The Pacific Northwest: a hotbed of American Bonsai

Monday, August 29, 2016 5:12 PM

The following is a guest post written by Aarin Packard, the curator of the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way, Washington.

With strong ties to Japan and Asia, the PNW has been home to bonsai enthusiasts for decades. Today, the PNW is the hotbed of a growing American bonsai movement. A new generation of bonsai artists and professionals have chosen to live and work in the PNW because the area not only offers an already established community of creatives, but it also provides nature’s pristine bonsai building blocks.

How is it that these miniature trees thrive outdoors in what we might consider wildly unpredictable PNW weather conditions? As it turns out, the PNW has a long history of bonsai cultivation. And while the bonsai tradition has found its home in the PNW due to the large numbers of Japanese immigrants settling here at the turn of the century, presently the enigmatic weather may in fact be one of the charms that that draws many bonsai enthusiasts to the area--myself included!

The Pacific Bonsai Museum in located in Federal Way, but it is renowned as a hub for museum quality bonsai not only in the Puget Sound area, but around the US and the world. Of course, as the Museum curator, I may be a bit biased! At the Pacific Bonsai Museum we are not only displaying bonsai for what they are but we are adding a level of interpretation that you would expect see at an art museum.

This year’s exhibit, Decked-Out: From Scroll to Skateboard was inspired by my own experiences growing up in Southern California, where I was surrounded by skateboarding and bonsai. I started skateboarding when I was six and was a self-identified “skater” during my teen years. I also spent many weekends in the garden helping my parents pick weeds, and admiring my father’s small collection of bonsai in our backyard.

Fast forward to the fall of 2014, when I was hired as the new curator of the Museum, I was very excited about the opportunity to turn my skateboard as scroll concept into an exhibit, and thus the concept for Decked-Out was born. Decked-Out features 16 displays, each with a skate deck painted by the Pacific Northwest’s most talented urban muralists, including Ryan ‘Henry’ Ward, Merlot, 179 and Baso Fibonacci.

Decked-Out reflects this refreshing twist on tradition by approaching and interpreting bonsai display in a new, contemporary way. This allows bonsai to be appreciated for more than a cultural hobby or gardening pastime. This type of interpretation is something you can expect in our future exhibits. Decked-Out is just the beginning as we, at Pacific Bonsai Museum, explore the different ways to approach and appreciate this magical art form.

Featured Blogs