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Living Bonsai sculpture on display at First Friday

The Cascade Bonsai Society will showcase some of its most rare and remarkable living sculptures at the Ashland Art Center during the First Friday Art Walk.

The art walk is from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4, at downtown and Railroad District art galleries and studios. For a full listing of events and participating galleries, see ashlandgalleries.com.

In an unusual collaboration of media, the Bonsai will be paired with the work of local artists to evoke the many nuances of the fall season.

To complete the evening, Ikebana flower arrangements in hand-crafted ceramics will be found throughout the Ashland Art Center, 357 E. Main Street. Rob Hill will perform music, and Platt Anderson Cellars will pour their award-winning wines.

An art form founded thousands of years ago in China, Bonsai encapsulates and epitomizes the perfection of nature according to Asian aesthetics of simplicity and scale. The Bonsai tree, usually under 4 feet, should look natural and resemble a tree growing in nature with its proper proportions.

The trees magnify nature’s spirit, helping the soul interpret and experience the mood of the landscape, according to the Vicki Chamberlain, a Bonsai grower who helped to organize the exhibit. These aren’t just young trees that are small but trees that have experience and exist in a microcosm of nature. Every single element of an installation is considered.

“Our trees are a collection of some of our finest, and the First Friday exhibit is an opportunity to celebrate the changing of the seasons,” said Chamberlain. “The trees were picked for a variety of reasons, some for the changing of the colors, some because they’re majestic — so phenomenal.”

“Each display has one Bonsai and usually something visual behind it,” explained Chamberlain. “Each tree comes with a story about where the tree comes from and what the setting means so members will be on hand to explain their trees.”

The Cascade Bonsai Society meets annually in the Ashland Art Center for workshops and exhibits, but this year, a sudden spontaneous collaboration occurred when education coordinator and fiber artist Jo Ann Manzone started talking with Chamberlain about their respective art forms.

Manzone saw both a spiritual and philosophical match in the work of some Ashland Art Center’s artists and the ancient art of Bonsai. Instead of the Japanese scroll that frames and explains the traditional Bonsai exhibit, local art will serve to illustrate the Bonsai.

“A lot of our artists paint or draw what they see, and there are several of our artists who are inspired by nature or are inspired by an Asian aesthetic,” Manzone said. “So in choosing the artwork, we looked at these two ideas to pair the art with the trees — there will be paintings, prints, photographs, fiber art and ceramic work.”

The origin of Bonsai is the art of “yamadori” or collecting from nature, and one First Friday Bonsai exhibit will be an urban yamadori collection paired with Arlene Warner’s collage art. The bits and pieces of found art Warner uses in her work tell stories much as the fragments of urban yamadori do in the exhibit.

The art of Paula Frond, who uses pen and ink to draw lichen and mosses, will be paired with the society’s smallest and most delicate Bonsai.

The container is an important aspect of the Bonsai and Ikebana art forms and local Bonsai grower Chamberlain also is a ceramicist who makes pots. Rick DeRienzo, a member of the Cascade Bonsai Society, says that Chamberlain’s work is in demand all over the world but that she is too humble to admit her reputation.

“The pot takes second place to the tree, but when you match the pot to the tree, you further the story,” notes Chamberlain. “The pot should complement some season of the tree, so a maple might be in a yellow or golden pot because it changes color in the fall; Cotoneaster with beautiful red berries might be in a blue pot; really regal, massive pines should be in a regal pot; or if you have a long tall Literati, it should be in something fragile, something feminine. The pot should complement the tree.”

For more information about the First Friday Bonsai exhibit, call the Ashland Art Gallery at 541-482-2772 or visit AshlandArtCenter.org. For more information about the Cascade Bonsai Society, visit CascadeBonsai.org.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com

Dennis Robertson’s Black Pine Bonsai. Photo by Jim Chamberlain