I started going through my bookshelves a few weeks ago to make a purge of the things that I no longer needed or valued. This move was of course necessitated by the fact that the accumulated volume of my bonsai, graphics design, and other miscellaneous books far exceeded the current allotted space of two floor-to-ceiling repositories in my office. While gleaning the shelves I even found two of the same volume.
One book in particular that caught my eye was the 1967 first edition of The Master’s Book of Bonsai compiled by the Directors of the Japan Bonsai Association. This was one of the very first English language books available for information on bonsai. It contained a How-To section and photos of what were then considered masterpieces of bonsai. When I flipped the book open, inside the front cover I found a photo taped to the fly leaf. The handwritten note labeled it as 1973.
The four individuals pictured were John Naka and his wife Alice, alongside Timothy Boyle and his wife June. So that was over forty years ago. Tim was an early member of the BSOP. Although he was not a founding member as such, he came along shortly after and served two terms as our president. Even though he started his bonsai hobby in his fifties, he managed to squeeze out almost forty years of loving trees in pots. Along the way he was instrumental in guiding the BSOP in its artistic and horticultural endeavors. He had a MAJOR impact on where our club is today. His heavy involvement with the Japanese Gardens and bonsai exhibits with
Hiroshi Ueno are largely responsible for our partnership with the Gardens and our fabulous Spring Exhibit. He also designed and constructed the Tokonoma that we use in those exhibits.
This photo attests to the early support that Portland gave John Naka as he ventured out of his southern California home to give lectures and demos. You’ll notice the palm trees in the photo shows that Tim and June had traveled down for a visit. At one of Naka’s trips up here to Portland, my grandfather, Mark Emmert, purchased a copy of Naka’s Bonsai Techniques I. It was that copy that I studied intently whenever I visited Grandpa. That book and Grandpa’s back yard is where my interest in bonsai sprouted. The time was somewhere back in the early eighties, but I didn’t start growing trees until ten years later.
As I studied the photo last week, I began to realize that next year the BSOP enters it’s fiftieth year of existence. I think about how people did things when I joined the club, and what the trees looked like. And I think about where we are now. How fortunate we are now to have so many resources, from trees and raw materials to expertise and knowledge. Think about life without Akadama, bonsai wire – copper or aluminum, or even a decent pot. No Ryan Neil, Mike Hagedorn or Joe Harris. No magazines and very few books. Unlike some other west coast cities, we had very little direct Japanese influence on the club – people who were taught bonsai at home or brought it with them overseas.
Folks like Tim, Hiroshi, Maggie Drake, Tom Keefe, and Ron Yasenchak were true pioneers for us, and a few of these folks are still around. I have several of my grandfather’s trees and I know that many of you have some of Tim Boyle’s trees. No doubt some of you have trees that were crafted in one of the many workshops with John Naka, the father of American Bonsai. I appreciate what these folks did for our club and for American bonsai and the path that they left before us. A living legacy in trees, and a tradition of excellence at whatever level we may be able to attain. Our job is to continue that legacy and evolve our art to its next level. Happy Bonsai