There aren’t many plants that can be given the description of “masterpiece.” Most can be reduced to little more than waiting for some seeds to sprout and grow. But the ancient practice of cultivating bonsai trees is about so much more than that. It is about a establishing a connection with the viewer and creating something that is a living work of art.
John Jessee always had an affinity for this craft, but it wasn’t until 10 years ago that he started his journey into creating these miniature wonders. “I got into it to help me relax,” he confessed. “It was something that I wanted to do as a child, but I was just always too busy. I decided one day that I wanted to do something I enjoy; something for myself.”
As is true with most art forms, there is so much more to bonsai than meets the eye if you don’t know exactly what to look for. Factors like space in between branches are crucial when creating a beautiful bonsai. Not only that, but the entire purpose of this craft is interesting, in and of itself. “You want to create a scene with every tree,” he began. “The trunk is the focal point, and you want it to look good when seen from any angle. Also, you want to look at them at eye level so then you can take in the full scene.”
Crafting a scene usually means adding rocks, tiny figurines of people fishing (or even working on their own bonsai trees), birds, sand—whatever it is that he wants to communicate through his work at that moment. Naturally, it takes heavy manipulation to really convey what he wants, and each tree must be trained to become what he envisions. What he needs to do really depends on the tree he is working with. “It is a common misconception that all bonsai trees are jasmine,” Jessee explained. “I have boxwood, Chinese elm, and a variety of other trees that I work with.” After all, he pointed out, bonsai just means “little tree.”
There are many different things that he has to do to create the perfect bonsai scene. The greenery on the branches is meant to give off a “cascading” effect, as if they are bowing slightly under the pressure of a waterfall. To get the branches to cooperate, Jessee will tie heavy rocks to them and keep them so that they are weighed just so until they stay that way. It is also important to not have the leaves pointing straight up or down. If he happens to see such a growth, he will pluck it off or use special small bonsai trimmers.
Considering the trunks are the focal points, they not only have to be unique, but there is a certain look that is common with bonsai trees that is accomplished with the help of a razor blade. It is a technique called “jinning,” and it makes the wood appear to be older than it is. “I take a razor blade and cut the outer skin of the trunk and then leave it exposed to the sun,” he detailed. “Within six months to a year, it will look like lightning hit it or that it died in that spot.”
The different scenes Jessee has been able to create are a bit staggering, to say the least. He has some that are “windswept,” meaning that the branches and leaves are trained in such a way that they look like they’re always blowing in the wind. He also has created a scene with two different trees, one representing a man and the other, a woman. The male seems more rigid whereas the female has more curves, and they are both “holding hands,” as specific branches reach out and embrace each other.
The oldest tree Jessee owns is 45 years old, and he also has created one for every child of his to give to them on their wedding day. “Then we will have something that we can always work on together,” he intimated. It is evident that his love for creating beautiful scenes has been with him since he was a child, and chances are that he will be a bonsai enthusiast until he can trim no more.