THE LIVING ART OF BONSAI by Walter Liew

 Book review and recommendation by David W. Fukumoto:

                Very few bonsai books are written by those who have created large personal collections over a 50-year period.  The most notable of these uniquely valid books were by John Yoshio Naka,  Saburo Kato, and Yee-Su Wu. Each of these masters had many original things to say. Add to this short list the recently published book by Hawaii's bonsai-penjing master Walter Liew.

                  My wife Myrtle and I were the only Asians in the 1981 American Bonsai Society China Bonsai-Penjing Tour led by Dorothy and Luther Young. The tour began in Hong Kong and we were exposed to the extraordinary work of Yee-Sun Wu including a visit to the annual Urban Council Penjing Exhibition.  Our group was amongst the first Westerners to visit the major penjing centers of the People's Republic of China.  The penjing, artifacts, and culture were extreme disappointments and I initially could not comprehend the extent of change that came with the People's Revolution of 1949 and the later Cultural Revolution! 

                  It was mind boggling to realize that the richest deepest culture in the world was decimated and totally in the hands of illiterate peasants! As we toured Canton, I could only see tiny remnants of the ancient culture that produced my grandfather. Throughout the cultural devastation of northern China, there were tiny pockets of hope. Spindly seedlings in early stages of training were casually sitting in priceless ancient pottery that had somehow escaped the fury of the cultural genocide!  It was against this depressing background that I first met Walter and Ann Liew. They were struggling then. 

                 Walter initially comes across as a slightly absent-minded professor that magically appeared from another world.  And he did!  Born in China's Shandong province, Liew was a part of the mandarin class forced to flee for their lives and he lived through the massive social upheavals. With a classical education in Taiwan, Walter handled the priceless artworks and the national treasures of the Beijing Imperial Palace that had been spirited away before the country fell. At our first meeting I was struck by how casually he handled treasures of extreme workmanship that were vastly superior to anything I had previously seen. Then he was running an antique shop in Chinatown with incredible super museum-quality pieces available for sale. 

                  I was honored to visit his home, to learn of his family connections that were recovering in mainland China, and to see the extraordinary collection of Chinese pottery that he had begun importing. Soon he was supplying most of the garden stores in Hawaii and also importing water lilies and lotus plants too. I was delighted when Walter and Ann informed me of their plans to build their Hawaii Bonsai Cultural Center and very happy to include a report when I first visited in July of 2001 and an update when I visited a year later.  The first report shows the scale of his project and is posted on this website at WWW.FUKUBONSAI.COM/5A14.HTML 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW OF THE LIVING ART OF BONSAI

                  Having clearly expressed my friendship for Walter and Ann Liew and my conflict of interest in making this review,  it's also necessary to state that Walter and I march to beats of different bonsai drummers.  Both of us are strong, independent individuals that train a wide range of trees in different ways. The climate of Waimanalo on the island of Oahu differs from Kurtistown on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Although the same trees will grow, it is necessary to adjust the characteristics of our potting medias.

                  Walter tends to grow the plants of Southern China that are similar to tropical Hawaii.  These are not shade tolerant trees although some can grow indoors in temperate climates if given strong artificial light. They vary greatly from Fuku-Bonsai's True Indoor Bonsai that are proven durable houseplants that are intended for customers to grow indoors throughout the year.  Many of the trees that Walter grows are in the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center collection including junipers, ficus, eugenias, etc. and these are generally grown outdoors throughout the year in tropical climates.    

                  In styling,  Walter and I are again at opposite ends.  He favors the classical Chinese "Formal Model" that is similar to what the Japanese call "Moyo-Gi."  These have a very prominent buttressing root base, strong tapering trunks with extensive bend and branches on the outside of the bends. The classical structure usually is a single apex with strong tier-branching patterns and an overall triangular crown.  Wiring is the primary training technique and even intentional controlled scaring by wiring is often effective. In contrast Fuku-Bonsai's primary training technique is based upon pruning with use of very little rearranging techniques and we train toward multiple apex-arch branch rounded crown structures more typical of banyans.

                  Yet in spite of these vast differences,  Walter and I have more in common than most others in the Hawaiian bonsai community and are good and honest friends. The Hawaiian bonsai community is largely made up of those who believe they are doing Japanese type bonsai and they are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with Chinese bonsai-penjing concepts. The world of bonsai is increasingly becoming international and Walter's trees reflect Chinese, Japanese, and Hawaiian artistic pot plants.  Just as Saburo Kato, John Naka, and Haruo Kaneshiro were our bridges to Japanese bonsai,  we are very fortunate to have Yee-sun Wu and Walter Liew as our bridge to Chinese penjing! I recommend this book to all who enjoy all forms of artistic pot plants!
 
                   I've learned from Walter, urged him to write his book, and am delighted that he has done so!  I'm delighted that he is increasingly surrounded by students who can admire and appreciate his efforts and cultural knowledge. Visitors to the island of Oahu are urged to visit
                   HAWAII BONSAI CULTURAL CENTER (41-909 Mahailua Street, Waimanalo, Hawaii 96795)
                   Phone (808) 373-9296 or (808) 259-6886; FAX (808) 394-5551

                   Island Heritage is a Hawaiian publisher that have put together a beautiful book that is very attractively priced at just $15.95 (plus $9 US postal priority mail shipping).  They are set up to handle direct sales and I am very happy to recommend purchasing directly via phone or online. 

                   Review by David W. Fukumoto (Kurtistown, Hawaii) 
                   Posted on the Fuku-Bonsai website: November 18, 2007
ORDERING INFORMATION
         Hardcover;  measures approximately 9 1/8" x 8 7/8"; 148 pages.  
Copyright 2007 Island Heritage Publishing (94-411 Koaki Street, Waipahu, Hawaii 967-2806)
          Phone orders: (800) 468-2800;  For information: (808) 564-8800;  FAX (808) 564-8877
 
          To order online from the publisher with credit card,  go to WWW.ISLANDHERITAGE.COM  Then click on "Books, Music, DVD's."   Then click on "Hawaiiana books."    Then select THE LIVING ART OF BONSAI (#22721000) priced at $15.95  (plus $9 US postal system - first class / priority mail)