In a few weeks, the leaves on campus will turn bright shades of yellow, orange and red as summer fades to fall. While large trees are beautiful, they can also be found in miniature form through the art of bonsai.
The 12th annual Mid-Appalachian Bonsai Kai Invitational Bonsai Exhibit and Workshop was held in the Gray Fossil Site Education Center Sept. 9 and 10. The exhibit included bonsai displays from experienced and beginner bonsai artists.
“There’s a lot of Zen philosophy in bonsai,” Karl Joplin said, an event organizer and ETSU associate professor of biological sciences. “The basic idea of bonsai is you’re going to pick the epitome of a tree … We try not to make our trees look like bonsai. We try to make our bonsai look like trees.”
Bonsai means “tree in pot” in Japanese. Bonsai displays are composed of trees or bushes trimmed and molded to look like miniature trees. They are not genetically small, but constant trimming of seedlings on branches, buds and roots allows new growth that remains small.
Bonsai trees are classified as either indoor or outdoor species. Outdoor trees are usually indigenous to an area and can be kept outside all year. These trees include maples, Ginkgos and evergreens. Indoor plants are usually from tropical areas and need to be kept indoors during the winter. Some bonsai artists have specialized greenhouses, but most trees are left outside in natural elements.
Anita Bausman of Kingsport, Tennessee, had four entries in the exhibit and has been interested in bonsai since she was in high school. She said Northeast Tennessee is a great location for bonsai trees because of the climate.
“This area is wonderful,” she said. “We have relatively mild winters.”
The trees may be displayed on their own or with companion displays of smaller, companion trees or flowers. There are even bonsai-specific stands to display them on and ornamental stones for decoration. Props may even be hung behind displays.
“You’re trying to tell a story,” Bausman said. “I’ve got a beech [tree] that’s dropped its leaves early, and I’ve got a winter scroll with it. So that’s a winter scene.”
Tyler Sherrod lead a workshop on the first day of the exhibit for other bonsai artists, showing them styling techniques. Sherrod, who was a bonsai apprentice in Japan, also judged the exhibit entries on Sept. 10.
“This is one of those hobbies that I really do think it helps you to work with somebody hands-on that has done it before,” Bausman said. “You know, some things you can learn from a book —and there’s a lot of good books out there — but some of the techniques you really can’t [learn on your own.]”
The exhibits included various sizes and styles of bonsai plants that could be entered by any artist. Clubs from Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee, participated as well as individuals representing various states.
Jack Evans from Atlanta, Georgia, had three tree entries in the exhibit. He has been interested in bonsai for 42 years after attending a meeting about the art in Miami, Florida.
“[I have] about 56 or 58,” he said. “I buy and sell trees, so it never stays the same.”
Bonsai is a consuming hobby. Not only do bonsai trees require almost daily care, but the plants may cost thousands of dollars.
“I know my collection is worth well over $100,000,” Evans said. “How much have I invested? Probably $20,000 or $30,000. It’s not a cheap hobby. It can be if you stick with little starter trees or nursery trees. … But then normally you want to upgrade and get into some nicer trees.”
Bausman and Joplin are members of Mid-Appalachian Bonsai Kai, which hosted the exhibit. The group was formed after Warren Hill, former director of the National Bonsai and Penjing museum in Washington, D.C., retired and moved to Greeneville, Tennessee, according to Bausman. Hill began giving bonsai lessons, which turned into a study group and later the club it is today.
Many people in the state practice bonsai, and the annual exhibit at Gray Fossil Site is an opportunity to learn about the art and see how others are refining it in their own styles.