NATIVES Exhibit at Pacific Bonsai Museum

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the opening of the new, summer long exhibit at the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way. This year’s special exhibit is simply titled, NATIVES, and features bonsai native to all corners of the good ol’ US of A. 

What makes this exhibit stand out is the comprehensive approach to a visual presentation of the American landscape. Fourteen vignettes portray a distinct segment of the American outdoors featuring a backdrop painting by German artist Luna Tinta. Wonderfully abstract at times, and others times representational, these paintings create a palette of colors rhythms that draws you into each landscape. In each scene, a bonsai from noted Northwest artists like Ryan Neil, Mike Hagedorn, Randy Knight, Dan Robinson, and myself, as well as trees from the museums permanent collection pair with each painting. 

Completing the visual treat are kusamono created for especially for each scene. BSOP member Vicki Chamberlain of Ashland created custom ceramic containers representing each locale, partly from materials or minerals from the same locale. Maryland artist Young Choe then created wonderful kusamono with plants from again, the same native locale. Can you say native five times fast?

The whole effect is simply stupendous. We’ve not seen anything like it and certainly it is going to have an effect on North American bonsai, much like the Artisan’s Cup has, in setting new standards and a different approach. Accompanying the main displays in each alcove are two additional trees from the same region, often by the same artist. You will probably see species and forms that you’ve not seen before. And some trees rarely seen as bonsai. 

A favorite of the crowd was the Tucker Oak representing southern California. Gnarly, twisted, and still bleakly bare this time of year, the palette created with the golden hills is so different than my own green Northwest. Another feature of the scenes is that they incorporate different views. The Redwoods, represented by the museum’s own outstanding specimen, is shown with a backdrop looking up straight to the sky through a patriarchal grove. It adds a very visceral action to the scene. 

The display featuring a cascade Douglas Fir of my own is just the opposite. This view is of Ecola State Park from the air. It’s a calming sea of blue. This is the same tree, by the way, that was featured in an 18 month long, side by side demo with Ryan Neil and myself a few years back. It has come quite a ways in a relatively short time. Speaking of Ryan, the color of the Badlands painting paired with his Ponderosa Pine was astounding. Rich and elegant, the view is full of punch and energy.

One of my very favorites was Michael Hagedorn’s exquisite Mountain Hemlock grove, which won the Best Conifer award at last year’s National Show. It is paired with a view of Mount Rainier and calls to mind the way that you usually have to try and sneak a peek of the peak through all of those branches as you hike along. And the vine maple accompanying it completes a very graceful scene. 

Along with the scenes listed above, you will find Alaska, the Bayous, Apostle Islands (Lake Superior), the Appalachians, Yosemite Valley, the Rockies, and the Cascades. Credit for this innovative and challenging exhibit belongs squarely with Aarin Packard, the curator of museum. It’s really his vision that initiated the concept and drove it’s creation. The exhibit runs from now until October 8th. Be sure to check on museum hours before you go. And if you can’t make it, you’ll be able to view it in pixel form on Mirai Bonsai soon. Or just use that as a nice preview. An exhibit catalog is forthcoming. 

Ponderosa Pine and Badlands by Ryan Neil

Ponderosa Pine and Badlands by Ryan Neil

Douglas Fir and Vine Maple with view of Ecola State Park by Scott Elser

Douglas Fir and Vine Maple with view of Ecola State Park by Scott Elser

Mountain Hemlock and Vine Maple with Mount Rainier by Michael Hagedorn

Mountain Hemlock and Vine Maple with Mount Rainier by Michael Hagedorn

Redwood with Redwood grove, museum collection

Redwood with Redwood grove, museum collection

Sierra Juniper and Yosemite Valley, museum collection

Sierra Juniper and Yosemite Valley, museum collection

Tucker Oak and Tehachapi Canyon, museum collection

Tucker Oak and Tehachapi Canyon, museum collection