The Making of Blooms & Bamboo

By Katie Mobley, on

Making its official opening October 3, our Blooms & Bamboo: Chrysanthemum and Ikebana Sogetsu Artistry is unlike anything ever seen at Longwood … or anywhere else in the world. From its concept and design to its multi-layered installation, it provides an experience difficult to put into words. A few words do come to mind, though. Breathtaking. Tremendously inspirational. All-out amazing. And something you have to see to believe.

This astounding display is anchored by two towering, yet intricate and graceful bamboo installations termed Pulsation in the Conservatory’s Center Walk and on the Fern Floor, exclusively designed for Longwood by Headmaster of Sogetsu Iemoto Akane Teshigahara of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana. The traditional art of Japanese floral design, Ikebana serves as an expression of Japan’s deep connection with nature. Spanning more than 600 years of history, this art features hundreds of different Ikebana schools, each developing its own forms that depict the ideal of beauty and grace. One of the most modern of such schools, the Sogetsu School of Ikebana focuses on free expression and is based on the view that Ikebana is a way for human beings to express themselves. Teshigahara shares, “Although I have created bamboo installations in a variety of styles in Japan and around the world for more than 20 years, the two installations at Longwood will be the greatest and finest of all, both in terms of scale and bamboo-manipulation techniques.” The display is rounded out with 23 Ikebana arrangements throughout the Conservatory, as well as a visionary sculpture created by the founder of the Sogetsu School.

In support of Teshigahara’s designs, 635 pieces of 26-foot-long bamboo poles were delivered to Longwood last month, representing Japanese timber bamboo, or madake (Phyllostachys bambusoides), and Meyer’s bamboo (Phyllostachys meyeri) of 4-inch and 2.5-inch diameters, respectively. These massive poles of bamboo were harvested from a specialty nursey and landscaping company with well-established groves in Georgia.

The sheer size of the 635 pieces of bamboo delivered required lots of helping hands to unload. Photo by Claire Brewer.

Following the bamboo’s delivery, five team members from the Sogetsu School headquarters in Tokyo arrived at Longwood for the installation. Approximately 70 volunteers from local Sogetsu chapters, as well as Longwood staff assisted in the installation process from start to finish.

The Sogetsu team led the week-long process of preparing and banding the bamboo for both installations behind the Conservatory. To complete the banding process, a portion of the bamboo rods were split into eight pieces. Once split, the bamboo pieces were wrapped together using steel wire, similar to a twist-tie procedure. Used in both the Center Walk and Exhibition Hall structures, the bands are an integral part of their design and construction.

Members from local and regional Sogetsu chapters bind together flexible bands of bamboo. Photo by Hank Davis.
The steel wire was placed near a leaf node and twisted between each bamboo strip. The node ridge keeps the wire from sliding. Photo by Hank Davis.

First to be built was the Center Walk installation, constructed of approximately 300 rods of bamboo to achieve Teshigahara’s vision to “… demonstrate the beauty of simplicity derived from bamboo’s linearity and depict a pulsing life connecting to the future.” To prepare for the installation, Longwood staff first emptied the Center Walk beds and laid plywood as a structural base.

In preparation for the Center Walk installation, the Center Walk seasonal beds were emptied and plywood was laid down to provide a canvas. Photo by Matthew van Horne.

All load-bearing bamboo rods were erected first and inserted into metal sleeves; the sleeve plates had been bolted to the plywood laid along the Center Walk. All bamboo rods that cross or touch another piece were drilled together, with a large metal wire placed through the hole, crimped on each end and clipped. Plastic bands were also added for support.

The poles get their first look at the Center Walk, with a row of metal sleeves awaiting in the foreground. Photo by Hank Davis.
A sea of ladders, towering bamboo poles, and immense creativity was awash in the Center Walk during each moment of installation. Photo by Zachary Longacre.
The bamboo poles were drilled and wired with one another, allowing for a series of meeting points of varying heights. Photo by Hank Davis.
The scale of the installation, measuring more than 20 feet tall, connects the viewer to both the ground and the sky. Photo by Zachary Longacre.
Once complete, guests may walk under the Center Walk installation, providing an amazingly immersive and multi-dimensional view of the bamboo. Photo by Hank Davis.
The final step for the Center Walk installation was, at the direction of Headmaster Akane Teshigahara (far right), weaving bands of flexible bamboo throughout the linear poles. Photo by Matthew van Horne.

Next to be built was the Exhibition Hall installation, “a complex structure with curved elements symbolizing the birth of an unknown life,” according to Teshigahara. The first step was to build a supporting structure base for each of the two towers. To account for their scale, the bases were fabricated while lying on their side.

The bamboo rods used in the support system were also drilled and wired together. Photo by Zachary Longacre.
Flexible bamboo bands were woven through the structural bases, and then attached with wire. Photo by Zachary Longacre.
Sprays, or partially split rods, were attached to the tops of both towers, while still in a horizontal position. Additional bamboo reinforcement was added to the top of each tower to stabilize and bear the tension. Photo by Zachary Longacre.
Intricate bamboo banding is an integral element of the Exhibition Hall structures, both from a design and structural standpoint. Photo by Zachary Longacre.
The towers were pulled upright using a winch and drawn upwards towards the roof, attached to the roof for support. Photo by Zachary Longacre.
Additional bands were threaded, drilled, and wired to the towers. Some of the bamboo bands were flipped, revealing the split brown sides of the bamboo. Photo by Zachary Longacre.
Using our Conservatory as the inspiration and canvas, Teshigahara designed each installation to "bring to life the maximum beauty delineated from bamboo's linearity and curves." Photo by Zachary Longacre.

Along with the Center Walk and Exhibition Hall bamboo installations, Blooms & Bamboo features 23 smaller Ikebana arrangements crafted by local Sogetsu chapter members and Sogetsu artisans from Japan. Inspired by floating bubbles to the appearance of sunshine in the woods, these beautiful arrangements can be found throughout the Conservatory. In addition, a sculpture by Sofu Teshigahara, the founder of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana and grandfather of Headmaster Akane Teshigahara, is on display in the East Conservatory.

Part of the private collection of Anna and Beau Ott, Sogetsu founder Sofu Teshigahara's wood and metal sculpture (c. 1960) traveled to New York in April 1964 and epitomizes Sofu's modern and visonary style. Photo by Zachary Longacre.
Brandon Forsht begins to build the Neon Jungle Ikebana arrangement in the Tropical Terrace, using neon plastic tubes and perforated tubes, in a design reminiscent of a city at night. Photo by Zachary Longacre.
Once completed, the lush Welcome Ikebana arrangement by Judy Hata will welcome guests at the entrance to the East Conservatory. Photo by Zachary Longacre.

From two towering bamboo art forms … to breathtaking Ikebana arrangements … to thousands of gorgeous chrysanthemums … take in every stunning view of Blooms & Bamboo, on view now through November 17.

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