ABS Learning Seminars

Artist Bios

Headline Bonsai Artists

Welcome to the pinnacle of creativity and innovation! As we delve into the heart of the Learning Seminars, we are honored to introduce our headline artists whose ingenious mastery of their craft has illuminated the world of bonsai. With their unparalleled expertise and visionary zeal, they redefine the boundaries of creativity, inviting us all on a journey where imagination knows no limits. Please join us in welcoming these trailblazers whose artistry transcends convention, paving the way for the extraordinary.

Hugo Zamora

Hugo studied in Tokyo with Japanese bonsai master Kunio Kobayashi, one of the most respected and well-known bonsai masters in the world.  Since completing his apprenticeship in 2015, Hugo has made several return trips to Japan to continue his work at Shunkaen Bonsai Museum.  Returning to Tokyo with Mr. Kobayashi on a regular basis has allowed Hugo to continue to build, refine, and expand his skills.  Hugo was a demonstrator at several important international bonsai events including the Latin American Bonsai Federation Congress and the 2022 World Bonsai Congress in Australia.  Hugo’s travels have allowed him to acquire a broad knowledge of conifers, deciduous, tropical species, deadwood, compositions, and landscapes from the most classic and orthodox to new and creative trends. 

Jack Sustic

Jack Sustic’s interest in bonsai began in the mid 1980’s while serving in the military in South Korea.  In 1996 Jack was selected as the first intern at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, U.S. National Arboretum in Washington DC and in 2002 was appointed Museum Curator, retiring in November of 2016.  He has received formal bonsai training from masters in both the United States and Japan.  In 2005 one of his trees was selected as an international winner in the World Bonsai Friendship Federation (WBFF) photo contest and his trees have been exhibited in numerous local and national bonsai exhibitions.  A member of several bonsai and viewing stone organizations he is an honorary member of Nanpu Kai, a study group comprised of bonsai master John Naka’s students.  He served as co-chair of the 5th World Bonsai Convention in 2005 and Co-President of the National Bonsai Foundation (NBF), currently serving as the World Bonsai Friendship Federation North American Regional Director and President of the North American Bonsai Federation (NABF).  Jack keeps busy maintaining his own bonsai collection in his home state of Michigan and as acting curator of the Mattaei Botanical Gardens bonsai collection.

Suthin Sukosolvisit


Suthin’s artistry continues to amaze.  Suthin and his wife operate the Royal Bonsai Garden in Stoughton, Massachusetts and he is in high demand nationally for his creativity, his spectacular artistry, and his skill as a patient and talented teacher.  Born in Thailand, Suthin has extensive experience with tropical bonsai. To label him as a tropical bonsai artist, however, would do tremendous disservice to the equally amazing Japanese maple, juniper, azalea, and pine (among many other species) bonsai, both large and small, he has cultivated and designed.  Suthin’s creations have won multiple well-deserved national bonsai awards in both Thailand and the United States.  He lectures all around the world and at some of the most important bonsai conventions in the United States, sharing new information and techniques whenever he teaches.  His bonsai are known for their proportion, refinement and detail, especially his remarkable Shohin designs.  Suthin and his wife operate the Royal Bonsai Garden outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

Presenting Bonsai Artists

Prepare to be enchanted by the exquisite world of bonsai as we showcase the artistry of our distinguished bonsai artists! Join us in exploring the captivating craftsmanship of these bonsai virtuosos, where ancient techniques meet modern innovation. Step into a realm where art and nature intertwine, celebrating the majesty of these captivating living artworks.

Ken Huth Sr.

Ken started Bonsai in the late 1980’s beginning with the Cleveland Bonsai Club and taking workshops from the formative artists of American bonsai including John Naka, Yuji Yoshimura, Susumu Nakamura, Dennis Makashima, and Vaughn Banting.  As Ken’s interest grew, he launched Ken’s World of Bonsai in North Canton, Ohio to supply the local bonsai community with quality trees and supplies.  Teaching came later, after requests from groups and clubs eager for more information.  Ken continues to learn and grow, traveling twice to Japan and around the country visiting other bonsai clubs and growers. Ken enjoys working on all types of trees and loves sharing what he’s learned as a grower, artist, and teacher.

Kristy Majeske


Kristy is the resident bonsai groupie you might have seen at bonsai conferences selling antique Japanese scrolls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts with an emphasis in sculpture. She has studied many art forms including painting, ceramics, bronze casting, stone carving and wood working. Her lifelong passion for Asian art started in second grade when she was first exposed to Chinese brush painting and was reinforced while living in Korea. Soon after returning to the United States, she opened an Asian antique store where Japanese scroll paintings (kakejiku) became her passion, specializing in scrolls for 23 years. During ABS 2024, Kristy is teaching both a painting workshop and a learning path on choosing a scroll for bonsai display. These two courses work well together to round out your understanding of the Japanese arts and how they all come together in a well thought out bonsai display. 

Kurt Smith


Kurt received his bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Michigan State University in 1985, but his interest in bonsai began over 40 years ago. At that time, he purchased his first tropical bonsai rooted cutting in a dixie cup from Jerry Meislik (he still owns that now mature beautiful tree). Since that time, he owned and ran The Flower Market, the largest bonsai nursery in Michigan for over 35 years until the business was sold and semi-retirement began. Kurt’s future plans are focused on enjoying the artistry of bonsai and sharing his knowledge and lifelong love of the art. 

Matt Spinniken


During the growing season, Matt operates a landscaping business in Northern Michigan.  An avid surfer, he lives in Puerto Rico for four to five months a year during the off-season.  Matt started bonsai in 2014, but has had an interest since childhood.  As an avid collector of Michigan native trees, he has produced award winning eastern larch (Larix laricina) and eastern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) bonsai.  Matt’s trees have won numerous state and regional awards and have been exhibited at the U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition in Rochester, NY.  That he has no formal training makes his amazing artistry that much more remarkable. Don’t miss your opportunity to work with this rising star in North American bonsai.

Tim Priest


Tim is a Master Photographer, Photographic Craftsman and Professional Commercial Photographer since 1982.  He has been a sought-after international speaker on the subject for the past 35 years. Tim’s photos have been displayed and awarded in several international exhibitions and have graced many publications, including the book “Bonsai: A Patient Art” containing Tim’s photographs of the Chicago Botanic Garden’s collection, the cover art for “Grow Bonsai: Essential Know-how and Expert Advice for Gardening Success” by Peter Warren, as well as cover art for ten issues of the Journal of the American Bonsai Society.

Christopher A. Sambolín Pérez


Christopher A. Sambolín Pérez was born Puerto Rico, on 1996, and received his B.S. degree in Microbiology from the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico in 2019 where he is currently working on his PhD in microbiology and plant biotechnology.  Christopher’s interest in bonsai was seeded in 2010 when his aunt took him to visit Futago Bonsai, Pedro J. Morales garden.  That interest blossomed and he eventually studied formally with Puerto Rican bonsai artists William Acosta and Pedro Morales.  In 2015, Christopher began studying with Mauro Stemberger, making numerous trips to work with Mauro at the Italian Bonsai Dream School in Feltre, Italy and Chicago Illinois. Christopher has participated new talent contests in both Puerto Rico and Brazil.  He has performed demonstrations in Puerto Rico and was a featured artist in the California Bonsai Society’s visiting artist program, executing demonstrations, seminars, and workshops across the state.  Christopher continues to progress his academic work while, simultaneously, sharing his passion for the art of bonsai.

Mark Fields


Mark began his lifelong passion for the art of bonsai 55 years ago at age 9.  Since then he has learned from more than 70 bonsai artists from all over the globe.  He is a past president of both the Indianapolis Bonsai Club and the American Bonsai Society.


His desire for formal training first led him to Europe where he studied with Danny Use at Ginkgo Bonsai Nursery, located in Laarne, Belgium, in 2004, 2005 and 2009.  It was there that he learned more about the horticultural aspects of bonsai.  Later, through the encouragement of Bjorn Bjorholm, Mark traveled to Osaka Japan to train at Fujikawa’s International School of Bonsai, completing his studies there in February 2015.


Mark has attended numerous important international exhibitions. He has attended the 33rd Taikan-ten Bonsai Exhibition, the Gafu-ten Bonsai Exhibition in Kyoto, and the 89th Kokufu Bonsai Exhibition in Tokyo. Over the years, he has attended all but a few of Brussel’s Rendezvous.  In April 2017 he returned to Japan to attend the 2017 World Bonsai Convention, held in Saitama City, Japan, as an invited guest.  


Mark owns and operates Bonsai by Fields, LLC, located in Greenwood, Indiana.  How travels all over the Midwest where he teaches, lectures, vends, judges and exhibits.

Robert Hoffman


Rob is a trade carpenter and has worked on large commercial buildings for over 20 years.  He is the owner of Yume-en bonsai nursery. where he grows and maintains bonsai trees and teaches workshops.  Currently Vice president of the American Bonsai Society, Robert Hoffman has been actively engaged in bonsai for over 10 years and lives in the Columbus, Ohio area with his wife, Niki and his two dogs.

Dr. Karen Harkaway

Karen Harkaway pic

Dr. Karen Harkaway, a practicing dermatologist, began her bonsai journey about 15 years ago, when she began studying with Chase Rosade.  Since then, she has also studied with Colin Lewis, Ryan Neil, Mauro Stemberger, and Hugo Zamora Luna, among others.  Karen served as Vice President of the American Bonsai Society from 2010 until 2014, and again from 2018-2022.   She was President from 2014-2018, and as of January 2023, she again serves as President.  An enthusiastic student of bonsai, she has exhibited in all US National Bonsai Exhibitions except the first.  Karen has won the President’s Award at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Bonsai Societies Festival, and both the Executive Committee’s Award and the People’s Choice Award at the same convention in 2013.  She was also honored to win the John Naka Award, hobbyist division, in 2013.  In 2018, she won the Travel Award for best tree/companion display, at the Sixth US National Bonsai Exhibition, and won the North American Award for Finest Native American Tree at the Eighth US National Exhibition in 2023.   Karen is passionate about all things bonsai and greatly enjoys being an ambassador for the promotion of our art form.  As a student of Mauro Stemberger, she is well-qualified to teach wiring for bonsai!

Scott Zomerlei


Scott worked in the indoor garden supply industry for 14 years before founding a production hydroponic lettuce and micro green farm.  An avid gardener, Scott has been growing and teaching bonsai for 17 years. He has held workshops at the Michigan All-State Bonsai Show and teaches regularly at the Ann Arbor Bonsai Society.  He enjoys a wide variety of bonsai species and styles and loves propagating plants.

Steve Jetzer


Steve started his bonsai journey in 1993. He studied under well-known Masters like Ivan Watters, the curator of the Chicago Botanic Garden as well as Susumu Nakamura of Yokohama Japan. Steve also spent time at Fujikawa Kouka-En Bonsai School in Osaka, Japan studying under Master Keiichi Fujikawa and Bjorn Bjornholm. Steve now, and for the past two years has been a student of Master Mauro Stemberger of Feltre, Italia. Steve’s trees have been accepted for display in numerous exhibitions throughout the country including 4 times at the US National Bonsai Exhibition in New York and received Multiple Best of Shows and the prestigious ABS Award twice.

Bill Valavanis


Bill became interested in bonsai and horticulture at age 11 and pursued his interest by studying Ornamental Horticulture at SUNY Farmingdale and Cornell University. He has made over 50 trips to Japan and formally apprenticed with Kyuzo Murata and Kakutaro Komuro in Omiya Bonsai Village in Japan. Additionally, a 30-year study and association with Yuji Yoshimura combined with his formal horticultural degrees, apprenticeships in Japan and his artistic talent provide Bill with the solid background to promote and teach classical bonsai art around the world. His educational programs have been presented throughout the United States, Canada, Brazil, England, Italy, Africa, Belgium, China, Indonesia, Australia, China, Taiwan and Japan.


He is the proprietor of the International Bonsai Arboretum in Rochester, New York where he maintains a fine personal collection of classical bonsai. He offers introductory and advanced classes as well as seminars in Rochester, New York. Thirty successful bonsai symposia were organized during the past three decades. He also maintains a busy teaching schedule for bonsai and horticultural organizations worldwide. In order to further promote the artistic and horticultural expression of classical bonsai art around the world he began publishing International BONSAI magazine the first and only professional bonsai magazine published in the United States 40 years ago. He has authored 11 books and many articles published in English, Japanese and other European languages.


Bill is an active member and officer of numerous local, national and international bonsai and horticultural organizations. His distinctive bonsai and garden displays have received many awards both in the United States and abroad. In 2008 he organized the First US National Bonsai Exhibition which was very successful. The 8th US National Bonsai Exhibition was held in September 2023.


In October 2017 the US National Arboretum honored him by inducting him into the US Bonsai Hall of Fame, the third and only living member following John Naka and Yuji Yoshimura. In November 2018 he became the first American and Westerner invited to assist judging the Nippon Bonsai Taikan Exhibition in Japan, one of Japan’s highest quality shows and still continues.


He freely shares his 60 plus years of dedicated scholarly bonsai study, experiences and discoveries with students and serious bonsai fanciers through International BONSAI and his educational bonsai programs.

Dr. Ross Clark


Ross Clark is a retired botany professor whose fascination with bonsai goes back about 70 years.  His botanical specialties are the biology and classification of woody plants.  Ross is a founding member of Prairie State and Central Kentucky bonsai societies, edited the ABS newsletter for five years, and wrote the only comprehensive book on native North American plants for bonsai.

Ted Bentley


Ted is a passionate cyclist with over two decades of experience in the industry.  He has worked as a service manager at the Grand Rapids Bicycle Company and traversed the globe alongside professional racers. In parallel, Ted cultivated an appreciation of the Japanese gardening aesthetic, an interest that eventually led to a major career change when he took a position as a horticulturist at Frederick Meijer Gardens.  Ted’s interest in Japanese gardening naturally extended to bonsai and he undertook intensive training at Eisei-en in Tennessee with Bjorn Bjorholm.  Ted’s interest in bonsai and horticultural career are dedicated to enhancing the beauty of the Japanese garden at all of its scales.

Teresa Wooden


Teresa is a ceramic artist from Holland, MI, with over twenty years of experience as a professional potter.  Originally a watercolor artist, she created and marketed functional and fine-art ceramics on the midwestern art show circuit, specializing in hand-carved “sgraffito” designs with sculptural elements.  As a master gardener and nature lover, it was only natural that she was drawn to the art of bonsai.  In 2018 she began studying bonsai in earnest and switched to making bonsai ceramics exclusively in 2020.  All her work is individually crafted without the use of molds, making each piece completely unique.  Her work is both wheel-thrown and hand-built in both stoneware and porcelain, often with sculptural elements, hand-carving, and hand-painted embellishments and finished with her own unique glazes.    She works in a sunlit studio attached to her home, surrounded by gardens and woodlands near the shore of Lake Michigan, and markets her bonsai ceramics through her website, www.stoneforestpottery.com, online through bonsai auction sites, and at a few local bonsai shows.

Eric Newton


As with many people, Eric’s first exposure to bonsai was The Karate Kid. His experience, however, began when he was gifted two bonsai trees; a ficus and procumbens juniper in 1998. When neither survived, Eric dove in head first to learn what he did wrong and his bonsai journey began.  When Eric relocated from his native woodland environment to a more urban setting, bonsai became a way to keep nature a part of his life.  He began reading everything he could on the subject, joined the Bonsai Society of Kalamazoo and started taking workshops whenever possible. Eric counts Ben Oki, the club sensei, and Jack Wikle, the presenter at his first club meeting, as key positive motivational influences and counts his club experience as a major contributor to his bonsai education.  Eric began sharing his knowledge with others at both local clubs and the Michigan All State show.  As the current President of the Bonsai Society of Kalamazoo and through his position for a Japanese company, Eric has fully embraced the kaizen culture (continuous, small, incremental improvements) both for the trees and himself.  He regards bonsai as a lifelong learning experience and loves to share his knowledge and to learn from the insightful questions that often accompany teaching.

Charles Barker

Chuck_Barker pic

In addition to his many other roles, Chuck Barker is the owner of the StoneView suiseki, viewing stone, and bonsai gallery in Chicago.  He came to own and act on this vocation beginning with years of instruction in bonsai cultivation and design from his first teacher, Ivan Watters. Chuck subsequently worked with Susumo Nakamura, Jim Doyle, Jeff Schultz, Bill Valvanis, Jay Strommen, and his first suiseki teacher, Sean Smith.  Sean’s generous personal instruction, guidance, and leadership in organizing the International Stone Appreciation Symposia, opened up the world of suiseki for Chuck.  Through the symposia, he met scholars and art professionals with a similar passion for suiseki.  He joined Aiseki Kai, benefitting from the legacy and enthusiasm of that wonderful group of colleagues led by Larry and Nina Ragel and the Huntington Museum.  Chuck continues his studies, voraciously consuming books, attending museums and exhibitions, and engaging new teachers, collectors, scholars, daiza carvers and collecting sites worldwide.  Chuck is extremely active, exhibiting stones nationally and internationally, hosting literati groups, teaching about the collection and display of suiseki and viewing stones, displaying and selling stones through StoneView, and fostering permanent collections open to the public.  He is deeply grateful to the many good friends and enthusiastic members of the international suiseki community; and for the mountains, rivers, oceans, deserts, water, wind, and sand that yield up their treasures for our enrichment and inspiration.

Erik Ridgeway


Eric Ridgeway is a co-owner of Issho-en Bonsai. He started working with Daniel Robinson in 2007 and spent five years at Elandan practicing bonsai. He loves collected native species and is devoted to enhancing and adding deadwood features to his trees. Eric teaches as a team with Victrinia at every opportunity, as they both have a passion for teaching. Eric loves trees with wild, gnarly movement, and his work is anything but sedate. Eric’s love of shitaskusa and kusamono is deeply tied to his love of formal display.

Victrina Ridgeway


Victrinia Ridgeway is a co-owner of Issho-en Bonsai. She started working with Daniel Robinson in 2006 and contributed to the creation of his biography, Gnarly Branches, Ancient Trees. Victrinia’s style is a blend of naturalistic and traditional bonsai. When teaching with Eric, this can be a great asset, as the conversations and considerations of divergent points of view make for a very dynamic learning experience. Victrinia has also studied kusamono with Young Choe and has assisted her at events and workshops.

Jimmy Whiteley


Jimmy’s love of plants developed during his youth as he grew up around family farms. He discovered bonsai as a young military officer traveling the world and found that it neatly combined his passion for plants with his creative and design background.  This craft has even influenced his home surroundings. Landscaping of his home is always evolving to incorporate different garden design features for bonsai. Among the additions has been an all-season greenhouse, Benches and stands for bonsai, a waterfall pond with Koi, bonsai growing beds and an area to over-winter outdoor bonsai.  Jimmy is the president of Four Seasons Bonsai Club of Michigan. Love for the art of bonsai has inspired him to continuously gain more knowledge about the craft and hone his skills. He even acquired a Michigan Master Gardener certification for his craft and started a Gone Wild Farm plant rescue and reclamation group.  He has lectured, conducted demonstrations and provided workshops for beginners through advanced bonsai enthusiasts. Jimmy’s bonsai have been exhibited in local, state and regional shows culminating in numerous awards.

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