Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bonsai Master

I'm posting early this week as I will be heading up to Conyers tomorrow for a week-end retreat at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. Flannery O'Connor and her mother visited this Cistercian monastery just outside Atlanta fairly frequently and became good friends with the abbot, Dom Augustine Moore and many of the monks including Fr. Paul Bourne and Bro. Pius. During the early 1960s Abbot Moore and Fr. Bourne were regular visitors at Andalusia. A spiritual bond must have developed between Flannery and the monks for at the time of her death, Abbot Moore was asked to administer last rites. He and Fr. Bourne were also invited to participate in the funeral mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on August 4, 1964. While Flannery enjoyed the friendship of a number of monks at Holy Spirit, she was particularly close to Fr. Bourne (1908-95). According to a monk who knew him, Fr. Bourne "had read all of Flannery's stuff. I think she saw in him a kindred spirit." (Brad Gooch; Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, p. 327) Besides his friendship with Flannery, Fr. Bourne is remembered as being the monk who started the fabulous bonsai nursery at the monastery. According to the monastery's website:
Cistercian monks of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit have been crafting classic bonsai with an American influence for over thirty-five years. Begun in the mid-1960's by Father Paul Bourne, OCSO (May 2, 1908 - July 10, 1995), the Monastery Greenhouse became one of the first nurseries in the southeast to offer bonsai to the public. The centerpiece of the monastery's bonsai collection is a Kingsville boxwood (photo at right), one of the original eight trees of this strain developed during the 1930's. During his lifetime, Brother Paul (as he liked to be called) earned the reputation of being a true American Bonsai Master. His quarter century of highly creative bonsai art made him well known nationally and internationally. Born in Seattle, he early on established a lifelong love of horticulture. As a child of eight he saw his first bonsai trees while visiting a Japanese friend whose father had a small collection. Later he received an MA of Fine Arts from Yale University. He was an artist in many mediums including paint and sculpture as well as bonsai. His second exposure to bonsai was in Mainland China and Japan in the late 1920's where he visited as a student. With a love of both art and plants, perhaps it was inevitable that he should express that love in bonsai, which he always emphasized was a true art form in the most classic sense. At the monastery in 1963, Brother Paul built a glass and wood-framed greenhouse to house orchids, which he grew and displayed as a hobby. He also began puttering around making bonsai, although he had no formal training. The first "sale" of a tree happened one day while Brother Paul was away from the greenhouse. Upon his return, Brother Pius, who ran the small monastic gift shop, confessed that he had sold one of the "little plants" to an insistent customer. It was Br. Paul's favorite and Brother Pius had charged all of $5.00 for it. From this unlikely start the bonsai business began.For over thirty years Br. Paul sat quietly in the greenhouse, usually by the cash register, where he went about crafting beautiful bonsai. To any and all who stopped to look and ask he spoke of this lovely art form of creating miniature trees in a pot. Over the years he launched many, many people into the wonder of bonsai. Though formally untrained, he brought considerable natural talent and the ears and eyes of an always-inquiring student. Over the years he became a friend of most of the great American Bonsai Masters like John Naka, Yugi Yoshimura, and more recently the much younger Zhao of China. They received him as one of their own and visited here regularly to see and share their uncommon passion for the art of bonsai. It is an honor for the monks to carry on Brother Paul's legacy.
- Mark

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