There are many different types of artists. Take a second and think of the many different varieties of musicians: guitarists, flautists, saxophonists, trumpeters, violinists, and singers just to name a few. Painters paint on different types of materials, use various paints, and have a multitude of styles that separate themselves from one another. Nonahood resident Paul Pikel took a childhood curiosity on a journey to become an artist that may not be the first form one thinks of when describing the term “artist.”
“Well, I think my first impression or my first ever seeing a Bonsai, of course, was along the lines of a lot of people, and that was in (the movie) “Karate Kid” way back. Mr. Miyagi was a magician. My thoughts were, “How do you do that? What is that tree? What’s so amazing about it? Why am I so drawn to it?“ Paul said.
Many years later, in 1998 Paul visited the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. with his sister. There he discovered the complex beauty and art of Bonsai. The Arboretum had a vast collection of trees in many different types and species. Additionally, Paul learned that the art of Bonsai was not confined to Japan. Many of the trees on display were owned by artists who came from many different places.
“We go out there and as I walk in, I’m thinking a Bonsai is maybe something 12 inches tall, a tiny little tree. I had no idea, but when I walked into the National Arboretum, these trees were immense. I mean there were trees that were four feet tall. There were trees that weighed 100 or 200 pounds. I’m looking at this going, ‘What in the world?’ It was just amazing, and it wasn’t just the ‘Mr. Miyagi’ style tree, it wasn’t just a juniper. It was elms and pines and every type of tree. Half the stuff I didn’t even know what I was looking at, crepe myrtles and all kinds of things.”
“It’s so beautiful and it’s so perfect, the trees are so well done they don’t even look real. I never understood it. I took pictures of as many trees as I could looking at these names, and for some reason, a lot of the names weren’t Japanese, they were just American names. That was surprising,” said Pikel.
After returning to Orlando, Paul found himself at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival experiencing many of the same feelings as he stumbled upon a very similar Bonsai display at the Japanese pavilion. Again, he noticed that the names of the artists were not Japanese but American. This motivated Paul to explore Bonsai further and attend a meeting of the Central Florida Bonsai Club.
In the search for some guidance from the many experienced artists that made up the Central Florida Bonsai Club, Paul brought his own Florida maple tree he purchased from someone else. There, he met Mike Rogers, who drably indicated to Paul that his tree had very little promise to be a successful Bonsai. Mike gave Paul two options for the tree’s improvement, “air layering,” which he had no clue about, or to cut off the top. With a pretty decent understanding of option two, Paul chose to cut and grow a new top. Without hesitation, Mike grabbed his sheers and amputated a large majority of the tree. Now what used to be an 18-inch-tall tree was six inches tall with no branches or leaves anymore, just a stump.
Paul said, “I thought, ‘What the hell just happened?’ I came home and I showed it to Marcie (his wife), and she’s said, ‘What happened to your tree?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ That was probably going to be my first and last meeting, I’m never going to learn this stuff. If I didn’t want to learn it, I would have never gone back.”
Paul eventually went back to the club. With Mike and other members’ guidance, he started to understand the art of Bonsai, which he describes as both a noun and a verb. He learned that one can Bonsai many different types and species of trees. As long as the leaves are proportional, the trunk consists of woody bark, and it is cared for properly, it can make a good Bonsai.
“There’s certain trees that do well as a Bonsai. In Japan, they do a lot of black pines and white pines. In Florida, we have a really good range because we can grow trees that are somewhat deciduous and then we can grow some that are somewhat tropical without having too much of an inconvenience for the tree and they still thrive pretty well. For example, a maple, a maple tree, we can do Florida maples, we can do a trident maple, and even though the leaves are a little bit longer, maybe about three and a half to four inches. Normally, when we pull the leaves off continuously they get smaller,” said Pikel.
Through the years of developing as a Bonsai artist, Paul has earned many achievements and several awards. From early March through the end of May (this year from March 2 through May 30) we have the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. Paul has been on the festival’s committee since 2002 and the committee chairman since 2007. Every two years, in Rochester, N.Y., the U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition is held. There, hundreds of Bonsai trees are on display and up for award. In 2014, Paul entered a 125-year-old Buttonwood Tree and won the All American Award for best US Species in a US made pot and stand. In addition, one of Pikel’s trees is on display at the GuideWell Innovation Center.
“I recently was contacted by the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Seattle regarding my Buttonwood that was shown during the Artisans Cup last year (www.theartisanscup.com). They were aware that I was looking to donate the tree to a public collection and stated that they wanted it as part of their permanent collection. This tree will be there and taken care of for years to come. For me, this is the most prestigious level I could imagine achieving in my career. The tree will make the trip in the next couple of months, and as much as it hurts to let a tree go after caring for it for over 14 years, I know this tree needs to be for the public. Bonsai has never been about me, just about the trees,” Paul said.
If you want to learn more about Bonsai, tap in to Paul’s expertise on his YouTube channel OrlandoBonsaiTV. He has over 20,000 subscribers and 3,000,000 views.