Friday, December 5, 2014

Grant Funds Completion of Working Studio in Matthaei-Nichols Bonsai Garden

Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum is one step closer to putting the finishing touches on its new Bonsai and Penjing Garden, thanks to a $13,500 award from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust. The award paves the way for completion of a horticultural studio space in the garden, which opened in 2013. The money will be used to purchase key elements for better functionality, convenience, comfort, and beauty, including wheeled carts, studio tables, enhanced lighting, water runoff technology, tools, and other supplies.

The Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust's commitment to public horticulture education dovetails perfectly with the purpose of the Bonsai and Penjing Garden horticultural studio at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, says Matthaei-Nichols director Bob Grese. Only a few public gardens include bonsai and penjing collections, “and the opportunity for this kind of interactive horticulture education, even at the culture-rich University of Michigan, is rare.”

A panoramic view of the central pavilion just days before the Bonsai Garden
opened in 2013.
Beyond the beauty of the plants and garden themselves, education is key, Grese explains. Bonsai and penjing are quintessential ornamental horticultural specimens that the public enjoys but might not always understand, he says. “By integrating the work area into the public garden we can enrich our visitors’ understanding ofdisplay standards and the effort and care bonsai require to reach exceptional levels of ornamental quality.” The final construction elements will expand the public workspace and make the space more convenient, comfortable and secure so that staff and volunteers can focus on training the best plants for ornamental excellence, he adds. “The studio, together with the new garden space, will truly open a window into the art of bonsai and penjing.”

Matthaei-Nichols staff member Carmen Leskoviansky works on
a bonsai tree during the open house at Matthaei August 3, 2014.
Funds from the Stanley Smith Horticulral Trust will pay for tools
and supplies so that staff, volunteers, and bonsai experts can work
on the trees in view of the public.

Matthaei-Nichols has nurtured a growing collection of trees for over 35 years. The collection began in 1977 with a gift of core specimens from the estate of Dr. Maurice Seevers, a former director of the University of Michigan Department of Pharmacology and an ardent bonsai lover. Since then the collection has grown to more than 70 trees and includes plants from regionally and internationally recognized bonsai artists Melvin Goldstein, William Heston, Jack Sustic, Howard Wright, and Jack Wikle. Visiting bonsai masters have also worked on the trees.

The Bonsai and Penjing Garden offers a unique opportunity to experience the sense of beauty, inner peace, and reverence for nature that often accompany these miniature forms of trees. Until the garden was completed in 2013, however, only three of the trees in the collection were on display at any one time in a special space inside the temperate house of the Matthaei Botanical Gardens conservatory. The majority of the collection lived behind the scenes, with no space available for its public display. The new outdoor garden greatly expands the viewing and educational training area and provides a restful setting for the public to enjoy as many as 18 specimens representing several leading Midwestern and internationally-recognized bonsai artists.

A summer view of the central pavilion and studio in the Bonsai
and Penjing Garden at Matthaei.
The Bonsai & Penjing Garden was financed completely through private donations. Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum has launched a campaign to build an endowment to fund ongoing care for the trees in the collection. The endowment is currently at approximately $190,000—nearly 25% of the goal of $800,000. Donations to the endowment are always welcome. For more information contact the Matthaei-Nichols director of development Gayle Steiner (734-647-7847; gayles@umich.edu) or visit the Matthaei-Nichols website (mbgna.umich.edu) and click on “Give/Major Gift Priorities.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Giant Troll Spotted on Property

All kinds of creatures live at the botanical gardens and arboretum. We can now count a troll among them, thanks to students in assistant professor Osman Khan’s Contemporary Sculpture 260 class in the Stamps School of Art & Design. Last fall they constructed a 10-foot-tall replica of the fright-wigged and bug-eyed troll doll originally created by Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam in 1959.

The troll measured approximately
13 feet high when finished.

The project challenged the students on several levels, says Khan. First, it exposed them to how the object being sculpted changes or stays relevant for today’s society, he explains, including the shift from “traditional objects of sculpture such as deities, heroes, and idols to the more contemporary objects of concern for the everyday.” As for why they picked the troll, Khan asked the students to bring in something they thought could be scaled up. After reviewing the possibilities, “they all agreed on the troll, mainly due to their own shared memories of having one or playing with one when they were young.”

Khan also hoped the students would take away an important lesson about thrift and simplicity—that making a large object doesn’t have to be expensive, complicated, or require a ton of marble or other challenging material (this troll is mostly made from Styrofoam). “Easily available and relatively inexpensive materials can be used to work on a large scale,” Khan says.

Students in Osman Khan's Contemporary Sculpture 260 class
stand in front of the completed troll in the fairy
and troll Hollow in Nichols Arboretum.

The students also showed a lot of ingenuity and inventiveness in using digital and analog technologies such as a 3D scanner and software to scale the troll in virtual space and then trace dimensions accurately on sections of foam.

Experimenting with technologies, materials, and methods of building was the most interesting part of the project for Maya Crosman, a BFA junior in Stamps. “Each part of the process has been instructive, as there was no straightforward way to create our sculpture,” she says. No one in the class, Crosman explains, had ever made something as large as the troll doll. In fact, the class is the first of its kind. “We problem-solved as a team throughout the whole process, finding ways to scale-up the small rubber troll doll into a sculpture over ten feet.”

Someone vandalized the troll shortly before Thanksgiving,
making off with one of her feet and an arm. Quite a bit of
the hair was broken, too.
Editor’s note: We’re sad to report that just before Thanksgiving the troll was vandalized. Staff  members found her toppled over and missing a foot and an arm. We’re hopeful that whoever did this will return the pieces so the troll can be restored. In the meantime, a discussion is underway about what will happen next. Stay tuned as the story of the troll continues!