Michael Hagedorn apprenticed under Shinji Suzuki of Japan from 2003-2006, and has since crafted a life around bonsai. In 2008 he set up an urban studio in Portland, Oregon where he creates, teaches, and writes about bonsai. Michael’s primary teaching outlet is the Seasonal program, which fosters a broad and in-depth bonsai experience. He is also the Bonsai Consultant for the Portland Japanese Garden. Formerly a potter, Michael’s resume includes the book Post-Dated: The Schooling of an Irreverent Bonsai Monk, founding the Portland Bonsai Village, co-creating the Bonsai Fundamentals Course, and blogging weekly at www.crataegus.com.
A few other tidbits:
—Michael was a painter and sculptor for years, has an MFA from The New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, and made bonsai containers in the 1990’s under the name ‘Crataegus Bonsai Containers’
—Prior to his apprenticeship abroad, Michael studied with Boon Manakitivipart from 2000-2003
—Creative influences include the ideals and intentions behind the unknown craftsman, the sculpture of Jean-Pierre Larocque, the bonsai of Shinji Suzuki, the writing of Thoreau and Jean Giono, the mixed forests of the Northeastern and Northwestern USA, and certain rascally poets like Hafiz and Billy Collins
—Work as an apprentice in Japan earned his master Shinji Suzuki several major awards (Kokufu and Prime Minister), as well as client work in the Artisan’s Cup and the National Show. Privately a Mountain Hemlock was awarded ‘Best Evergreen’ at the 2016 National Show
—Outside of professional life Michael might be found dancing Argentine tango or kayaking near Portland, Oregon, USA
Statement of Orientation
Most artists would probably refer to this as the ‘artist’s statement,’ so you can call it that if you wish.
There are a number of things I think about or am conscious of when doing bonsai, and that serve as inspiration. One part of bonsai that I find particularly resonant is the chance for the artist to be a bit invisible, to have the medium of a tree eventually be its own spokesperson. Also, I’m convinced that how we apply a wire to a tree—our attitude towards that—actually says a lot about us. It’s a very fingerprinted action.
I’ve been very conscious of urbanization—having just moved to a city—and the real benefits of even modest touches of authentic nature, not stylized nature, within that environment. So focusing on what is beyond the city gets beyond some of the assumptions of what a bonsai is supposed to look like, to such questions as — what is wild? what is natural? — while still being within range of what the tradition offers us.
I think a lot about natural beauty, the kind of beauty that is not created but born, and how we can be a part of that or against that. Minimizing a tree’s natural beauty is almost like cooking a vegetable until it’s most definitely dead. I like trees that breathe. That have a life I’ve not agreed to.
The use of collected trees, even deciduous, as ‘found objects’ has allowed some exploration of these themes of wildness and naturalness. Also the minimization of the bonsai container to the point of it vanishing completely has had continued relevance in my recent work (a bit ironic given that I’m a potter), and that does tend to bring the tree into the foreground.
Although it may be hard to see some of these things in the work, they are part of the stew at the moment. And though I do engage in invention and experimentation, the raw values of wabi-sabi continue to guide my work. I really don’t think we’re doing bonsai any more when we stray too far from the original aesthetic values that gave birth to bonsai, and those are less about how something looks than how it feels.
‘Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.’ — James Thurber
For more thoughts on bonsai and our interfaces with them, take a look at the Philosophy page.
Andrew Robson (Current Apprentice)
Only a couple weeks out of graduate school, Andrew drove to Portland from St. Louis to start his apprenticeship in June 2016. His background is in music, with a degree in flute from the Yale School of Music (according to Andrew, I don’t cut on the beat very often. About half the time, apparently.) In addition to all his apprenticeship duties, Andrew has been the Director of the Portland Bonsai Village since his arrival here in Portland. Andrew’s energy, ideas, and enthusiasm make him a welcome addition to bonsai in Portland.
Bobby Curttright (Past Apprentice)
Apprenticing with Michael from 2013-2016, Bobby came from the deep waters of the Omaha Aquarium, where he swam with sharks and had a specialty in seahorses, and is now on the solid, somewhat drier soils of bonsai. An enthusiastic supporter of the Village idea from the beginning, he played a central role in making it a reality. Following his 3 years apprenticing at Crataegus Bonsai, Bobby is building his business Cascadia Bonsai and plans to stay in the Portland area.
Apprenticeships: Anyone interested in an apprenticeship at Crataegus Bonsai, please don’t be shy about contacting. Starting in 2018 apprentices will be living on the garden property rent-free. There is room for two apprentices in a shared house. Term of study is 3-5 years, based on skill assessment. Interested parties, do make yourself known, come and spend time here, let me get to know you and vice versa. I don’t make long-term commitments over the phone or Internet, although that’s a fine place to begin: email@example.com
The Students of Crataegus Bonsai