The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

July 13, 2014

Family business thrives

Bonsai trees and cameos make unique combo

HAMBDEN TOWNSHIP — A  love affair with bonsai trees has opened a whole world to the Mihalic family.

Tony and Jo Ann Mihalic started growing bonsai trees in 1946 and never looked back.

Tony Mihalic applied himself to learning the bonsai art and the world came to see.

“In 1982 we had the national bonsai convention (in the Cleveland area) and they had bus tours out here,” said JoAnn Mihalic.

“The Japanese actually bowed to him,” she said.

Frank Mihalic came by the business naturally and added his own touch through the creation of Italian cameos.

“The only vacation as a kid were trips to bonsai shows,”  said Frank Mihalic.

Mihalic has traveled the world learning his craft and teaching it to others.

Mihalic has authored two books and one of them is in the process of being translated into Chinese, he said.

The Art of Bonsai and Bonsai for kids provide detailed explanations on how to prune, shape and re-plant  the trees.

“I have been to Japan over 30 times working with masters and growers over there,” he said.

Mihalic also attends 12 to 15 trade shows a year where he does the bulk of his business.

In August he will be attending a show in Australia and teaching several classes.

Mihalic has made bonsai connections in Japan, Korea, Hungary, Italy, China and Australia.

“Mostly the countries that had bonsai,” he said.

Mihalic said some of the trees are tropical and some are sub-tropical.

He said some of the plants must be grown inside while others work well with our climate.

“It is nature, in miniature in a pot,” Mihalic said in describing the bonsai experience.

The Mihalic family operates Wildwood Gardens on Route 166 in Hambden Township.

The business includes not only the sale of the trees but jewelry, bronze sculptures, appraisals, lessons, demonstrations and workshops.

Wildwood Gardens is sponsoring a barbecue and workshop on  July 19 and 20 that still has openings.

For more information the Mihalic family may be contacted at mihalicf@yahoo.com.

Wildwood Gardens is also holding an open house on Aug. 3.

About five years ago Mihalic broadened his creative arsenal creating custom jewelry.

He said his daughter got married in Italy so he spent a week working with an Italian cameo specialist.

He said he was able to get the correct tools and other insight that helped him get started in the business.

“I carve cameos from seashells,” Mihalic said of his work that he sells at Wildwood Gardens.

He also creates “lost wax” castings as well.

Mihalic said you carve the art out of wax, make a negative impression from a plaster mold and then spin cast metal into the impression.

One of the challenges with the bonsai tree business are intensified regulations from the United States Department of Agriculture.

“If you import a tree it has to be grown three years in quarantine,” he said. The regulations are due to insects that can destroy vegetation.

Area residents can experience unique art forms in a variety of forms.

Tony Mihalic said he never thought that his fledgling business would turn out the way it did.

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