Chicago’s Rollout–Interview With Mark Reed

On the program for Chicago’s Rollout on Friday night, February 28th, Bert Howard interviewed Mark Reed, the artist who currently lives in the “Chinese House” in Park Forest, IL.   For pictures of his house and of his Bonsai art creations, see the website

Bonsai is a form of miniature tree that blurs the line between nature and art.   It is normally an actual tree, a product of nature, which is shaped by the artist.   It is common to the cultures of Japan and China, but the form that Mark Reed came to appreciate was the Chinese form.   The Japanese form is the one I am familiar with from the time I lived in Japan, but the Chinese form is the one that Mark Reed preferred, and it is the one that focuses on the trunk itself.   The trunk is forced by the artist to take on a shape which often takes strange twists and turns, but thrives nonetheless.   Mark Reed took that form to be a metaphor of the consciousness of someone who is black in the United States, because that person also has to thrive under adversity, but learns to do so with an elegance that contributes to the larger American experience.   We this most often in forms of music such as the blues, or jazz, but also with the spoken word in terms of poetry (Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou) or plays (Lorraine Hansberry).

But the form that Mark Reed created was Silent Bonsai as he calls it, silent because he is working with artificial pine needles applied to a trunk with a glue gun rather than the traditional living tree.   The results, however, are lifelike and stunning, as you can by the photos of his Silent Bonsai exhibits.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the interview came when Bert Howard talked to Mark Reed about the importance of young people being able to look to members of the community as mentors in whatever endeavor they find themselves interested in.   But to Mark Reed what is more important is that people in the older generation look to BE mentors to the young people in the community.   It is important to create a legacy, not just like Mark Reed does for his nine children, but to the community at large.   There may be a budding artist out there who one day sees the “China House” and wonders why it stands out as different from the neighborhood, and yet somehow manages to blend into the nature landscape it is a part of.    And in seeing the Silent Bonsai trees, a young person may wish to give voice to that inner artist who says, “wow, I’d like to do something like that!”

This is why I appreciate Bert Howard’s segment on art and architecture.   The other segments are about the world of business, logistics, and project management and speak to the practical aspects of life.    The ancients divided the world of the mind into the search for the true, the beautiful, and the good.   We are focused on the other segments on the search for the truth, but in this one segment, we take a break and focus on the search for the beautiful, because rather than focusing on making a living, it focuses on what makes life worth living.


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