rocky mountain juniper 
no. 1 evolution

rocky mountain juniper 
no. 1 evolution

the chosen one

‘The Chosen One’ will forever be known as the tree that built Mirai. From its inception, this untamed Rocky Mountain juniper showed inherent potential to become something very special. However, taking the standard approach to bonsai design posed a serious threat to overly taming the tree’s ruggedness.

To combat domestication, I had to re-define how I worked with such wild and avant-garde shapes characteristic of the expansive North American landscape. The process involved discarding the preconceived, formulaic limitations typical of Japanese bonsai, in order to explore a more expansive set of design possibilities. The result generated a new approach to collected material, centered around embracing the atypical and highlighting wildness rather than taming it. This ethos now defines Mirai’s approach to design and creation.


"From its inception, this untamed Rocky Mountain juniper showed inherent potential to become something very special." 
 

The tree’s original box fell apart before I could consider how I wanted it styled. I decided to pot it in the same way it had been positioned as it was collected-probably similar to the way it had sat in the mountains.


“The solution to the tree's design had me stumped until a fateful glance down at the garden from the deck.”
 


“Sometimes the key to design hinges on considering it from a different vantage point.”
 

The solution to the tree's design had me stumped until a fateful glance down at the garden from the deck; I saw the tree in all its glory. In that moment, I realized sometimes the key to design hinges on considering it from a different vantage point.

I immediately pulled it into the workshop and began the transformation. I shifted the tree’s angle so that the big arm of deadwood hung down in front, breaking all rules. The main branch needed to be separated from an incredibly intricate piece of spiraling deadwood so it could be bent. Then I bent the apex forward to accommodate the lurching position of the deadwood. This work was super technical.


“After those big moves, it felt like magic.”
 

After those big moves, it felt like magic. Going that far outside of the box, it was like what else can we do? It just opened the can of worms; I realized that if I think creatively about these trees it can be spectacular.


“Ron Lang and I collaborated to make a customized container for the tree.”
 

Ron Lang and I collaborated to make a customized container for the tree, this set the tone for our working relationship. The collaboration of ceramicist and bonsai artist working together to customize and really create some innovative shapes and compositions was new territory that clearly held a tremendous amount of untapped potential in American bonsai.


“‘The Chosen One’ will forever be known as the tree that built Mirai.”
 

In 2016 I was invited to hold my first solo exhibition, called 'Unbridled,' to inaugurate the building of Kengo Kuma’s Cultural Center at the Portland Japanese Garden. The capstone of the exhibition was the public unveiling of Mirai’s iconic Rocky Mountain Juniper, number one. Its influence was widely felt as 'Unbridled' toed the line of defiance and respect.

The controversial Origami-inspired structures and exhibited trees challenged the authenticity of cultural ownership over an artistic medium by standing in contrast to the traditional setting of the Japanese Garden. 'Unbridled' shattered the Garden’s single-day gate record and established a new benchmark for exhibition attendance over the month it was on display. All told,  ‘The Chosen One’ was seen by over a quarter of a million people and no doubt reformed viewers' concept of bonsai much the same way it redefined mine. 


Notes: 
Written by: Ryan Neil
Designed by: Brian Swarthout 
All images by: Bonsai Mirai 
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