What is a penguin doing in Eureka Springs? In the case of Ramon Laval, aka The Lost Penguin, he was raised in the southernmost city in the world, Punta Arenas, Chile. After he and his wife, Lemia, relocated to Eureka Springs, they decided to open a shop downtown with an intriguing name that indicates you will find something out of the ordinary.
“They had penguins where my husband grew up, which is across from Antarctica,” Lemia said.
Punta Arenas is the capital city of Chile’s Magallanes and Antartica Chilena. The area was officially renamed as Magallanes in 1927, and the area is home to the Magellanic Penguins.
“So, he lived among the penguins,” Lemia said. “He left at age seventeen for Spain and has since traveled all over the world; we both have. The story of The Lost Penguin is that it contains treasures and crafts from our travels around the world that we are bringing back to share with Eureka Springs, along with different arts and techniques we’ve learned along the way. We have unique things, paintings from around the world, and bonsai. We also hold workshops on bonsai and other crafts.”
“Did you know that Santa has a Christmas Penguin Workshop… and it’s located at The Lost Penguin?” their Facebook page says. “Santa’s Penguin Workshop will be open to kids every weekend until Christmas from 2-4 p.m. Volunteer craft helpers appreciated.” Hot chocolate and Christmas cookies are provided, along with an opportunity to have their photo taken with The Lost Christmas Penguin. While the Lost Christmas Penguin only shows up on Saturdays, the craft table will still be open during regular store hours until Christmas.
Lemia said that while many locals think because the shop is located downtown, at 14 Center, it caters primarily to tourists, but she assures that there are plenty of items and activities of interest to locals; not only those who love unusual plants, but who are interested in finding that unique gift for someone of any age without having to travel out of town. The Lost Penguin also carries art and craft supplies.
“We have bonsai and fairy gardens,” Lemia said. “The concept of the fairy garden predates the bonsai, and originates in China.” These mini-gardens were filled with several small trees, stone structures, and miniatures all in perfect proportion. The Japanese took this art and focused on a singular tree and further developed the art of bonsai with specific standards for each tree.
“At The Lost Penguin, our aim is to make bonsai gardening more accessible. We promote making it a personal art, tailoring the tree to your vision of how that tree should be. It is a very personal thing,” Lemia said. “We do workshops showing people how to identify trees that would make a good bonsai and we can match types of bonsai to particular needs and lifestyles. We also do the air plant and succulent arts.”
The modern fairy garden is considered a tiny, well-tended garden that has structures and living plants intended to draw fairies and good luck. The Lost Penguin has a large selection of miniatures, local and imported, to adorn fairy gardens and bonsai.
Bonsai is for palaces and cabins, the dove of peace flies to both
“We always ask if a potential buyer travels a lot,” Lemia said. “Some bonsai need daily care and others don’t have to be watered for weeks. We try to match it to the person’s lifestyle. People come in and say, ‘I had a bonsai once and killed it.’ They weren’t given instructions and matched to their lifestyle. We also offer bonsai babysitting, as the number one killer of bonsai is vacations.” Some bonsai trees do well in a low light environment indoors, others don’t. The amount of care needed can vary considerably.
Bonsai are traditionally an heirloom passed down from generation to generation. “It is a neat thing for kids to take care of and learn about caring for something that will last a lifetime, or for a couple to symbolize the starting out their marriage,” Lemia said. “We do special requests for weddings.”
In addition to bonsai, they also sell Marimo moss balls, a rare type of algae that lives in the water. Those also can be passed down from generation to generation as a symbol of longevity. They can also be divided. For example, if you are a teacher, the classroom can raise it as a pet and then divide one to pass along to each student at the end of the year.
“They are great for people who travel a lot or who have allergies,” Lemia said. “They can last for several hundred years. We also offer them as custom-made wedding favors.”
The Lost Penguin will be offering workshops in Spring 2018 partnering with the Eureka Springs School of the Arts and Turpentine Creek, which will include field trips to identify trees in the wild that will make a good bonsai. The workshop will also teach requirements such as trimming the tree roots (done every 1-3 years). The ESSA workshop will also give participants the ability to design their own bonsai pot. Bonsai pots are very specific pots with two holes.
Asked about potential problems of the travel abilities of bonsai for those who are not local, Lemia points out that the majority of bonsai purchasers are from out of town.
“We pack carefully for travel and also provide shipping,” Lemia said. “We have also been providing Christmas shipping delivered just in time for Christmas.”
Lemia said as long as you understand the requirements of your bonsai, they are actually much easier than you think. They make sure you leave with proper instructions and they’re available for consultation.
“Some types of bonsai don’t require watering for two weeks,” Lemia said. “One of the more rare ones we carry, the Elephant Tree, can go up to two weeks without water and still look great.”
The couple grows all their own bonsai. They have several hundred in their greenhouse that they rotate through the store.
Lemia said the couple moved here about a year ago from Texas after failing to get Lemia’s mother, C.D. White, to move to Texas.
“She called one day in August 2016 and said, ‘Why don’t you move to Eureka Springs’? I immediately came up to look at many houses, but the first day my husband was in Eureka Springs was on our house closing Nov. 9, 2016,” she said. “He absolutely loves it here; we both do.”
The Lost Penguin also provides bonsai mentoring for local youth where Ramon teaches them how to take care of bonsai. Many young people stop by after school or work to ask questions and get bonsai technical help.
The couple also has a collection of carved cats for sale at the shop, and donate a portion of those sales to the big cats at Turpentine Creek.
Lemia said a lot of their business is word of mouth and her husband’s colorful and outgoing personality.
“He is what keeps a lot of people coming back,” she said. “If someone comes through the door, he doesn’t care if they buy or don’t buy. He will spend hours talking to people we know aren’t going to buy anything. He loves to share stories and knowledge. He really enjoys people. For him, it is like a vacation.”
Ramon, who has been taking care of bonsai for more than 20 years, is in the process of retiring from his lifelong career of being a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, and will likely be at the shop even more after that. Lemia is a retired Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist. They are both thrilled to use The Lost Penguin as a way to enhance the community through service and unique experiences.
In addition to bonsai workshops, they also have fairy garden workshops, origami workshops and “paint and sip” gatherings where people get an art lesson and a glass of wine to go with it.