Advanced study group - ideas needed


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As a loner in the realm of bonsai until a little over a couple of years ago the concept of advanced study groups baffles me. I bring this up as my club had been given the opportunity to do a monthly advanced study group with Clifton Pottberg at his nursery. I would love to hear from people that either currently belong to a study group or have in the past. The idea intrigues me to an extent but I am always leery of new things and change. I can assume a study group would require both.

Clif critiqued a tree I brought in to the last meeting, where he was a guest speaker with the topic of composition in bonsai from an artistic point of view. Interesting lecture and a very engaging speaker. Anyhow - I really liked what he had to say on the design of my tree. I didn't agree with it completely but I understand where he was going and would like to see some of his other concepts and compositions before I hack a tree to a point where I no longer have a vision.

Any input on study groups? How do they work? What is the focus? What did you learn?
I would ask Clifton Pottberg these questions. Better yet, I would put together a list of things I would HOPE to take away from a study group, and then share these thoughts with Clifton as I asked him the questions. I would assume everyone's idea of a study group might be different and if it is his group he would probably know best.

I belong to a study group. It's inception is interesting: We used to have a local bonsai club, but we were finding out that our agenda was constantly being set by the beginners among us who require so much time and attention. While we were glad to do this, we found it left little time for really serious discussion and analysis. We decided to abandon the club and start an invitation only study group. Now this may sound eliteist, and it probably is, but I really don't care. I wanted a forum where I got something out of the meetings instead of just continually having my brain picked.

We are currently seven members and we meet on an irregular basis, about once a month, but we miss many months due to holidays, busy schedules, etc. We make an effort to schedule so that every member can attend, and there are very few meetings where someone is missing. I think this is a very good practice. We have called off meetings where two or more members couldn't make it, and when even one person is missing, it leaves a big hole. We meet at our various houses, but because of the great distances involved, we mostly meet at a member's house that is centrally located.

We have no designated leader, but Jeff and I are the most experienced and we usually dominate the meeting, not out of our desire to do so, but rather because we usually have the most to say. There are no beginners, and all our members have substantial collections of trees and are deeply committed to bonsai. Members are expected to bring trees to each member for critique. Although we do work on trees at the end of meetings, helping each other, the bulk of the meetings is comprised of tree critques and analysis.

It works this way: Each member presents a tree for critique, giving the history, the current state of health and future training ideas. Then we each chime in with our ideas and evaluation. We argue vigorously for our points of view, but we are careful not to offend the owner or each other in the process. We are all friends and we all respect each other. There is no rudeness, but lots of sensitivity, although we do sometimes admit that some trees are a lost causes and best rendered to the show sale. We keep going around the group until all the trees have been critiqued. Then we work on trees, or smoosh, or just admire the host's trees. There is not set agenda.

To me, the study group is ten times better than the big club meeting, even though it is the same faces each month, and there is no demo, and no big name headliner, no newsletter, no show, no sale, nothing familiar to an ordinary club meeting. These meetings are for mind stretching and everyone is expected to participate, some do more than others, but we have no wallflowers.

If you can get such a group together, it is gold, cherish it.

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Thanks for the responses guys.

BNut - I will discuss the questions with Clif as well as the other parties considering the group idea. My request was for more ideas of what others get from study groups. I have no idea what I can expect to take from the group experience, I can hope a great learning experience and knowledge.

Brent - You are an inspiration. Again you summed it up all too well. I believe you - an experience like you described would be golden. I can only hope...

Thanks again - and bump. Come on people - there must be more of you in similar experiences. Tell me about it. Perhaps you may inspire others to seek out and join a group too.
Well, this spring I joined a new study group led by Mike Hagedorn. While we've only had one meeting so far (we will have eight during the year), it is quite different than Brent's. Each session has a topic (the last one was repotting), but it is run more like a class/workshop (so far). Mike did a little "lecture", but it was mostly hands on, all day.

Hopefully when (if?) I progress to the level of being ready for a group like Brent's, there will be one around, or maybe my current group will evolve into something more like what Brent has.

I would be thrilled to have just a basic bonsai club. A shot at something that would be more advanced for you seems like something you shouldn't pass up.
As another member of Brent's study group, I would have to agree with his statements. It's a very casual set up. The best thing about it is it forces me to re-examine my trees and verbally explain what I'm doing with them, rather then just let them sit there.

I think that larger club meetings can be good too. And certainly regular workshops with a skilled instructor are golden opportunities that shouldn't be missed. But the working/study group concept is a great way to encourage actual work on your trees, instead of just watching other people work on their trees.

- bob
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