Artisan Spotlight: Howard Bemus, Bemus Bonsai Design

Artisan Spotlight: Howard Bemus, Bemus Bonsai Design
Some of the trees represent the stories of my life
— Howard Bemus

Greensboro, NC - The late afternoon sunlight hits the metal branches of Howard Bemus’ Steel Forest just right at Hughes Metal Works, illuminating the workshop of the North Carolina metal products manufacturing company with reflective, dappled shimmers. 

The juxtaposition of Bemus’ carefully crafted steel sculptures against the industrial backdrop is a fitting analogy for the artist’s work. By day, he dons the professional accoutrements of a welder, working with the Hughes team to create custom commercial metal products. And by night, he creates Bonsai tree sculptures from scrap metal, transforming industrial leftovers into original art that graces homes and businesses both in the United States and abroad.

“There are trees all over the U.S., from east coast to west coast, and a couple in Hong Kong,” Bemus said. “I try to create a tree a month on average.”

A native New Yorker who moved to North Carolina from Illinois in 1974, Bemus had studied Bonsai styles before beginning his first tree, an endeavor that he describes as a “light bulb moment.” He said that Bonsai designs were a natural fit for the aesthetic he wanted to create and with his love of nature, a passion that began in his early years as a resident of Bemus Point, a village in Chautauqua County, New York, named for his familial predecessors.

“Some of the trees represent the stories of my life,” Bemus said. “It’s like being a blues singer; you can always make a great song about life lessons. And others come from my love of nature, and that started in Bemus Point. It is truly one of the most special places in the world.”

The Steel Forest, a name that Bemus has given to his body of work, has been featured in galleries and several purchased pieces are on permanent display at U.S. businesses. For individual clients, Bemus customizes the size of each piece for a specific space and will talk with designers and clients about the story they want to tell, always remembering the turn of events that ignited his own passion for the trees after he realized that his first career as a professional photographer was changing in a way he didn’t like.

“I saw the (film) photography industry crumbling and I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore,” Bemus said. “So I embraced the adversity and started focusing on a new idea and my own wellness. I always encourage people to never give up. Adversity can make your stronger and lead you to try harder, things you wouldn’t normally do. 

“There are trees split in two, trees with broken branches, and then those like Intimate Embrace that show two trees becoming one,” Bemus said. “My trees reflect both paths — the calm and soothing and the bashed and battered.”

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Prior to her role with Designers Today, Cindy attended markets as both a consumer home furnishings editor and interior design client. She has written about the design industry for more than 15 years and still finds editorial inspiration in every corner of the world, from Italian villas to Atlanta urban lofts to country escape tiny homes.