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Member Highlight: Martin Klein

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

How long have you been interested in Japanese culture?

Two introductions come to mind. My mother used to grow houseplants. We grew up in

Westchester in Mount Vernon, New York, and she actually took lessons from a man named Yuji Yoshimura. He was one of the fathers of introducing bonsai to the United States. The other I remember best is that I used to travel periodically to San Francisco for work. I saw the Japanese garden in San Francisco way back in, wow, 1960. I just loved it, and I've had an

interest ever since. And there have been other things, of course. I remember when Boston got its first Japanese restaurant, and I used to go there. I also remember going to the first Japanese restaurant in London. I used to travel on business there.

What came first, your interest in plants or your interest in bonsai?

I would say plants. I've always been interested in plants, but I went to Boston for many years, which held a big flower show. That was the high point of the year when we had these terrible winters in March. You'd walk into this big conference hall with this magical world, a waterfall, and fresh flowers. I went for many years, and in those shows, there was a Bonsai Exhibition that always fascinated me. I wound up joining the club that put on that display, the Northeast Bonsai Association, so I was a total beginner, but now I'm sure I'm the oldest member of that club, and it still exists. I love it. It's an incredible hobby. It's challenging but also very satisfying.

[Marty with his Dwarf Brush Cherry, Eugenia myrtifolia ‘Compacta’

at the 2016 U.S. National Bonsai Exhibition]

Have you been able to see a lot of bonsai work in Japan?

I have, actually. I've been to Japan maybe four or five times. One of them was a tour with a man named Bill Valavanis, who's in Rochester, New York. He publishes a magazine called

International Bonsai, and he's one of the great bonsai masters in the US. In fact, Yuji

Yoshimura, whom I mentioned earlier, was his teacher and mentor. So he led a tour of Japan

where we saw the Masters Gardens, which was amazing. It was humbling. We visited some

tourist sites where we went to the Masters’ gardens. I love Japanese gardens. I'm also a

member of The North American Japanese Garden Association.

[Marty with his Austrian pine (Pinus nigra) forest “Sensei” outside the

Bonsai Pavilion at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston]

What initially drew you to JSB?

Well, I've known about it forever. So I've been drawn to it in that regard. Even though I may

have been a member many years ago, actually. The interest in Japan is just natural to me. I was eventually drawn back to it.

How would you describe yourself and what you're passionate about?

Bonsai is a hobby for me. I have many interests. My profession is as an electrical engineer. I’m something of a pioneer in the field of ocean exploration. It’s kind of a long story, but I helped develop a sonar system that I introduced back in the late 60s that helped to change the world of ocean exploration. It’s called the “side scan sonar.” I made the first commercial version of these things, and they kind of changed the world. Most shipwrecks you've ever heard about were probably found with my equipment, even ancient shipwrecks and other things found in the ocean. So that's a very big passion of mine. I'm involved a lot with marine archaeology. I also do model railroad trains; I have a lot of them.

What I like about bonsai is that, unlike other hobbies, you can't let it go. If you do, you can kill them. Even in a day. It requires a lot of focus and passion. I have been in a lot of circles, and I have a lot of friends in different fields. But in bonsai, the people are in it just because they love it. I enjoy that a lot. In another connection to Japan, I often went to Washington, DC. There was just the store that sold Japanese stuff, and I'd make a pilgrimage there. It was just everything that fascinated me. It was wonderful. And now you can see many of those types of stores all over the place.

[Marty Klein receiving a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to oceanography]

[Marty aboard RUDE, NOAA hydrographic survey/wire-drag ship]

Do you have a favorite event or program you've ever participated in with JSB?

I just went to one recently. We just had a tour of the Arnold Arboretum. It's a wonderful place. I've enjoyed a long list of events and look forward to more. My terms for positions I’ve served are running out, so I’m making more time for events like JSB produces. I was on the collections committee of the MIT Museum for many years, and my term has run out. I was involved with the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary for many years, which has also run out. I’m making a lot more time for it now.

[Martin Klein in the South Pacific, 1964]

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