Doesn’t that title just have a nice ring to it! Bonsai Professional Peter Tea. KJ and I are privileged to know Peter as a good friend. It is hard to believe that it has been nearly 4 1/2 years ago that Peter and I sat in our greenhouse enjoying a product from our friends 90 miles south of the Florida Keys when Peter said “I think I want to go to Japan to study bonsai.” It is just as hard to believe that in less than a week Peter’s apprenticeship comes to an end and he returns to America.
So much has happened to our friend since that day amidst blue smoke in our greenhouse.
As we talked that lazy afternoon, Peter began to tell his story – his love of bonsai and how he was contemplating turning this love into a full-time profession. At the time he was working in a totally different line of work – but I could see the passion in his eyes. I knew that day, it was only a matter of time before Peter in fact would be in Japan.
In those ensuing months, there was lots of discussion between Peter’s friends of where he should apprentice. As if we had something invested as well. Well we really did – many of us that is. Let me take a few minutes to explain why.
First and foremost Peter is one of the nicest individuals you will ever meet. Humble, gracious, an incredible since of humor – and very talented. We met Peter at Boon’s club and over time became good friends. What we noticed about this young man was his love of bonsai, his passion to learn, his dedication to constantly improving his skills and perhaps most of all the friendliness in how he approached everyone. Cheerful, always willing to help out and frankly just fun to be around. Never any drama – sorry but many bonsai professionals are just full of drama or themselves – and his excitement for bonsai exuded from within.
As Peter began to stash away money for this adventure, many of his professional bonsai friends began in earnest in his behalf to find a nursery where he could apprentice. We all know the end to that part of the story – He was accepted as an apprentice at Mr. Junichiro Tanaka’s Aichi-en Bonsai Nursery located in Nagoya, Japan.
As the day neared for his departure many of us gathered with him to have a farewell dinner. As we sat on Boon’s front porch we all talked about what lay before him. I have to admit secretly I admired Peter – it takes genuine courage to leave a job you are good at, immerse yourself into a culture that you know little about, give up your personal freedom for a number of years, and work for very little pay – a month’s pay that many of us spend on a steak dinner in one evening.
What I knew that night though was Peter was embarking upon an adventure. An adventure so few people ever get to experience in their lives. The hard work but joy of deepening their understanding and their craft for their future profession. And what an adventure it has been.
Peter was kind enough to allow us to become voyeurs of his journey. He has written and shared with us through his entire apprenticeship. Many of us have read his more than 80 blog posts about that journey. If you haven’t seen his blog or just want to go over an remind yourself of how many great articles he has written then head this way – Peter Tea Bonsai.
Through Peter’s writing we were able to enjoy his experience. To read how his knowledge and experience deepened every month. What struck me though was even though he worked so hard (try a couple days off per month) was that his love for bonsai and the depth of his understanding continued to deepen.
Throughout his stay, Peter and I continued to stay in touch. Many emails, phone calls, late night texting sessions. I recall one night Peter and I texted for more than 2 hours talking about his return to the states, his setting up his professional business and just “jawing” in general. In many ways, I will miss those nights. I hope in some way our reaching out to him helped to drive away what had to be at times the loneliness of being away from home.
So let me say a few final works. Peter thank you. First and foremost for being a good friend. For putting up with our eternal quest to find another great pot, stone and stand. I know that I must have sent him hundreds of emails with questions, requests, and payments! He was always gracious, always helpful, always a friend.
We loved when he went to auctions or a show – we lived vicariously through him to be direct – he was so kind to send us photos of the show or auction, or we would simply text back and forth about the goings on of where he was. How technology has changed. I remember one late fall day, Peter was in the mountains at a professional sale, and he and I were texting some 5,000 miles apart as items came up for auction and he shared the excitement of being there.
With Peter and Mr. Tanaka’s help, we have been able to greatly add to our collection of very old Chinese and Japanese pots. He helped us to acquire many beautiful stand and stones. When we look upon many of them in our collection – perhaps the most important thing to us is the knowledge that our friend Peter was involved in helping us add that work of art to our home. You see, Peter is forever entwined in our home and hearts.
Peter I know you are excited about coming home. Let me tell you though, we believe that pales in comparison to so many others in present and future state that are excited about your return. Those who will have the opportunity to work with you, learn from you, and begin their own journeys in the mysterious art of bonsai.
Lastly, I deeply look forward to next Saturday – just a week from today – when you and I will once again be in the greenhouse with blue smoke drifting around our heads. As we will raise a glass of Scotland’s finest, I know we will smile deep in memories of your apprenticeship adventure and to what lies ahead.
With much love and respect,
Sam and KJ.
50 years ago I started my Bonsai adventure in Japan and still am a student learning every day. Its a great life and like you Peter I look forward to every day. Keep up the excellent work, enjoy every day and keep shearing what your learning.
Frank Kelly said:
Sam I endorse completely all the sentiments in your post regarding Peter. I was fortunate to meet Peter in Nagoya and then later in Kyoto at the 2011 Taikan ten. I have followed his posts and thank him for the wonderful in depth exposition of the exquisite arts and techniques of our bonsai hobby. Our club was fortunate to have another US artist at our recent National Convention (Ryan Neil) and I know like Ryan, Peter will return to the US after completing his apprenticeship and enlighten many more bonsaists and pass on what he has learned from his master. Hopefully we may be lucky enough to see him in ‘Down Under’ Australia one day.
PS As a suiseki addict I appreciate your informative blog too 🙂