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In a Zen Garden
Visitng friends and checking on some property near Blacksburg, Va., my brother and I stayed in a guest house decorated with Japanese prints and photos--collaboration between students at Va. Tech and Kyoto University. The house is surrounded by a stunning Zen garden, complete with a rammed-earth wall and a Shinto shrine, part of the home of painter Ray Kass and bonsai master (and retired art historian) Jerrie Pike.

Guest House in the Garden
A Day's Work, and More
Arriving late Sunday, we had a supurb diner with Ray and Jerrie. Then, despite staying up fairly late chatting, Ray was off at dawn to drive to Cape Cod and set up an exhibit he curated on the work of Howard Finster, titled Outsiders in Paradise.
Ray has an exhibit in New York, January 12 to February 14, 2007, See: Events

For her part, Jerrie set to work maintaining her many bonsais (miniature trees) and the extensive gardens, a daunting task. She's begun planting more shrubs to help limit maintenance chores and hires "diggy boys" to help out, but the work seems endless.

The large bonsai collection is arranged on shelves that run inside a large rectangular enclosure, protected from wind but otherwise open to the elements. Jerrie is a determined steward of the little trees, and when I attempt to purchase one, she warns, "I have a civic duty to urge you not to. You can't just go on vacation as you are now when you own a bonsai. They require care every day."

"Maybe I could bring it along," I suggested. "That's possible," said Jerrie...adding that under no circumstances should I leave it in the car with the windows rolled up. Finally, I did get one, for a ridiculously low price. Jerrie provided a mini course in bonsai care and basically offered lifetime phone support. She even said she'd trim the roots in a couple of years, if I brought the plant back to Virginia. What wouldn't I give for computer support like that!

Despite her caution about caring for bonsai, Jerrie sometimes takes in plants for customers who are on vacation. It's like a kennel for dwarf trees, but they're pretty quiet.

Jerrie teaches classes on bonsai and has published a tutorial on caring for them through the Virginia Cooperative Extension: Bonsai Care You can find out more at: Higo Garden Bonsai, 1360 N Fork Rd., Christiansburg, VA 24073 (540) 381-4255.

In the Studio
Before he left for Cape Cod, Ray showed me around the house and his studio. Walls are filled with paintings, some by Ray, some by former students, some by noted artists. There are Japanese prints and sculptures, one them far older than anyone present. "I like that," he said.

There's a painting by former classmate of ours at Chapel Hill, Tom Brame, and a couple of pieces by photographer Sally Mann, including a palladium print of a woman's open shirt collar that is understated yet powerful.

In the cavernous basement studio, dozens of Ray's recent works are hung or even stacked against the high walls. Some paintings are seven feet square or more. Ray is working on a series of mandalla-like images on interlocking square and rectangular shapes pieced together into large rectangles. The canvas for each shape is stretched separately. Then, the shapes are bolted together to form the whole. You can barely see where the various pieces fit together, adding to the other-worldly effect.

Along the River
Ray suggested that Frank and I walk along the river bordering his property, where he's cut walking paths. We were amazed by the profusion of moss, columbine, trees and roots along the banks and the nearby rocky cliffs.

Ray and Jerrie's place is on the North Fork of the Roanoke River, which winds east to North Carolina, ending up at Albemarle Sound, Kitty Hawk, and the Atlantic Ocean. Just a few miles south is the New River Valley, where the river cuts west through the Appalachians to the Ohio River and eventually down to the Gulf of Mexico.

The New River is among the oldest in the U.S., and it passes through the Appalachians because it was there before they were.

Gloves by the Greenhouse
Buddah in the Bushes
In Ray Kass's Studio
Moss and Columbine
Ithaca Falls
In Memorium: Robert V.N. Brown
Roanoke River Roots
North Fork of Roanoke River
_____________________________On the New River_____________________________________________________
Log in the New River
Baldwin-Blackfords & fallen tree
Clouds on the River
After attending a memorial service for Robert V.N. Brown in Chapel Hill, N.C., Memorial my brother and I headed to Blacksburg, Va. to visit friends and check on some property nearby. In nearby Radford, we spent time with banjo-picker and social-worker Laird Baldwin, his wife Layo, who just received her nursing degree Magnum Cum Laude, and son Arlo, who's about to move to Florida to try to re-start a career in the movie business. Radford sits on the ancient New River, which cuts west across the Appalachian Mountains. Just a few miles north, the Roanoke River heads east to Kitty Hawk and the Atlantic.

We also dropped by Dave and Nancy Trivette's and had some of Dave's homemade wine. Dave works for The Roanoke Times, and Nancy is an avid gardener, with fruit trees and greenhouses. They live near the Little River, which empties into the New River.

Spring '06 PHOTOS
All text and images on John B. Blackford Photography are subject to U.S. and international copyright laws (© 2006 John B. Blackford). No text or image may be reproduced, copied, stored, manipulated or used whole or in part as a derivative work without express written permission of John B. Blackford. All rights reserved.