True Bonsai Artisans

Artisan: ‘A worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand.’

Ryan and Chelsea Neil put everything on the line to make the Artisans Cup a success and I think they are true Artisans in every sense of the word. Both are skilled in their own way and together have pulled off the impossible, a truly original and innovative bonsai exhibition.

But…. It doesn’t stop here, oh no, they have yet again put together something totally original to follow on from the success of the exhibition. They have created a website that includes a ‘Retrospective Exhibit Pass for all those who attended and want to look back at the event, or in my case, for those who didn’t make it over and want to see more about the bonsai.

ScreenHunter_190 Feb. 02 18.26

Ryan was kind enough to allow me access to this for review purposes and I have taken full advantage of it!

OK, at this point some will see the $$$ sign and think what can be worth me spending $65 on? I’ll be honest, I thought the same. I have now waded through roughly half of the content over the last 2 days. No easy task as there must be in excess of 15 hours worth of content available. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can now state that it’s worth the money in my view. Let me explain why….

On entering the paid content area you get to view all the images of the exhibition trees nicely laid out which additional links for the other content.

ScreenHunter_188 Feb. 02 18.24 ScreenHunter_189 Feb. 02 18.25

But this is the tip of the iceberg. By clicking on any tree it opens up a new page showing the tree in close up and offers 5 audio files to listen to from each of the judges! How did he manage to get them to do that!! Well done to all the judges for fitting this in on the day. I love watching tree critiques when visiting exhibitions and even watch dodgy camcorder ones on youtube for shows I can’t get to. This however takes it to a whole other level. A top quality image to study and not just one judge critique, but five! Even better, they don’t know what the other four judges have said, thus giving totally different points of view. Well, not totally different, but it was fascinating to listen to the differences of opinion regarding pot choice, accent selection or styling of any given tree.  Audio clips vary in length from 1 to 5 minutes usually giving a good 15 minutes of critique for each display. This concept if a fantastic tool for learning and I have no doubt that the exhibitors themselves will benefit greatly from this feedback.

Here’s a screen grab of what to expect.

ScreenHunter_139 Feb. 01 15.11 ScreenHunter_140 Feb. 01 15.12


I’m roughly half way through the judges critiques and can’t help myself! I always say, “just one more then I’ll go and do something”. 🙂 The beauty of buying the site pass is that it’s for life. At any stage you can come back and dip into this knowledge base. I think there’s a few things that could be added to improve this portion of the pass content if we are aiming higher. I’d like to hear the thoughts on each display from the exhibitors as well. Some had text accompanying the information about the tree but it would be great to hear exactly what they were trying to achieve and compare that with what the judges conclusions were. I’m an accent guy and I’d also love the accents named as part of the info content. I also feel having the tree dimensions here as well would help give us some idea of the massive scale of many of the exhibits. Just my 2 cents worth (see what I did there, I used cents instead of pennies ;-))

So what else is on offer? You can also view video of all three panels held over the weekend.

The Judges panel has some very interesting views on how bonsai should be judged and an explanation of just how they made The Artisans Cup unbiased with their score system. With a few characters on the panel this was always going to be good viewing.

ScreenHunter_194 Feb. 02 19.16


The Creatives Panel has pulled together all the brains behind the event and is truly an eye opener to see the lengths that have been taken to create this exhibition.

ScreenHunter_192 Feb. 02 18.57


But the stand out Panel for me was the Founders Panel with Ryan and Chelsea. I’m not even an American and I took so much inspiration from what these two said and their approach to bonsai. To the extent that I have taken time today to sit down and think seriously where I want to go with bonsai, for myself as a hobby, and also promoting and teaching it here in Ireland. Some may roll their eyes at that statement but honestly, have you even sat and thought about what exactly it is you want from bonsai? Much of the other topics touched on in the panel would benefit bonsai worldwide, not just in America. Having watched this video I’ll give Ryan one piece of advice from one married man to another, Chelsea is right, do what she says. You can fight it, but you know you’ll do it in the end anyway 🙂

ScreenHunter_193 Feb. 02 19.15

Also available as part of the pass are some fantastic photographs from Chris Hornbecker capturing the essence of the show. This one was the stand out ones for me. Counting Peter Warren as a friend, I hope it’s mutual 😀 I thought this one said a lot about the atmosphere of the event.


I hope you’ve found this review useful and perhaps put you in a better position to make a decision on the Retrospective Pass. You can also check out Jonas Dupuich’s Review over on Bonsai Tonight. He’s a lot more eloquent than I am. I normally keep text to a minimum on the blog and this post has given me a nose bleed 🙂 Only you can decide if the Retrospective Exhibit Pass is worth the money, I think it is, but that’s cheeky of me as I got a 7 day free pass to review it. However I’ll say this, when my 7 days are up I will feel a loss at not being able to go back into the pass area and peruse the audio critiques, I may have to stump up the funds and pay anyway, but perhaps not until I’ve bought the book.

Ryan, thanks for the opportunity and I can honestly say that I fully intend to be at the next Artisans Cup in New York in 2025. Keep me a seat.

I’m away now to listen to the rest of the critiques……

The Artisans Cup Website is Live

We’ve all been waiting for it and today it’s here! Check out the new Artisans Cup Retrospective website. Below are some words from Ryan and the great video.

unnamed (1)

The Artisans Cup, the premier showcase of American bonsai that took place at the Portland Art Museum September 25-27, 2015, today launches a new site experience offering a comprehensive look back at the event. The site will feature facts, photos, and audio & video content highlighting the concept and creation of the show, as well as details and audio critiques of every tree exhibited.


Visitors of the new website will get a detailed look behind the scenes at the immense community effort that brought the exhibition to life. The countless hours of planning and hard work by the show’s dozens of collaborators and participants will be displayed through photos, videos, and notes from the organizers. In addition, for a one-time fee of $65, users will be able to purchase access to special in-depth content with insights into the competition and how it was run. This content includes audio from all three panel discussions held during the event: “The Future of Bonsai,” a forecast of the art of Bonsai with founders Ryan & Chelsea Neil; “Ask The Judges,” a chance to get inside the minds of the professionals who judged the exhibition; and the “Collaborators Panel,” a look at how the principles of Bonsai translate into art, design, and culture, featuring key creative collaborators that helped to bring The Artisans Cup to life. Subscription content will also include studio portraits of all 71 trees, along with detailed audio critiques of each tree from all five of the event’s judges.


As an organization, The Artisans Cup is dedicated to celebrating the beauty of time and the balance of nature, showing American Bonsai for the art form it truly is. A steadily growing subset of the millenia-old tradition, American Bonsai honors the past while pushing the artistic boundaries of what is possible. The Artisans Cup seeks to highlight the artists who are leading the way, while simultaneously inspiring a new generation of Bonsai enthusiasts to join the movement. On the heels of an overwhelmingly positive reception to its inaugural event, The Artisans Cup is looking ahead to its next event in 2020, and laying the groundwork for a show in one of New York’s finest art museums in 2025.