The art of ‘living sculpture’

Written by | November 1, 2012

Mark Vossbrink brings penjing to PSU

Penjing is “a living antique and a living art, a painting and a living sculpture,” Mark Vossbrink, a bonsai expert and member of the Bonsai International Club, said. “This is what I hope to portray when speaking at the university.”

COURTESY OF Bonsai Tonight

Middle earth got shrunk, yo! Bilbo Baggins was delighted to find that his “unexpected journey” just got a lot shorter.

On Nov. 3, Vossbrink will get the chance when he speaks at PSU’s Urban Studies Building. He will share his knowledge of penjing and provide detailed demonstrations on perfecting the art, including “Timeless Trees” and “Potted Landscapes.” (The more well-known term bonsai is the Japanese translation; penjing, the Chinese. Penjing literally translates as “tray scenery.”)

Volunteers from the Lan Su Chinese Garden have orchestrated this event in hopes of continuing education, community development and social networking. Many of the garden’s volunteers attend and participate in the monthly lectures. Also in attendance will be the Chinese Cultural Group and the Northwest China Council.

Vossbrink will show photographs of his recent trip to China and explain how the art form remains relevant in modern times.

“After the September 11th tragedy, there was this Chinese artist who used bonsai as a way to redo the twin towers and the New York skyline, using little stones that mirrored skyscrapers,” Vossbrink said.

This is more or less how penjing has become modernized. When penjing first originated in China, it was strictly an activity that scholars participated in because it was accessible to them. The wealthy wrote poetry and music, collected rocks and practiced the art of penjing. As China began to change, people soon realized the value and growing opportunity to make money within the art form.

“The Chinese have been practicing this ancient tradition for 2,000 years, and it’s something that Westerners were not familiar with until World War II,” Vossbrink said.

As a child, Vossbrink travelled with his family to Hawaii, where he became interested in ancient artistic traditions. Growing up with a Japanese grandmother, Vossbrink felt connected to the art form, understanding its sentimental value and developing an appreciation for it.

After residing in Portland for a number of years, Vossbrink explains why Oregon is the perfect place for attracting people to start nurseries.

“Living in the Northwest, we have an advantage with our wet climate, the mountains and the ocean. These things draw much inspiration into the art of penjing,” Vossbrink said.

The PSU Institute for Asian Studies and the Portland Lansu Chinese Garden present
“Penjing Beautiful: Living 3-dimension poetry,” a demonstration by Mark Vossbrink
Urban Studies Building, room 250
Saturday, Nov. 3, 9:30 a.m.
Free and open to the public

Bonsai and penjing are attracting worldwide interest, drawing people from many different countries. During his trip to China, Vossbrink attended a convention for the art form where people from South Africa, India and Asia were in attendance.

Vossbrink is also the owner of Rainyday Flowers in Portland, and teaches penjing to senior citizens in his spare time.

“Working with nature creates much-needed therapeutic value, and if we can build miniature landscapes, we can relieve stress,” Vossbrink said.

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