The BSSF Logo Tree

Posted by on Sep 6, 2007 in Articles And Stories

BSSF Notes and errata regarding this article:

1. The Logo tree was donated to Bonsai Garden Lake Merritt (then GSBF Collection North) in 2004, not at the founding of the garden.
2. Ryozo Nomura was interviewed in a 1974 publication by Dr. June Tayson with a California Ryozo Nomura from 1974. (International Bonsai Digest presents Bonsai Gems, Fall 1974.) Although the interview (pp. 72-77) does not mention San Francisco or Ishii, its Nomura (b.1899) was an expert at grafting and did like goyomatsu and shimpaku.

CRW_9398modThe BSSF logo tree is an extraordinary cascade-style juniper that is actually a prostrata juniper with all branches grafted from “the original shimpaku juniper brought from Japan”.

John Pennington’s Original Aricle:

Collected shimpaku junipers have been popular since the 1890s, but are no longer available due to overcollecting. They were largely gone within thirty or forty years of their first discovery, in spite of their locations in steep and dangerous areas. New areas of growth were found and then exhausted, until the very last were collected in the 1990s before the door was closed completely. The current emphasis is on preventing extinction.

The shimpaku donor for the scion branches probably dates from the immediate post-WWII years, when bonsai material from Japan again became available in the United States.The tree was apparently designed and grafted originally by Ryozo Nomura, a Japanese living in California before WWII. During the war he probably went to the shameful internment camps along with most other Japanese and Japanese-Americans, and became one of several who resumed bonsai practice after the war. The tree is said to have used shimpaku scions from “the original shimpaku brought from Japan”. This would mean the first tree post-WWII, because there were many shimpaku trees imported into the US in the early part of the twentieth century. It could be that Nomura brought it from Japan himself. It is probable that he did the design and grafting about 1950, or a bit earlier.

Mas Ishii was apparently a student of Nomura, and we speculate that the tree passed to his possession on Nomura’s death. Nomura’s death probably came in the 1950s, along with some others of his cohorts who had been active at the same time. Some time after that, Robert Harrington, a bonsai enthusiast in Southern California who became very active in the bonsai world, bought the tree from Ishii.

Diane Cook was one of the BSSF presidents in the 1960s. She saw the tree and wrote to Harrington to ask if it could be used for the club’s logo. Harrington said yes, but more importantly, he willed the tree to BSSF. On his death in the 1980s the tree passed to BSSF. For a number of years it was kept in various members’ yards, until the Oakland facility was completed to house the Collection North in the early 1990s. At that time, the tree was given to the Collection, with the proviso that it be available to the BSSF to use as their logo indefinitely. Therefore, the tree was already about three decades old when it was the featured tree in a 1979 Bonsai International article, quoted below. (Bonsai International was a publication of Bonsai Clubs International, no longer published, although the organization is still active. Their current publication is called Bonsai & Stone Appreciation Magazine. Photo used by permission.)

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“This month we feature a beautiful Shimpaku kengai that belongs to Robert Harrington, an attorney-at-law and well known Bonsai enthusiast in the Southern California area.

“This elegant Bonsai represents a method of developing a mature ‘Shimpaku’ in less time than would be required normally. The stock is Prostrata juniper with all the branches individually grafted. Scars are impossible to find, so excellent is the work which was done many years ago by grafting expert Ryozo Nomura. This tree is from cuttings of the original Shimpaku brought from Japan.”

(Bonsai International, November 1979)

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About 1996. (Photo by John Edwards)

Over the years the tree’s tail became longer and longer, until nearly a foot was removed to restore proportion and balance about 2002.

In September of 2003, the tree was restyled by Japanese master Yasua Mitsuya at a workshop at the Northern Collection in Oakland. By that time the tree had put on a few pounds; the foliage had become thick and a bit untidy, hiding the structure.

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Yasuo Mitsuya inspects logo tree before restyling (Photo: Eric Schrader)

Eric Schrader’s article in Fog City Bonsai the following month describes the process:

“…I realized as I was watching the work progress on the logo tree that during our normal monthly demonstrations we rarely get to see work being done on trees that are half a century into their life as a bonsai. Many of our monthly demonstrations concentrate on taking a tree from its field-grown condition through its initial paring down into a rough bonsai shape…
“Kathy [Shaner, see below], who spoke at length while we all watched Mr. Mitsuya work, said [that] a tree in nature is attacked in waves by the elements. It may lose a branch, only to spend ten years re-growing it before it loses it again along with three other branches. Each time this cycle occurs, it adds character to the tree, shaping the overall tree and the individual branches alike…What Kathy emphasized was that it is the process of repeatedly growing the tree out and then cutting it back that adds so much character to a bonsai, just as nature adds character to full sized trees. These waves of work have to be repeated many times…

“These waves of work have to be repeated many times…Mr. Mitsuya took many of the lush branches and trimmed them so that the tree was less fluffy feeling, but more importantly, he made a few of the branches into jin. The jin, after he was finished, seemed to add so much character to the tree that it was almost like I had known they should be there all along. Kathy described that this was the next stage in the development of this tree. It ‘moved the tree higher up the mountain’.”

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Mitsuya thins foliage (Photo: Eric Schrader)

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Area selected for foliage removal and jinning (Photo: Eric Schrader)

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Mitsuya makes jin after removing foliage (Photo: Eric Schrader)

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The restyled tree as it appeared at the Cow Palace show in 2005. (Photo: Mike Page) Note the much more open appearance, with trunk and branching now clearly visible, and new jin contributing dignity and age.

Mr. Mitsuya generously donated an expensive antique pot for the tree, which had previously been planted in a blue-glazed pot. However, this pot turned out not to be satisfactory, so the tree was again repotted.

Kathy Shaner, Curator of the Collection North, trained for five years in Japan under Yasuo Mitsuya. She is the only Japanese-certified bonsai master in the United States. Two years after his restyling of the logo tree, she repotted it at another workshop.

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Kathy with the restyled tree in its old pot (Photo: Eric Schrader)

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The tree is to go into a smaller pot. This is possible because of the previous restyling, which removed much foliage. (Photo: Eric Schrader)
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Kathy works tree out of old pot. (Photo: Eric Schrader)
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Kathy showing the rootball after soil removal and root trimming.
(Photo: Eric Schrader)
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The restyled and repotted tree, which can now be seen in person at its Northern California Collection home at Lake Merritt in Oakland, and on the front page of every Fog City Bonsai newsletter. (Photo: John Edwards) As of 2007 it was nearly sixty years old as a bonsai. Curator Shaner considers it one of the two most important trees in the Collection North because of its history.

(c) John Alan Pennington, 2007, all rights reserved

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous
    Dec 30th, 13

    What a neat tree!!

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