David De Groot’s Retrospective at the Pacific Bonsai Museum

I had the privilege of walking through the Pacific Bonsai Museum with former Curator David De Groot, talking with him about the trees he’d selected for his personal retrospective. 

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This Redwood is an iconic De Groot tree—one of my favorites of his—rooted on both ends, forming a bridge that recalls a hill and with branches becoming trunks.

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A Chinese Elm forest, here turned to the back.

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David discussing young Bald Cypress design versus old flat-topped design (shown here), popularized by the late great Vaughn Banting. Pacific Bonsai Museum Curator Aarin Packard, to the right, joined us on our tour, adding observations about the care of the bonsai this wet spring that had us all scrambling to manage funguses. He also spoke of the challenge of decandling Black Pines in the cool, short season of the Seattle area, often necessitating skipping a year to keep up energy.

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Many bonsai artists have a joke tree, David being no exception. This right-angle Hinoki Cypress pushes a Chinese idea to the limit. 

David wrote me a few comments on this last tree, and the exhibition itself:

Regarding “Walk Like an Egyptian”, the inspiration were the few “Square Turns” style penjing I saw at exhibits in China. They are not totally geometric like mine but will have several 90 degree directional changes in the trunk and branch structure. “Square Turns” style is described by Mr. Hu YunHua in his book CHINESE PENJING Miniature Trees and Landscapes.

About the exhibit, Pacific Bonsai Museum curator Aarin Packard approached me early this year about doing a “retrospective” of my personal trees—not connected to the Museum collection but rather of my personal “backyard bonsai.” All are drawn from modest material, some collected, some purchased at garden centers, some given to me by friends. Many of my trees languished from inattention during my working years, and a partially realized goal of mine now is to bring them to a state of respectability, while still acquiring new material to keep my work fresh. After 49 years of “committing bonsai” as my wife puts it, I still find great joy in working out a design for a new piece of material or working with generous friends to refine the ones I already have.

Lastly, David has a new edition out of his immortal Principles of Bonsai Design. This book is an investigation into the art, in particular, of bonsai. David’s past career as an orchestra percussionist sets the stage for a unique and precise commentary. It’s available on Stone Lantern

5 Comments

  1. Ray says:

    David DeGroot was the first bonsai professional I saw way back at the Seattle flower and garden show doing a demo on a blue spruce. Lit the passion for bonsai in me. Unfortunately I did everything wrong until I went Michaels training series in Portland.
    Thanks to both of you
    Ray

  2. Tyler says:

    I was visiting seattle and saw this post which motivated me scoot down and see these trees in person. I really enjoyed the trees and the museum, well worth the trip!

  3. Janet Nelson says:

    I always learn something new from Dave. This retrospective is no exception. Thanks Michael.

  4. Terry Davis says:

    Dave is one of our very best: best teacher, best stylist, best on technique, best all around human being. It is an honor to count him as a friend.

  5. Chris Cochrane says:

    Dave deeply honors his many teachers– especially Vaughn (Banting), whose most dedicated students have been very influential to bonsai. Thanks for sharing, Michael.

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