“I’ve always been interested in the artistic aspect of trees,” Elser said, explaining that the passion was passed down to him from his grandfather. His first trees were a pine and a juniper from Arizona. “They lived despite me,” he said. “Everything changes when they get in a pot.”
Elser is not the only artist who loves to manipulate roots and tree trunks. Chas Martin, another painter, is also devoted to the process.
“You’re totally immersed in the moment,” he describes. “You observe the minute, day-to-day changes. You know what the tree wants to do, or that it’s time for you to do something. It’s very settling.”
The art of bonsai is becoming more popular, possibly because the trees are outliving their original caretakers. The trees can live for centuries with proper care. Martin recalls seeing an oak that was 2 feet tall with an 8-inch diameter trunk.
“I thought it must be 100 years old,” he said, “but it was 400 years old. Part of it is creating an illusion. But a tree well cared for can outlast their owners by a long shot.”
Martin says the process is the most important part. “You tend to them, they tend to you,” he says.