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Combining art with nature

"Natives" exhibit currently showing at the Pacific Bonsai Museum

A mountain hemlock bonsai is displayed with an artistic interpretation of Mount Rainier by Iuna Tinta. Photo credit: Marguerite Cleveland

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One of the more unique museums on this year's list of Blue Star Museums is the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way.

A majestic outdoor site surrounded by towering trees is the location for this showcase of art and nature. On exhibit now is "Natives," a creative collaboration between landscape artist Iuna Tinta and bonsai artists Scott Elser, Michael Hagedom, Randy Knight, Ryan Neil and Dan Robinson, who specialize in the use of native trees.

The exhibit is displayed in the museum's striking outdoor venue and pairs a bonsai tree with a dramatic landscape of its native habitat. When bonsai trees are created, they are taken out of the wild and lose that connection.  The "Natives" exhibit seeks to reestablish this link with the addition of a third element known as Kusamono.  This is a Japanese botanical art developed to add to the experience of a bonsai. The idea is to represent a season or place through the use of wild grasses and flowers arranged in unique pots or trays. Plantings by artists and potters Young Choe and Vicki Chamberlain use native plants and containers made from native minerals to represent each region. The three elements combine to present an artistic representation of North American terrain.

The museum has a diverse collection of more than 150 bonsai that hail from Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the United States. The trees are rotated throughout the year, with 60 trees on display at one time.

One of the most interesting trees on exhibit is the Domoto trident maple, which was donated to the museum by the Domoto family, who acquired the tree in 1915.  Its large size sets it apart from other bonsai and is the result of a tragic time in American history.  Its owner, Toichi Domoto, was sent to an internment camp during World War II.  A family friend cared for the tree but did not know the art of bonsai. When Domoto returned after the war, he found that the tree had grown dramatically with roots pushing out from the bottom of the pot. He cared for it until 1990, when he could no longer climb a ladder to prune the tree. Insider tip:  The museum offers free tours every Sunday at 1 p.m.

Located adjacent to the museum is the Rhododendron Species Foundation and Botanical Garden, which is well worth a stop. It has one of the largest collections of species of rhododendrons in the world with more than 700 varieties. The garden is laid out with trails that beg to be explored.  Entrance fee is $8, but is free to active and retired military. Tickets are purchased in the gift shop.

The Blue Star Museums free admission program is available to any bearer of a Geneva Convention common access card (CAC), a DD Form 1173 ID card (dependent card), or a DD Form 1173-1 ID card, which includes active-duty U.S. military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, as well as members of the National Guard and Reserve, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA Commissioned Corps), along with up to five family members. A complete list of participating museums is available at

Pacific Bonsai Museum, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday, 2515 S. 336th St., Federal Way, 253.353.7345,

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