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The History of the Art of Bonsai

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/27/2007 | Arts and Culture

Bonsai trees are intriguing with their twisted and unusual shapes and it is not surprising to learn that this delicate art originated over a thousand years ago in China. In fact, Chinese bonsai masters would practice their art, known as pun-sai on trees for decades and often pass down the skill to their sons.

These ancient artists took great pride in the sculpting of their trees often shaping them into images of real animals as well as birds and even sometimes mythical beasts such as dragons. While we see bonsai trees twisted and sculpted into their flowing forms today and think they are quite beautiful, one can only imagine how awe inspiring these trees shaped into the form of animals must be.

During the 12th century, the art of bonsai migrated to Japan where it evolved into one of the highest skilled arts. Practiced at first in the monasteries, it was well suited to the cloistered monks and scholars who practice the art with the patience and intricate skill it required. These beautiful trees were highly revered and often times the nobility regarded bonsai trees as treasured objects.

During the 19th century, bonsai art became known to the general public and as Japan began to trade with the Western world this beautiful form of agricultural art drew the attention of travelers and tradesmen. Soon, the bonsai was exhibited in many Western museums and bonsai art became very popular in the big cities such as Paris and London. In fact the 1900 Paris World Exhibition included bonsai trees.

While many of the bonsai trees of today are not as old or beautiful as those ancient trees in China and Japan it is still a highly skilled art that requires years to learn and much patience. Miniature bonsai trees can be found in many homes and offices and there are many modern-day hobbyists that are quite proud of their skill.

Bonsai artists are still practicing their art today and these trees are still much revered. While modern times have brought on new forms of this living art, the ancient forms still persevere. Bonsai trees can be seen displayed around the world in Asia, the United States, Europe and Australia as well as anyplace where the many varieties of trees used in bonsai art can grow.

As modern times march on, this ancient art will always be practiced but perhaps with a unique twist and new forms of sculpting created by the modern artists.