Thursday, May 15, 2008

Botanical Garden offers Asian experience with new presentation

The Cleveland Botanical Garden celebrates the tranquil beauty of a Japanese garden -- effusive with spirituality as well as flowers -- when it presents ''Zensai: The Horticulture of Japan'' through June 29.


The word ''Zensai'' means ''entry garden,'' but this spring show is much more. Visitors may take in the Cleveland garden's permanent Japanese Garden, which has been around since 1975, as a result of the work of members of Ikebana International, Cleveland Chapter 20.

Ikebana and Bonsai

There will be displays of arrangements at the Gardens in two classic styles: Ikebana and Bonsai. The centuries-old Ikebana is the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging that strives to convey the majesty and beauty of nature as well as its appeal to our spiritual yearnings. There is no one ''right'' school of Ikebana but all share some things in common. This style expresses the ideal of living in harmony with nature, a love of flowers and plants and a desire to want to arrange natural elements to show off their beauty.

Unlike the flower arrangements we see in Western shops, Ikebana relies on an asymmetrical composition that incorporates empty spaces (and the imagination's eye) as part of the form.

The leading schools of Ikebana (and in Japan) are Ikenobo -- the oldest, more than 500 years old -- and the most formal, Ohara, which values creativity and communion with nature.

The third, Sogetsu, sort of the new kid on the block at only 81 years old, values the individual arranger's view and celebrates a ''free-style'' view of the art.

Bonsai is an art more familiar to Ohioans who can find the tiny trees in florist shops and at trade fairs and flea markets. The art of Bonsai, brought over from China, is also ancient; in fact it came to Japan in the Ninth Century.

The art of Bonsai depends of shaping and pruning of trees and plants over many years to miniaturize them. Almost any tree can be turned into a Bonsai tree, but they are very high maintenance and can require regular fertilizing and watering several times per day.

Guided tours daily

For those who would like to learn more than just walking around can tell them, there will be 1 p.m. daily tours of the Garden during the Zensai show as well as 6 p.m. tours on Wednesday.

''At their core, Japanese gardens are the artistic expression of a culture,'' noted a garden spokesman. ''They're places where less is more, and in many respects, the missing element is often the most powerful. Through the subtle use of plants and hard features, the visitor is transported to a place that at first glance appears exotic, but in fact is closer to home than we think.

''The Cleveland Japanese garden was designed by David Slawson, whose work can be found throughout the United States. The garden has elements of three styles: the dry landscape style; the tea garden style and the stroll garden style.

Additional treats include ''The Japanese Garden: Photographs by Haruzo Ohashi.'' More than 100 photographs of beautiful gardens, waterfalls and walkways as rendered by Ohashi, a top Japanese garden photographer who spent 40 years taking pictures in historic gardens.

In this exhibition, Ohashi has arranged the six fundamental styles of Japanese gardens to coincide with Japanese history and the social changes it necessitated.

Those six styles are: the pleasure boat, the stroll, contemplation, many pleasures, the tea and courtyard styles.Subjects that might seem tame now, such as tea drinking, were radical and new when they first became popular.

The military actually popularized Zen Buddhism, a fact which seems odd to generations who think the notion of ''zen'' was to be cool and laid back.

His photos also show how the urban middle class changed the traditional pattern of gardening.

Ohashi's works are famous for using intricate photo techniques to achieve the greatest depth of field for his garden photographs.

The Botanical Gardens show will also exhibit fine art from the Verne Collection. Mitzie Verne, a Cleveland collector who once lived next door in Japan to the Emperor Hirohito's summer palace, has collected many works of art from Japan.

Among the items from the collection are Keisuke Serizawa prints. Serizawa has been declared a ''National Art Treasure'' by the Japanese government and his work has been exhibited in the Louvre, the Chicago Art Institute and the Museum of Fine Arts.
©The Morning Journal 2008

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