Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees

(c) Will Hiltz Nara Publishers
(c) Dan Robinson

(c) Dan Robinson

As you read this book you can feel the emotion of understanding, an understanding that bonds the ‘Author to the Artist‘.
From the moment that Will and Dan first met, when Dan explained to Will the true pronunciation of the word
Bonsai, as Bone-sigh and not Bonzai (The karate kid yelled voice with a chop to match), this friendship was moulded.

This book is more than a story of a life enriched by trees. It is a descriptive piece that leads you the reader into an understanding of this great American pioneer, a depiction that details the challenges in Dan’s life in more than just creating ’Gnarly’ masterpieces.

The main character, the artist, the champ as we used to say for our favourite western flicks is known to his peers as the ’Picasso of Bonsai’, a pioneer who coined the phrase ’Phoenix Grafts’. A ‘Phoenix Graft’ is a technique were you bond a dead tree with a younger tree using various techniques.

Dan is also known as the man who changed the traditional styling of Bonsai to new techniques back in 78’. Very much a western style, a controversial technique using power tools for designing and crafting his trees, it is a technique that has been adopted globally since.

The imaginary in this book is awe inspiring, it is an inspirational piece of work that will bring you through the journey of this great man’s life.

(c) Craig Coussins

(c) Craig Coussins

There was a Bonsai Master in Japan in the mid 20th century . His name was Kitamura. He had a small but important school and his philosophy was to buy Bonsai , deconstruct these and create a more natural tree image. Far too many wonderful and well know Bonsai are artifice. They are indeed beautiful but they do not look like trees.
What Dan Robinson does at one end of the spectrum is allow a tree to develop naturally with some controls as to the shape. However, what Dan does is collect very old Yamadori that he keeps alive and just allows these to continue in style along the lines from which it was growing naturally. Dan can crate a Bonsai in as accepted a style as any other experienced master but he tries to retain the natural image of the collected tree. Based on his methodology of the age of these Yamadori, some are in excess of 1000 years old. What in any ones name would you wish to do to a tree that was already a dwarfed by nature tree other than appreciate the image of the tree itself.
I have many Yamadori as do many growers, but many of the trees that we collected need forming , branches need to be grown, buds developed and at last we can see the tree in the wood. Just look at some of my books and you will see what I mean. Branches on great trunks may be long whippy things and I need to inarch and graft, bend and shape the branch into an acceptable (to me as the artist) shape of a tree in nature. Not a highly sculpted shape that bears little resemblance to what I am used to IN MY AREA. And that is the key. I create trees that I am comfortable with. Trees that I see around me.
When I teach in other countries I create trees that I see in that area. . I try to make the image into a tree. I use every technique available to me to get to that point but I always try to end up with a tree that I can see outside in the mountains, valets and even the fields. I should stipulate that what I mean is that I try to make trees that are nice trees in nature. Yes, I realise that many trees in nature are a mess but I am not talking about those. You have seen many trees that are lovely-again look at the trees in my books which I photograph in Nature and you will see and hopefully, agree with me.
That was what Kitamura was trying to do. He wanted to make small trees not ornamental shrubs with spectacular trunks and little else to say ’I am a tree’

Article by Craig Coussins on Dan Robinson.

There was a Bonsai Master in Japan in the mid 20th century . His name was Kitamura. He had a small but important school and his philosophy was to buy Bonsai , deconstruct these and create a more natural tree image. Far too many wonderful and well know Bonsai are artifice. They are indeed beautiful but they do not look like trees.

What Dan Robinson does at one end of the spectrum is allow a tree to develop naturally with some controls as to the shape. However, what Dan does is collect very old Yamadori that he keeps alive and just allows these to continue in style along the lines from which it was growing naturally. Dan can crate a Bonsai in as accepted a style as any other experienced master but he tries to retain the natural image of the collected tree. Based on his methodology of the age of these Yamadori, some are in excess of 1000 years old. What in any ones name would you wish to do to a tree that was already a dwarfed by nature tree other than appreciate the image of the tree itself.

I have many Yamadori as do many growers, but many of the trees that we collected need forming , branches need to be grown, buds developed and at last we can see the tree in the wood. Just look at some of my books and you will see what I mean. Branches on great trunks may be long whippy things and I need to inarch and graft, bend and shape the branch into an acceptable (to me as the artist) shape of a tree in nature. Not a highly sculpted shape that bears little resemblance to what I am used to IN MY AREA. And that is the key. I create trees that I am comfortable with. Trees that I see around me.

When I teach in other countries I create trees that I see in that area. . I try to make the image into a tree. I use every technique available to me to get to that point but I always try to end up with a tree that I can see outside in the mountains, valets and even the fields. I should stipulate that what I mean is that I try to make trees that are nice trees in nature. Yes, I realise that many trees in nature are a mess but I am not talking about those. You have seen many trees that are lovely-again look at the trees in my books which I photograph in Nature and you will see and hopefully, agree with me.

That was what Kitamura was trying to do. He wanted to make small trees not ornamental shrubs with spectacular trunks and little else to say ’I am a tree’  (By Craig Coussins)

(c) Will Hiltz Nara Publishers

(c) Will Hiltz Nara Publishers

In Hawaii they call it “mana.” In Japan it is known as “ki.” This is the life force contained within man, animals and the plant world. It is the reason why the power of touch is healing. Those who possess such a touch along with an artistic bent and an innate respect for the natural world have the ability to create great beauty.

Dan Robinson is such a person. His gentle hands sculpt, nurture, caress and coax tiny and sometimes wizened bonsai trees into delicate works of art. His life force connects with the trees and they respond.  Now, with his new book “Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees” Dan is sharing his creations, and a good portion of his life, with the world. Follow the pages as the “Tree Guy” reminisces about his early days when his life force was new, but untrained. Discover the artist behind the art, the philosophies of a man arguably more in tune with trees than with fellow humans. Follow him as he searches for new trees in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest and brings them back to be part of his seven acre Elanden Gardens.

Dan views each of his bonsai trees as an independent spirit. He respects the mana of the tree and understands that by caring for and respecting that tree, it will return the favor by putting it best “trunk” forward. Proper bonsai form is sometimes trumped by a tree’s penchant to grow a certain way, creating something more beautiful than the artist might imagine. Sometimes the tree knows best.

Within the pages of “Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees” are stunning photographs of bonsai trees that have been nurtured to perfection. Some are older than the artist, but in a tree’s world, that is still young. At times it might be hard to tell whether Dan or the trees take center stage in the book. Since they have shared their life force to create such beauty, there really is no difference. This is not only a charmingly told tale about a man and his trees and the ancient art of bonsai, it is a love story. (Review by Monica Wachmann)

This above pre-release reviews were based on limited information received from the Publishers ‘Nara Press’. We have been invited to do a full review after the book is published in early October. We would like to thank Will Hiltz, The Author, Chief Photographer and Publisher of ‘Gnarley Branches, Ancient Trees’ for permission to use these images.

So as they say ‘Watch this space” for more book reviews.


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