RESTYLING "PAPA" KANESHIRO'S IRONWOOD
(Continues from Stewards' Creed)
By the summer of 1998, five years after the tree had entered the Hawaii State Bonsai Repository and had gone through the first step in restyling, the tree had filled out and was becoming attractive again. With only a single original branch remaining, there was concern that restoring a semblance of the original "vertical-oriented" styling would create a very tall bonsai requiring a new pot.
GATHERING BONSAI COMMUNITY INPUT (1998)
A exciting idea for radical restyling into a new "horizontal-oriented" design utilized only the remaining original branch to form a crown and create a unique dynamic trunk-line. The horizontal styling would also allow use of the premium pot on a long-term basis. To obtain additional input, we exhibited the tree at the 1998 All-Big Island Bonsai Show at Wailoa Center in Hilo sponsored by the Big Island Bonsai Association (BIBA). This is the major Big Island show with participation by all Big Island bonsai clubs and which attracts visitors from throughout Hawaii State.
The restyling was discussed with the most experienced bonsai trainers. Removal of the remnants of the old crown was initially perceived to be too radical a departure from the original styling. But there was agreement that without the original major lower branches, that the tree could never be outstanding if styling tried to recreate the original design concept. While difficult to envision, after extensive sketching and discussion, a consensus and gameplan was formed. In the year following, the tree was again repotted to create optimum health and to position it for its future shape.
|July 1999. The tree had been under Michael's direct care for almost seven years. While I guided him from time to time, Michael had done an outstanding job and the tree was in vigorous growth. The last original branch was now healthy and growing strongly. During that time, Michael has learned to control and direct growth to different parts of the tree. It was time to allow him to finish the job.|
RESTYLING AT A PUBLIC PRESENTATION (1999)
|The restyling was the featured demonstration at the 1999 All-Big Island Bonsai Show. Many had never had the opportunity to participate in restyling a significant bonsai and by doing it as part of a public presentation, we hoped to share the amount of planning and study that goes into a major restyling. It was also Michael's first major presentation as the principal lecturer and demonstrator. Since joining Fuku-Bonsai in 1983 he has steadily learned and assumed responsibilities as Fuku-Bonsai's senior plant manager, collection curator, and presidency of the Mid-Pacific Bonsai Foundation.|
|With enlargements of photos and sketches, Michael provided a history of the bonsai, an explanation of the Steward's Creed, and the decisions that had been made by various groups who have made input to now. It took a while to lay out the pros and cons of the major change of styling strategy. A single cut would remove all of the old top, leaving only the last remaining original branch. With everyone now understanding what had taken place and what was planned, after the last question, it was time to make the final cut. It took just a few minutes but there was an immediate public approval!|
|Back at Fuku-Bonsai a few days later, Mike was pleased with the dramatic transformation that had taken place in the six years that the tree has been in his care. He knows this tree intimately and knows there's still some dense clay-rock form the original 1950 collection that must still be removed if the tree is to have optimum growth.|
|The lower trunk section had developed well in a manner that complimented the original branch. In shifting from a vertical orientation to a horizontal design, we stabilized the overall height of the tree and broke the cycle of continuing to move to larger pots. This was an important factor as large high-quality pots are difficult to obtain. Compare this photo with the original 1965 photo and you'll see a major change. But there's more to come.|
COMPLETING THE RESTYLING (2001)
|Two years after the last major restyling session, the tree had responded strongly and growth has become more vigorous. Training primarily by pruning had created interesting branching patterns. By turning the tree there is a more interesting main trunk line. The trunk leaning out then turning back creates a dynamic line that focuses interest on the smaller trunk. The decisions then were to select which portion of the lower trunk to remain.|
|The second side after excess branches were removed. Papa was famous for saying that the "front" or the tree is the side facing you, so you should try to make all sides attractive. A good bonsai is one that could be exhibited with either side as the "front." Most came from the area of the lower trunk that had been allowed to grow a large amount of foliage to thicken the trunk and branches.|
|Only a small amount of media was removed to reposition the tree. From this view the trunk is swinging away from you with the crown of the tree moving towards you. The trunk taper is good and the transition to smaller and smaller branches turned out well due to Michael's pruning ability. The emphasis will stay with the main trunk. As the low trunk and branches thicken, the mass at the left will enlarge to create a nice balance.|
This view shows off the nice relationship between the taller older trunk and the smaller
partially cascading trunk. To emphasize the horizontal line, most of the top growth
was removed and the lowest branch will grow horizontally to the right.
STRATEGY FOR THE NEXT FEW YEARS & CONCLUSION
|The Kaneshiro Ironwood was first exhibited at the 1998 All-Big Island Bonsai Show where we gathered input prior to major restyling. At the 1999 show, Mike was the featured lecture-demonstrator. After he explained the plan of action, he began the major restyling training. Two years later, the tree was again exhibited to share our progress. The tree is shown from the side and this view is also attractive.|
The tree will now be able to stay in Papa's beautiful premium quality pot that measures 21" long x 15" wide x 4 3/4" high. The trunk is 5 1/2" across and the top of the tree is now about 36" above the pot. It is now 42" wide. The height of the tree will not change much in the future but the width of the tree will steadily increase to as much as 60" wide in the future. Where once the tree was 60" high and 36" wide, the projected dimensions have been reversed.
There are a lot of lessons here. Bonsai is not a race and contrary to public demonstrations that utilize showmanship to impress an audience, restyling old trees must be done only after long and careful study of all factors. The most important factor is improving the health of the tree. Even when there is a dramatic restyling, having a lot of input by many people is helpful. The tree will be exhibited at the 2001 All-Big Island Bonsai Show to share the progress made in the last two years.
As I retrace the many steps with this tree, I think of Papa and his quiet counsel and at times he seems to be at my side. I've tried to provide that same type of gentle training to Michael Imaino and have a quiet pride in seeing him grow and develop as a bonsai master in his own right. In taking care of plants and shifting growth to where it is needed, Michael's skills exceeds Papa's. One day Michael's styling and training skill will exceed mine. We're passing the bonsai torch to the next generation and I think Papa would have been pleased.