Collections Specialist Carmen Leskovianksy is beginning a three-year bonsai apprenticeship in Portland, Oregon this month
Everyone at Matthaei-Nichols got a little teary-eyed recently as we bid goodbye—alas via Zoom—to Carmen Leskoviansky, our bonsai collections specialist. It’s not a permanent leave-taking, however. Carmen is moving to Portland for a three-year apprenticeship with Michael Hagedorn of Crataegus Bonsai. She’s keeping a 10% appointment with the arb and gardens and at the end of her apprenticeship she’ll return to Matthaei.
(Pictured: Carmen Leskoviansky works on a bonsai during a recent annual bonsai show at Matthaei. The shows are sponsored by the Ann Arbor Bonsai Society.)
As one of very few women apprenticed at this level, Carmen will have a curatorial perspective that’s unique to the University of Michigan. Overall this experience will elevate our bonsai and penjing collection to an international level. This specialized knowledge will be critical to the future of our bonsai collection, especially the trees coming to us from donor, collector, and University of Michigan alum Melvyn Goldstein.
In the Beginning
Carmen began working at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum in 2009 as a temporary employee helping to renovate the peony garden. She worked closely with Curator David Michener to inventory and review the collection, among other tasks. After becoming a permanent employee in 2011 Carmen found herself minding many of the collections—orchids, peonies, bonsai, and bromeliads.
After she and her husband had their son in 2013 she came back-part time, with bonsai as her sole responsibility. “As I worked my way back up to full-time,” Carmen recalls, “we were in discussions with Dr. Melvyn Goldstein about accepting his trees into our collection.” In order to care for such high-quality bonsai, she would need some professional training.
A Focus on Bonsai
In 2018 Carmen began a seasonal bonsai program with Michael Hagedorn in Portland. The program involves study for a minimum number of days and times per year for a certain number of years.
This is where her interest in bonsai really peaked. “Michael’s courses confirmed a lot of what I already knew, clarified information I had been uncertain about, and taught traditional techniques that Michael learned from his teacher, Mr. Suzuki, in Japan,” Carmen says.
The learning took place within a small cohort of students that allowed everyone to expand their skills and improve their techniques. “It was really validating!” Carmen says. “I left every session feeling inspired, wanting to learn more and create beautiful stories with trees.”
During year two of the seasonal program Carmen was introduced to Michael Hagedorn’s new apprentice. “I never thought I would be able to apprentice. My family keeps me pretty busy! Most apprentices are younger and have more time and flexibility.” Michael’s apprentice, John, also has a family and was able to make it work.
Pictured: Some of the Satsuki azalea bonsai from Melvyn Goldstein’s collection. Dr. Goldstein has provided Matthaei-Nichols with trees for a special Satsuki azalea exhibit held each June at the botanical gardens.