Ivan Smile headshot

The Art of Bonsai

Discussion led by Ivan Watters

Bonsai Artist, Teacher and Author

Thursday, May 19 at 7:00 PM

FREE for Garden Members | $5 for Non-Members

click here to register

Bonsai, the art of dwarfing and shaping trees to give the impression of something found in nature, has been attracting and endearing itself to people for over 4,000 years.  Ivan will cover the philosophy, history, techniques and principles of what makes a bonsai.  An exhibit of several bonsai in various styles and stages of training will be used to unravel the mystery of their cultivation and allow a fuller appreciation of this ancient art form exported from Japan and now enjoyed throughout the world.

Ivan Watters began the study of bonsai in 1960 and serious study in 1975 under with Harold Lenz (Chicago) and Toshio Saburomaru (California).  Ivan continued advanced studies with Susumu Nakamura in Yokohama Japan, beginning in 1987.  He began teaching bonsai in 1979 and instructs all levels.  He has been an instructor at locations including the Chicago Botanic Garden, Morton Arboretum, Field Museum, Buddhist Temple of Chicago, Yasukunai Bonsai Garden and School and several garden centers in the Chicago land area.  Ivan travels to Japan twice yearly for study and cultural enrichment.  He has been Sensei to a Grand Rapids, MI study group from 2006 as well as Yasuragi Bonsai Society in Grand Rapids, MI since 2007.  Ivan works with all types and sizes of bonsai and specializes in Bunjin, Pines and Shahin.  He has received numerous awards including a prestigious Cultural Achievement Award in 2015 from Japan America Society of Chicago.  Other achievements include:

Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG)

  • Curator of bonsai collection, 2007-2015, Bonsai Consultant, 2006
  • Author of Bonsai: A Patient Art, Yale University Press, featuring the CBG bonsai collection
  • Collaborated with CBG Staff to produce the annual Three Friends of Winter Bonsai Silhouette and Suiseki Exhibit, January 2009, 2014.
  • Prepared and exhibited 12 bonsai for CBG at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show, March 2010.
  • Exhibited two CBG bonsai at the second U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition, June 2010.
  • Conducted numerous tours of the CBG bonsai collection, the Regenstein Center, and bonsai production area.
  • Selected, trained and managed a staff of 20 volunteers.

Judging & Affiliations

  • Guest Mastered and Judged Mid-America Bonsai Exhibit, August 2015
  • Judged Milwaukee Bonsai Society Annual Show, October 2010.
  • Founding member of Prairie State Bonsai Society (originally known as Triton Bonsai Society, which became Morton Arboretum Bonsai Society).
  • Served three times as President; Director of the society 1979-1996.
  • Past Director and Recording Secretary of Bonsai Clubs International.
  • Owner of Yasukunai Bonsai Garden (YBG), Morton Grove, Illinois 1996-2005.

Award-Winning Bonsai

Mid-America Bonsai Exhibit

  • Best of Show-1990, 1991, 1998
  • First Place Professional Category- 1999, 2000
  • Second Place Professional Category- 2000, 2002, 2006

Mid America Bonsai Alliance (MABA)

  • Best of Show- Des Moines; First Place- Milwaukee and St. Louis
  • Students of Yasukunai Bonsai Garden School have won numerous awards, including 17 Best of Show awards at the Mid-America Bonsai Exhibit.

Return to 2015 Lecture Series