W. John Kress

W. John Kress

W. John Kress is a Curator of Botany and Research Scientist at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution. He is the author of Abbeville’s The Weeping Goldsmith: Discoveries in the Secret Land of Myanmar and has written many articles on botany. 

Fine Bonsai

Art & Nature

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In this luxurious volume, renowned botanical photographer Jonathan Singer presents his breathtaking images of the world's most notable bonsai.

The practice of cultivating bonsai may be traced back some two thousand years, to the earliest representations of potted trees in Chinese art, and is thought to have reached Japan in the Heian period (AD 794–1185), a time of rich cultural exchange. This unique branch of horticulture attained its maturity, and received its present name, in Japan’s Edo period (1603–1868), and many fine bonsai are recorded in the woodblock prints of that era. As Japan broadened its trade and diplomatic contacts after the Meiji Restoration, bonsai became a matter of international interest, and today bonsai masters around the world have learned to grow hundreds of varieties of trees and shrubs in miniature, training them into living sculptures. Their exquisite creations, which change with the passage of the years and the cycle of the seasons, exemplify the connection between man and nature, life and art.

In Fine Bonsai: Art & Nature, the finest extant achievements in the art of bonsai are seen together for the first time, through the lens of renowned botanical photographer Jonathan Singer. This magnificent volume is the result of an ambitious photographic campaign, in the course of which Singer was granted unprecedented access to the most respected public and private collections in Japan and the United States, including the mecca of bonsai, the Omiya Bonsai Village of Saitama, Japan, where photography is normally prohibited. Three hundred stunning full-page images and four lavish gatefolds present bonsai of all types, from quiet representations of nature to colorful fall foliage to bold sculptural forms. The horticultural and aesthetic characteristics of each bonsai are concisely and authoritatively described in the narrative captions by William N. Valavanis, head of the International Bonsai Arboretum in Rochester, New York. And because the container is considered an integral part of any bonsai—indeed, the literal meaning of “bonsai” is “tray plant”—the book also includes some twenty-five photographs of traditional bonsai containers, with descriptions. A further sequence of twenty-five photographs is devoted to the related art of suiseki, or miniature stone landscapes displayed in the same manner, and often alongside, bonsai.

With his groundbreaking first book, Botanica Magnifica, Jonathan Singer established a new style of botanical photography, characterized by an exceptional clarity of detail and richness of color, as well as a painterly chiaroscuro. These qualities are just as evident in the present volume; Singer photographs each bonsai with an artist’s—one might even say a portraitist’s—eye, capturing its individual character, and in some cases revealing qualities hitherto unsuspected even by those who tended it daily. Fine Bonsai not only documents the masterpieces of an ancient horticultural art, but also is a masterpiece in itself. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Japanese Red Cross Society.

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Botanica Magnifica

Portraits of the World's Most Extraordinary Flowers and Plants

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Botanica Magnifica features two hundred and fifty stunning photographs of rare and exotic plants and flowers by Hasselblad Laureate Award winner Jonathan Singer.

Botanica Magnifica features two hundred and fifty stunning photographs by Hasselblad Laureate Award winner Jonathan Singer, representing—in the words of an ARTnews critic—rare or exotic plants and flowers “in large scale and exquisite detail, emerging from the shadows in a manner evocative of Old Master paintings.”

The original edition of Botanica Magnifica, consisting of five lavishly hand-bound volumes, was limited to just ten copies, the first of which was recently donated to the Smithsonian Institution. The extra-large “double-elephant” format of that edition was chosen in homage to the famous double-elephant folio of The Birds of America, and indeed, Botanica Magnifica is one of the few works of natural history ever to rival Audubon’s magnum opus in its scope and artistry. In praise of the double-elephant folio of Botanica Magnifica, the Smithsonian’s Chairman of Botany attested, “Everyone who has seen the photographs . . . has been tremendously impressed with the power, scale, and depth of the work.”

Now Singer’s remarkable images are available to the public for the first time in this baby-elephant folio of Botanica Magnifica. Like the larger edition, this volume is organized into five alphabetically arranged sections, each introduced by a gatefold page that displays one extraordinary plant at a luxurious size. Each pictured plant is accompanied by a clear and accessible description of its botany, geography, folklore, history, and conservation.

With its marvelous reproductions and fascinating text, the baby-elephant folio of Botanica Magnifica is one of the most impressive volumes of natural history ever published. This volume is also available in a leatherbound, slipcased edition.

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The Weeping Goldsmith

Discoveries in the Secret Land of Myanmar

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A distinguished Curator and Research Scientist at the Smithsonian Institution, W. John Kress, recounts his natural history exploration over the course of nine years in the wild lands of Myanmar in search of rare, beautiful, and scientifically unknown plants.

In the great tradition of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, this book is a first-person narrative of daunting travel and scientific discovery in the little-known country of Myanmar. Dr. Kress explored many areas in this enigmatic country, surveying its teak forests, bamboo thickets, timber plantations, rivers, and mangroves to document its incredible botanical diversity. Myanmar is one of the great biodiversity “hot spots” in Asia, but because of its social isolation and reputation for political repression it has been closed to—or avoided by—many scientists. Nevertheless, Dr. Kress was determined to search for and record plants that had not been studied since they were first discovered by Western botanists over a century ago. Among the rarities he came upon was a new species of plant called “the weeping goldsmith,” a ginger flower whose Burmese name was derived from the legend that the local goldsmiths were reduced to tears because none of their own creations could rival its exquisiteness.

Dr. Kress also relates how he came to appreciate the people and culture of Myanmar through an understanding of their flora, natural habitats, and human-dominated environments. Included are fascinating excerpts from his field journals that serve as counterpoints to the accounts of earlier plant explorers. Illustrating the text are some 200 of Dr. Kress’s own color photographs of the incredible plants, people, landscapes, and temples he witnessed in his travels as well as 30 archival images of Burma taken by past explorers. The back matter features an illustrated portfolio of representative native plants.

This lively armchair exploration should appeal to a general readership as well as to botanists, conservationists, and environmentalists.

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