Gloria Stuart was an actress in the 1930s. After an almost sixty-year absence from the silver screen, she landed the role of a lifetime as the 100-year-old Rose in the movie Titanic. Between starlet starring roles and an award-winning comeback, Gloria became an artist of paintings, books, and bonsai.
On the Fourth of July, 2010, Gloria celebrated her hundredth birthday with 130 friends and family at a party and retrospective hosted by James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron.
|Gloria being interviewed
at her 100th birthday party.
(L to R:) James Cameron,
Gloria Stuart, Suzy Amis Cameron.
Guests enjoyed more than two dozen of Gloria's oil paintings, several of her handmade books, and two of her bonsai.
|Gloria's paintings on display.
Gloria's cork bark elm and French oak forest.
Five weeks later, the southern California bonsai community gave Gloria another birthday celebration at the Huntington Library and Gardens.
|Kai Komai and Gloria.
|Gloria signs an "Invisible Man" poster.
Four of Gloria's trees were on display.
|Gloria's bonsai friends.
|Gloria's Ginkgo bonsai.
This is the story of one of those trees – how it has evolved over the years and how it was prepped for the bonsai birthday bash.
For more than forty years, a dwarf hinoki cypress was one of Gloria's favorite trees. In 1977, it was a 9-1/2 inch tall broom style in a rectangular pot.
In 1997, the year Titanic was king of the box office, the hinoki was 14 inches tall and in an oval pot. The lowest branches had been pulled down and separated from the trunk. This not only gave the lower branches a more horizontal position, but also helped to open up the branching along the trunk. However, the overall shape had been maintained.
In August 2010, when I admired the tree, Gloria lamented the loss of the lower right branches. Although the tree seemed lopsided, it was healthy with rich green foliage and an undulating trunk that was quite appealing. The foliage was one large mass with a void near the top. Simply wiring and positioning branches would get this tree into show shape – or so I thought.
But closer inspection revealed this hinoki needed and deserved more work and refinement. There was dieback on the trunk where branches had died or been cut.
Great care was taken to remove the bark and expose the jin and shari. Undulation and taper were then carved into the dead wood before the application of lime sulfur.
The hinoki cypress typically has dense foliage. If not pinched back and thinned out, newer foliage will shade older, resulting in dieback of small inner branches and old foliage. Another characteristic of the hinoki: multiple branches often emerge from one point.
This tree had numerous spoke branches as well as long, leggy branches without much ramification. A particularly bad spoke branch on the upper trunk had six branches which had created reverse taper. To stop the thickening of the trunk, four of the six branches were removed; two were kept and positioned together to become a much-needed right branch.
The best way to deal with flaws is to remove them – but with an old tree like this one, not much would remain. Fortunately, the second best solution – hiding the flaws – was easy to implement: the foliage pads were positioned to hide any branch flaws.
The lower left branches were dense and heavy. To create balance with the apex and right branches, judicious pruning of foliage and branchlets reduced the mass by about 25%. Although back budding is not common on the hinoki, this tree was the exception. After shaping and opening the branches to more light, I'm optimistic that the tree will continue to bud back.
Once the trunk was carved and the branches were shaped, the deep rectangular pot would not suffice. A shallow oval pot complemented the undulating trunk and the soft, cloud-like foliage pads.
Normally, a bonsai has a companion piece – a plant or suiseki – but for Gloria's bonsai birthday bash, this tree was the companion piece to her birthday cake.
As Old Rose nibbled on her buttercream-rose-covered birthday cake, she got reacquainted with her beloved hinoki cypress. Both had aged ever so gracefully.
This party was the last of several centennial celebrations Gloria received during the summer. The city of Santa Monica (her birthplace) began the festivities in June. The Screen Actors Guild gathered to acknowledge her 70-year membership and her activism on the Guild's behalf. At the end of July, 1000 people (including some bonsai friends) attended a retrospective of Gloria's film career, hosted by Leonard Maltin and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In the summer of 2010, Gloria was the belle of the ball. She was excited when James Cameron told her he was transforming his Titanic masterpiece into 3-D. She said she hoped to live long enough to see herself once more on the big screen on that big boat. Alas, it was not to be. On September 26th, 2010, Gloria Stuart passed away. As the rest of the world marks the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, this bonsai buddy will park herself in a dark theater and watch glorious Gloria in 3-D.
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