Little Champions: Bonsai from the Evergreen State

Amazon Spheres
Dates: 8/30 – 10/7/2022

The popularity of our country’s biggest, oldest trees can become their biggest threat, putting them in danger of being loved to death. One day, Washington’s biggest trees– our State’s “Champions”*–may need protections and fines currently being enacted in California to protect ancient trees.

Washington’s giant, coniferous trees, towering over the Olympic Peninsula, are impressive individuals figuring the lush forest ecosystems that epitomize “The Evergreen State.” They are among the largest living trees on the planet.

From August 30 to October 7, 2022, visitors will have the opportunity to admire Washington’s Champion tree species without tromping through fragile ecosystems. Five, Washington-native coniferous bonsai from Pacific Bonsai Museum’s collection will be on view at Amazon’s Seattle Spheres where their grandeur can be taken in on a small scale. Pacific Bonsai Museum’s Curator, Aarin Packard, who conceived and organized the exhibition, explained,

“The point of bonsai is to observe, interpret and compress the oldness and largeness of trees and present them as a representation of nature in miniature. The art makes them relatable on a human scale and allows people to behold their grandeur from an otherwise impossible vantage point.”

The five bonsai on display on both the 4th floor (the “Sky Deck”) and the 3rd floor of the Seattle Spheres will be:

  • Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla); estimated year of germination from seed 1930; in training as a bonsai since 1965; originally created by bonsai artists James and Marsha Nakahara.
  • Subalpine Fir (Abies lasiocarpa); age, time in training, and original artist unknown.
  • Shore Pine (Pinus contorta var. Contorta), estimated year of germination from seed 1740 to 1760; originally created by bonsai artist Jack Sullivan.
  • Engelmann Spruce (Picea engelmannii); estimated year of germination from seed 1890 to 1900; in training as a bonsai since 1978; originally created by bonsai artist Ron Yasenchak.
  • Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis), estimated year of germination from seed 1955; in training as a bonsai since 1964; originally created by bonsai artist George Schenk.

Accompanying these five bonsai will be several small kusamono (commonly translated from Japanese as “weed thing”) displaying ferns and grasses representing the understory of a particular Champion’s environment. Kusamono is an allied art of bonsai in which various small plants are presented as if they had been scooped up in their natural assemblages and planted in a shallow, ceramic container. Presented together, bonsai and kusamono suggest a distillation of a larger landscape in miniature.

By presenting this exhibition to Amazon employees, their families and guests, and general visitors on public Saturdays, Pacific Bonsai Museum hopes to inspire wide appreciation for ancient-yet-fragile Champions, both big and small, and the ecosystems that support them. Pacific Bonsai Museum’s volunteer Docents will be present on public Saturdays to answer questions, share insights, and prompt conversations about the Little Champions.

We don’t know what the climatic future will hold for our State’s largest trees and their habitats. Poignantly, a future in which bonsai–with their extreme level of human care and devotion–could be the last living examples of these species is a real possibility. In his lifetime, legendary Western Washington bonsai artist Dan Robinson has witnessed the decline and disappearance of habitats where trees once grew so plentiful that he could collect a few; he now preserves the legacy of those places in his Elandan Gardens.

Little Champions is the second temporary exhibit Pacific Bonsai Museum has mounted in the Seattle Spheres. Four bonsai were displayed on the top level of the structure from February 3 to March 17, 2019. That year, Pacific Bonsai Museum was the first outside organization invited to hold a temporary exhibit in the Spheres. 

Amazon’s Spheres Real Estate & Facilities Manager Justin Schroeder said, “We appreciate the quality and botanic diversity of Pacific Bonsai Museum’s collection and wanted to help support their mission to connect people to nature by giving them an opportunity to exhibit pieces from their collection in front of new audiences. It is also valuable to our employees to introduce dynamism into the collection and give them an opportunity to experience bonsai in this unique setting.”

Pacific Bonsai Museum’s Executive Director Pat Bako echoed Schoeder’s collaborative support, adding, “We are thrilled that Amazon invited us to display works from our collection at the Seattle  Spheres. The opportunity to exhibit there allows us to bring living art to new audiences. Plant caretakers from each of our organizations exchange ideas and knowledge, and our museum docents have even teamed up with the Spheres Ambassadors on public Saturdays, to offer insights to plant-lovers and art-lovers in our community.”

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