I left San Francisco at 7am on the Wednesday morning before The Artisans Cup to drive over to Alameda to meet up with Jonas Dupuich. Among other things we were taking my grafted California Juniper and accompanying pieces up to Portland, Oregon for the show. Both Jonas and I were happy that most of the preparations were finished and we spent much of the car ride discussing our hopes for the event.
When we arrived in Portland we went straight to Matt Reel’s place to drop off a few things and to have Matt look my tree over since the current styling was largely his work. I had already cleaned up the underside of the pads and mossed the tree in preparation for the show but I wanted Matt’s opinion anyway. After a couple minutes of consideration and fine-tuning Matt said the tree was as good as it could get so I packed it back in the truck and we headed for our hotel.
Thursday morning was an amazing experience in anticipation and excitement as we arrived at the Portland Art Museum to find that not only could we park right across the street to unload but that there was ample room to do a little last minute touch up of containers and stands and accent plants. Chelsea Neil cordially and individually welcomed each exhibitor to the event and we placed the trees in the staging area while operations got underway for both the professional photography setup and the exhibit construction.
Through the day I had the chance to watch as dozens of great trees were photographed on a custom built platform. The exhibit hall was prepared with carpet and then the exhibit furniture and lighting. We left the trees in Ryan’s capable hands for the final setup which left me with a wonderful sense of anticipation of what the exhibit would look like in the end.
Friday the exhibit opened at 6pm, but I was able to get in during the 4:45 press preview. My initial reaction was pure wonder as I experienced the combination of the lighting and unique table configuration that allowed for views both through the backdrops and the spaces between them. A sense of depth permeated the room as you could simultaneously appreciate the tree in front of you and another tree that was a row beyond.
I found my tree at the entrance end of the third row with the purpose-built lighting accentuating the best aspects of the trunk and foliage.
The tree that earned the top prize was Randy Knight’s collected Rocky Mountain Juniper. The tree has a spectacular piece of deadwood that runs across the front of the composition terminating visually below the rim of the antique Chinese container and in front of what appears to be a broken-off foot from the display table. In fact, the bespoke construction of the the stand incorporates a live-edge feature and purposefully missing leg, the effect of which gives the impression of an old farm piece that has been broken but remains relevant and useful. The large deadwood descends exactly where the missing leg would be, visually alluding to both the stand and the accent piece. Laying next to the stand were two cow horns, mostly rotted from years of exposure, sitting on top of a weathered piece of wooden fencing. The display not only contained the best tree in the exhibit but was perhaps the best representation of a scene that one could find in many places in the western US. It was a unique and truly American bonsai display.
I had the chance over the weekend to meet bonsai professionals and enthusiasts from all over the country and even a few international attendees. I spent roughly 4 hours studying the exhibit between Saturday and Sunday and much of the rest of the time chatting with other attendees. This was a show that may not be easily equaled. The attention to detail in the setup and furniture made for an experience that was unlike any other bonsai show that I have attended.
Congratulations to Ryan and Chelsea and the entire Artisans Cup team for a unique and wonderful experience.