operated across the Bay bridge until 1938) was an appropriate choice of venue for the exhibition. The contrast of bonsai with the steam punk aesthetic of bare metal, pipes, valves, concrete and glass was striking and effective. Large windows provided bright, shifting sunlight and a constantly changing view of the trees, challenging photographers to capture their best images.
The bonsai accepted for exhibition were arranged on black cloth covered tables with purple-grey backdrops in long rows at the East end of the rectangular hall. The vendors were on the West end. There were a total of 77 bonsai displays eligible for judging (the large trees on display included one accent piece while medium displays were three-point displays). Native trees were well-represented including Monterrey cypress, Western junipers, Rocky Mountain junipers, Ponderosa pine, Shore pine, Coast redwoods, Washington hawthorns, Western hemlock, Bald cypress and Atlantic white cypress. Three of the 77 displays were traditional multi-tree shohin displays. There were also two special bonsai displays/installations that were not part of the judging (more about these in a future post). The exhibitors themselves judged the show, not an easy task since all of the entries were of high quality. Awards were given for the highest-scoring tree in the following categories with Best of Show going to the tree from any category with the highest number of points awarded by the judges.
1. Best in Show Ponderosa Pine Randy Knight/Ryan Neal
2. Best Large Broadleaf Evergreen Bonsai Tiger-barked Ficus Jeff Stern/Peter Tea
3. Best Large Conifer Bonsai Kishu Shimpaku Juniper Jeff Stern/Peter Tea
4. Best Large Deciduous Bonsai. Corylopsis spicata Andrew Robson
5. Best Medium Bonsai Display Korean hornbeam and Japanese Black Pine Jonas Dupuich
6. Best Shohin Bonsai Display Six-tree display featuring a Coast redwood as the main tree at the top of the display Jeff Stern/Peter Tea
Two of the 77 judged displays were non-traditional. Bernard Marque displayed a medium sized, exposed root Black pine in a three point display using metal stands that he made from an old toy Erector set that had belonged to his son, a nod to the environment of the exhibit hall. He continued this idea by using “a weed” in a small ceramic container as one of his accents, similar to those that grow at the edges of industrial sites. Michael Hagedorn displayed a shore pine (Pinus contorta) bonsai on a custom metal stand. The display reflected his view of the vulnerability and fragility of yamadori bonsai. He attached the bonsai to the cantilevered metal stand that, while entirely stable, looked as though it should fall over. As in Marque’s display, all of the elements other than the tree were made of metal.
Bernard Marque Medium sized Bonsai Display
Throughout the show, recognized experts led groups of attendees through parts of the bonsai display and offered their commentary. While leading one of these groups, Japanese bonsai artist Daisaku Nomoto commented that he greatly admired Michael Hagedorn’s shore pine and novel display and that he planned to take these ideas back to Japan. He added that seeing things such as this is one benefit of attending shows in the US. These two displays (and others with innovative stands by Austin Heitzman, for example) reflected the creativity and willingness of western bonsai artists to explore variations on traditional bonsai display. These efforts would seem to be one key to the evolution of bonsai as an art form, while Nomoto’s comment indicates that bonsai knowledge and ideas are exported from as well as imported into the US. Considering the number of native species that US artists introduced and developed into high level bonsai, the novel container and stand designs on display by the vendors, and the fact that increasing numbers of westerners train in Japan and then return home to practice and teach, the Pacific Bonsai Expo was truly a nexus for international trade in ideas about bonsai art.