Shogyu Mujo-En…..

This was what American bonsai potter pioneer, and carving mentor, Dale Cochoy, called his bonsai garden. The last word, En, means garden, that’s the easy part.

Almost prophetically, the first two words mean….well, that’s a tough one. Like many words and phrases in other languages, the literal meaning isn’t the whole meaning. This is Dale tending his kiln during his last pottery firing.

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, I found out that Dale passed away. It was not unexpected, but it was still a shock. He wasn’t a good friend, I had met him several times at the Bsf conventions years ago and had interacted on Facebook and Messenger several times. I had no idea what he thought of me. But, reflecting and thinking about him these last days, I’m beginning to really understand what I think, and feel about him and his bonsai legacy.

Here’s Dale somewhere around 1970, he was in the US Navy.

Dale had a long and successful time in bonsai. It is not my intent to list all his accomplishments and accolades. I’m not the one to do that. I can only write about what I know about him and my impressions of the man.

He had many different types of bonsai but, even being from Ohio, he shared a love of tropicals like I do. Green island ficus

Willow leaf ficus.

Unfortunately, I only own two pots from him. This beautiful one, one of his premium brands….

And this neat round one.

It’s kinda funny that they’re both just about the same color, it’s more of a reflection of my tastes than his, as most of his pots were not this color. I believe the second one is in his trademarked “Dry Riverbed” crackle.

His usual style was unglazed, or with an oxide stain, and the textures were carved, rustic or with his crackle.

For the first pot I own, what I mean by premium is he had two ideas in pottery. His Facebook page (Click here) is called Wild Things Bonsai Studio and Yakimono No Kokoro.

Yakimono no kokoro. It, too, is a hard phrase to define. Yakimono is sometimes related to cooked meat over a fire (like yakitori) but in this instance, it is the fire part we are interested in.

Kokoro means spirit, or heart, or mind.

Interestingly, one of his favorite shows, about making knives and edged weaponry was Forged in Fire.

It could be interpreted that Yakimono no Kokoro means “a heart, forged in fire”. I wonder if he saw the connection. I’m sure he did, he was a smart man.

This is the bottom of the other pot I own. I got it at the 2010 Bsf convention.

This is how I remember him from that show.

Not my pic, I pulled most of the ones I’m using here from his Facebook page.

When I met him, it was at a Bsf convention and he was just like this, behind his vendor table, watching the world.

He seemed to always be watching and learning. These last few years, even after all the time he practiced pottery and with his mastery, he took it upon himself to learn raku techniques.

He was also very outspoken. He had opinions and was a conservative who liked motorcycles and guns, voted republican and even liked Trump. As for bonsai and his pottery, he has a distinctive “Dale” style. You can tell a “Dale” pot from a hundred like them, because he was a pioneer in the bonsai ceramic culture in the USA and the world. I don’t think we’d have half the potters we have today, if Dale hadn’t paved the way.

But his was not a subtle style. And that’s the rub. I will only touch upon this for a bit but I’d like to point out the hypocrisy I’m seeing on social media at the moment, with people who definitely would talk badly about Dale, and now are mourning and typing that easy three letter word, RIP, instead of something original (One guy, who is the worst about backtalk, and in his typical tone, even wrote “That sucks”. Classy).

For transparency, I do not like everything he produced. Some of his pottery is too coarse for my tastes and (style-wise) for my trees.

But he was an artist.

And I respected his right to do his art as he saw fit. That’s the difference between intermediate and advanced artists, one group wants you to do as they do, wallowing around in the cold soup of the status quo, while the other wants you to follow the muse, wherever it may lead you. Dale and a motorcycle…..and a cat

I think I even annoyed him many years back when I wrote an article for the Bsf magazine and said that samurai carving tools weren’t good for hobbyists. But I believe he had forgiven me in the end. I had purchased some of his last carving bits a few months ago and he told me I’d better do a video using them. John Naka and Dale

There’s always a battle in any small art community for purity in technique, in execution and subject matter, and in taste. Dale didn’t care, and that pissed off people.

And I’m glad it did, because he made an impression on the American and international bonsai scene. Mitch Boatman, Jim Osborne, and Dale

Dale, thank you. I wish I could have been a better friend, especially towards the end, but I’m not very good with dealing with sickness. My experiences throughout my life have not left me in a good place with death and I just don’t know how to respond to it.

Shogyu Mujo-En…..

This is what hung over the entrance to Dale’s bonsai garden. It now hangs over the gentleman’s garden in the above picture in orange, Mitch Boatman. Mitch really became a good friend of Dale’s in these last few years. I envy him, but he worked at it too. Mitch is becoming one of the pre-eminent suiseki diaza and bonsai wood carvers in the country. He is also on Facebook, if you’re looking for that kind of work.

What does Shogyu Mujo-En mean?

All things must pass.

All things are transient.

Nothing is forever.

All things change.

Posted in Art

16 thoughts

  1. Thanks for sharing Adam. Like you, the news of Dale’s passing left me feeling just as you mention-feeling bad about not forging more of a friendship or closer professional relationship. Dale was a frequent guest presenter and vendor at my club’s events. He could be, shall we say-prickly. We didn’t see eye to eye politically, and for what ever reason beyond that, he never really seemed to warm up to me. He was a man of firmly held and passionately defended views about bonsai, and life in general.
    Here’s a story that that captures The Dale:
    He was set up to send at a very large show that had drawn a large crowd of “civilians” (non- Bonsai folk). One dear lady was very enthused over Dale’s ceramics, and was buying a fairly large, very expensive item. Has the piece was being wrapped up and money about to change hands she gushed about how good it would look at the special occasion she had coming up. I forget now what her intention was, but it was NOT bonsai. Dale ended the transaction right there. He was a bonsai artist, and was damn sure not going to let one of the pieces he put time and effort into be used a a turkey platter, soup bowl or soap dish.
    Not every vendor would turn away from a sure sale like that, but that was the man’s devotion to his art.


  2. Dang…that’s a very profound garden (AKA, life) name! As always, thank you, Adam, for your perspective and “unfiltered-uncensored” point of view. Love how you treasure family, friendship, good laughs, art, and life. Stil waitin’ for the “tropical gnomes” sale!! 😆. Have a great New Year, and may he rest in peace.


  3. Adam, beautifully written and with a lot of respect. I don’t think he and I agreed on anything politically but we found a way to joke about it. I will miss him.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If no one else has corrected you the animal in Dales arm in the picture with the motorcycle is a small dog, definitely not a cat.  Clean your glasses. Darlene

    From: Adam’s Art and Bonsai Blog To: Sent: Monday, January 7, 2019 4:49 PM Subject: [New post] Dale Cochoy, American Bonsai Guy #yiv8405264842 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv8405264842 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv8405264842 a.yiv8405264842primaryactionlink:link, #yiv8405264842 a.yiv8405264842primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv8405264842 a.yiv8405264842primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv8405264842 a.yiv8405264842primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E !important;color:#fff !important;}#yiv8405264842 | adamaskwhy posted: “Shogyu Mujo-En…..This was what American bonsai potter pioneer, and carving mentor, Dale Cochoy, called his bonsai garden. The last word, En, means garden, that’s the easy part.Almost prophetically, the first two words mean….well, that’s a tough o” | |

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You know how engaging I find your writing but this one brought tears to my eyes (this old broad doesn’t do that very often). You were able to point out his important legacy without sugar coating his weaknesses, doing it in a way that showed much respect.

    Thank you for your perspective and for your respect of this unique American artist.

    BTW-he liked you and respected you, but didn’t “get” you. It was all good!

    Sent from Barb’s iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  6. Adam gave a heartfelt tribute and honor to our mutual friend Dale. Dale an artist a teacher and my friend. He made no apologies for his way of doing things and as Adam alluded to extremely opinionated. If they like to he was faithful and honest friend but if you didn’t he had no qualms about stating his feelings he didn’t pull punches and I respected that about the man. he was not rude by any means and it wasn’t mean for being sick of being mean but a lot of people viewed him as such if they were not of like mine. People confused honesty with arrogance but that wasn’t the way he was. Dale and Mitch boatman or at my house a couple of times and we worked on trees discussed pottery and prepared to demo trees that he would do for the greater New Orleans Bonsai society. it was amazing just to watch him do and discuss pulmonary work on his demo tree. Dale was very generous he donated to very expensive one-of-a-kind pots to go with his demo trees for our society something that was not expected but greatly appreciate it and also was extremely forthcoming with his decades of knowledge to anyone willing to listen to what he had to say. Dale’s not an elitist he would answer questions with this much patience and honesty to a newcomer asking what many would feel a silly question forgetting that they too once were new to the art as he would to a very experienced hobbyist who had a deep and complicated question there will take his time and answer it to the best of his ability. His workshops and demonstrations were not only entertaining but educational and out like fun. Dale live in Ohio but was a huge fan of the South and our southern food fried catfish , gumbo, fried shrimp and Po-Boys among other things or on his list of mus have items when he would visit the South and in particular the New Orleans area. I am fortunate enough to have more than a few of his Bonsai pots several of which were created for my specifications for certain trees others or gifts and still others I saw and had to have because of the uniqueness and beauty and those will never at least as of this writing will hold a tree they sit instead on my shelf as individual pieces of his unique art. I appreciate Adams respectful blog and I will truly miss my friend


  7. That was very good the picture of him firing his kiln up one last time. It is one of the saddest pictures I have ever seen.


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