April 18, 2017

Pacific Bonsai Museum "Natives" Preparation - Yellow Cedar

Source material: 2017, March 18

          The final tree of the five Dan Robinson trees he and I prepared for the Pacific Bonsai Museum "Natives" Exhibit was an Alaska Yellow Cedar (Xanthocyparis nootkatensis - although there is some phylogenetic controversy around this name). This tree was estimated to be 700+ years old and it looks even older with the help of Dan's training. The appearance of naturalism, gnarliness, and a story that depicts a difficult and storied life history are the highest artistic aspirations for Dan Robinson's trees. The detail on the carving of this trunk is particularly stunning. and hard to believe it was man-made. Which deadwood features were man-made and which were already there when the tree was collected the tree is a mystery only Dan can tell you - I certainly could not make a guess.
The tree back in April of 2016. It caught my eye on my very first visit to the garden.
           For those of you who saw my previous four "Natives" tree preparation posts, I did indeed plan to post all five trees in the week leading up to the opening celebration (a recording of the artist panel from that day can be found here for Mirai subscribers). Although my student life interrupted those plans, I thought this impressive tree still deserved to be shared. Lately, I have more post ideas than I have time so I will have to play by ear.
          The main operations we were performing to ready this tree were a surface clean-up of the rock the tree is planted on as well as removing old wire and pruning some of the profoundly drooping foliage. Lessening the weight of the foliage reduced the drooping without eliminating the character entirely. The species has naturally drooping foliage to alleviate weight from snow loading in its native altitudes and high latitudes. As usual, I'll let the photos do most the talking as this work was not highly technical.
A 700+-year-old Alaska Yellow Cedar bonsai by Dan Robinson that will be on display at the Pacific Bonsai Museum from April-October 2017.
          The tree is styled in a "raft" fashion. The natural story behind the style is that a tree falls over - an event fatal to many trees. In the raft case though, branches from the original tree grow as new trees if the original roots are not completely severed, or if the area of contact with the ground is able to "ground layer" to grow new roots. Although the vast majority of the original tree died, this new independent section with its own roots continued to live for many hundreds of years after the cataclysm.
Cool lichen and natural Northwest colonizers.
Some of the hens and chicks bloomed last year. Those that are allowed to do that will die, leaving some corpses to be removed or covered with new ones.
The tree's post sits under a Douglas fir tree. For show clean-up purposes, those errant needles were removed.

Fine, surgical tweezers were needed for the needle removal operation.
The hollow trunk.
The deadwood detail from this side is even better than the front.
These branches were all carved by Dan to appear as though they have been dead and weathered for many decades or centuries already. The one uncarved branch in the back of the tree was intentionally preserved to show visitors to his garden how these features look before he imposes his art. For the show, this stub will not be visible as these deadwood features are in the back of the tree.
Here the deadwood on the trunk is seen from the front and the single live vein which feeds the top.
A full view of the deadwood on the back.
Here the undesirable foliage density can be seen.
The deadwood looks a little different once it is dried. All the white color is from years of natural sun bleaching, not with lime sulfur as many bonsai practitioners use to instantly bleach deadwood. If one has the time to wait, you can save yourself the effort.
          If you made it to the end, tell me - do you think this tree looks natural? This tree's secret is that upon collection, Dan made a flat cut on the trunk without realizing the tree's future direction for styling. The two dead branches at the right of the last picture are actually glued to look as though they were once branches on the original tree in the raft story of the bonsai.

          Another student of Dan's was able to provide me with images from the tree's initial styling back in 2011. Enjoy!

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