A Club Called REBS

Ivan Lukrich

Ivan Lukrich

Redwood Empire Bonsai Society

by Cheryl Petty -- October 1, 2009

Redwood Empire Bonsai Society was founded in 1981 when four forward looking people, Kay Urbanski, Ian Price, Ron Reed and Bill Hashimoto, took on the job of organizing the club. The club now has 100 members, produces the best show in the area and is committed to the education of their members through classes, workshops and their own sensei, Kathy Shaner, the first American Bonsai Master certified by the Japanese Nippon Society.

26th Annual Bonsai Show

This year 2009 is the 26th Annual Bonsai Show, which is always held the last weekend in August at the Veterans’ Memorial Building in Sebastopol. Kathy Shaner, the club sensei said, “My dream finally came true. I had more trees than I could handle!” about the 250 trees that made up this years sensational show. Clubs and groups from around the state travel to this not to miss bonsai event, not only to see the trees but also to purchase supplies from the many vendors that are there. This year Shaner’s sensei from Japan also attended, Bonsai Master Yasuo Mitsuya.

Jack O'Brien

Jack O'Brien

Private Collections

There are many amateur bonsai enthusiasts in the area and none have a finer collection than Frank Bardella. The day we visited Frank and his wife Barbara, they were busy preparing for the big club show, getting 44 trees and stands ready for display as well as 75 accent plants. Each tree and stand is numbered and has an index card with a photograph and brief description to facilitate the club sensei Kathy Shaner as she composes the club show.

Among the many REBS members with fine collections we visited two. Ivan Lukrich moved to Santa Rosa in 1985, joined REBS and has been on their Board of Directors ever since. Since completing his club training, Lukrich now teaches the beginner level classes.

Jack O’Brien lives with his cats Marilyn and Gloria in a meticulously restored 1920’s home near downtown Sebastopol and celebrated his 85th birthday this year. In his small back yard he has created a perfect Japanese garden with coy pond where his small but choice collection is artfully displayed. O'Brien joined REBS when Kay Urbanski was President and still is learning and taking workshops after all these years.

Club Organization

REBS meets monthly throughout the year, in July they have a picnic at Lone Pine and in December they have a Christmas Party.

New members go through 4 2-hour classes starting with a beginners wiring class, regardless of skill. Once a member completes the first level of workshops/classes they move up to intermediate and finally to advanced where you get to work with the club sensei, Kathy Shaner. The other classes are taught by club members who donate their time. At these Saturday workshops plant material is provided, usually a #1 gallon nursery Shimpaku juniper, to learn the basics of wiring and branch selection. At the Thursday workshops members bring their own material. Many people well known in bonsai have been guest presenters such as Mel Ikeda and Ted Matson.

The Beginner Class meets twice each year, $50 per class, and starts shortly after the Annual Show, capturing the enthusiasm of new members who sign up at the show. They meet again in the spring. Not only do they practice wiring, but they also learn about the history, horticulture, and styles of bonsai. Generally there are 6-8 people per workshop plus instructor and assistant.

Intermediate level classes are held twice a month, and participants bring their own material. Kathy Shaner’s advanced classes are held 6-8 times a year at Frank Bardella’s house where there is a large, well equipped meeting room. [Editor's note:  Sadly, Frank Bardella passed, leaving large footprint to be filled in our hearts.]


The club supports its sensei and extensive calendar of activities with proceeds from their show and also by trying to make their workshops self-sufficient. Although they rarely recoup 100% of the cost of an instructor for their monthly meeting demonstration, the tree is raffled and contributes toward their education fund. The annual show is their big fundraiser, collecting donations, vendor fees, raffles, consignment sales of members' trees with 25% going to the club. Prices range from $2 to $1000.


The club's first sensei was Mas Imazumi, and many members received their first training from him. Mas lived in Berkley, and it was getting hard for him to get around when Kathy Shaner stepped in and brought current training from Japan to the club. She has her own approach and favored techniques. Whereas Mas was self taught here in California, Shaner is professionally trained in Japan. She has elevated the REBS trees to their next level in terms of the trees’ quality and presentation. Shaner was the first American to be certified by the Nippon Bonsai Society.

Barbara and Frank Bardella

Barbara and Frank Bardella

REBS is a wonderful club to work with, the members love their trees and are willing to take the pressure from me to raise them to the next level, increase their awareness of what is possible not only of the tree but also of nice pots and stands and how to display them. This increases the pleasure.
Many clubs are sensei led but cling to one teacher exclusively. At REBS we keep the class size down to around 6 participants and it is important to bring in others for demos and workshops, says Shaner.

Published Golden Statements The Magazine of the Golden State Bonsai Federation Vol xxxii No.6 Nov/Dec 2009