Headwaters Inspired Profile: Dan Sinclair


Contact Information

Photo credit: Simon Burn


Bent by time and the torch, inspired by nature

“Are they real?”

That’s often the first question that comes up in reaction to Dan Sinclair’s unique bonsai sculptures.

At his Iron Bonsai studio, Sinclair works in three mediums: he creates bonsai trees from living trees, he welds and forges bonsai-shaped sculptures from metal, and then, most unexpectedly, he combines metal trunks and branches with living plants to produce hybrid bonsai sculpture. They look like they were shaped by years of relentless pressure from wind and winter storms. No wonder people do double takes.

A lifelong creative pursuit

“I have always felt a connection to nature and trees, Growing up I worked in a tree nursery” said Sinclair. “That’s where I become aware of ‘imperfect trees’, the rejects with bent and twisted limbs that weren’t good enough to be sold. But I thought they were perfect to make bonsai.”

For clients, Sinclair works in all of his mediums. “Sometimes I’ll be referred to people with misshapen trees that they want to cut down,” said Sinclair. “I’ll say wait, let me have a look, that might be ideal for a bonsai.”

It can take years to tweak, trim and sculpt a living tree into a pleasing bonsai shape. For Sinclair, that’s part of the process working with a living plant.

Old tractor parts become sculptures that hide secrets

Sinclair’s artistic pursuits follow a second path too. He has a fascination for making sculpture from discarded parts from late 19th to mid-20th century farm machinery elements that he finds at farm auctions.

“The scrap heap is my gold. I like the shapes of these mechanical parts that no-one else wants,” said Sinclair. “There’s something raw and dangerous about them. A style that seems neo-gothic and futuristic at the same time. They get even better as they acquire patina and texture from exposure to the elements.”

The sculptures conceal their ingenious secrets until you see sparrows and chickadees land on them. Then you realize that Sinclair has built in cavities that hold bird seeds and has drilled holes and added surfaces where the birds can feed.

Once more, nature and art are melded into one.