Students from Woodland Elementary School admire the “Dr. Seuss Tree,” a Staghorn Sumac bonsai tree at the Pacific Bonsai Museum. Haley Donwerth/staff photo

Students from Woodland Elementary School admire the “Dr. Seuss Tree,” a Staghorn Sumac bonsai tree at the Pacific Bonsai Museum. Haley Donwerth/staff photo

Pacific Bonsai Museum provides ideal outdoor learning environment in Federal Way

Students discover connection between art and nature.

Some learning is best done out of the classroom and in nature.

One hundred and twenty students from Woodland Elementary School in Puyallup explored Federal Way’s Pacific Bonsai Museum last week to learn about the art of bonsai in the ideal outdoor setting.

“I think art has so many correlations between other content areas,” said Liz Sullivan, program manager for the museum. “It has such a nice connection between the two — of nature and art. There’s things you can learn by getting out of the classroom that can’t be replicated in the classroom.”

The Pacific Bonsai Museum became a nonprofit museum in 2013. Founded in 1989 by the Weyerhaeuser Company, the museum features the most diverse public collection in North America with bonsai trees from Canada, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the United States, according to the museum’s website.

The sixth-grade students embarked on self-guided, chaperoned tours around the gardens to find their favorite trees, pointing out the unique shapes of the bonsai along the way.

“When I saw the trees, I thought they looked cool because they were bending in unnatural ways,” said one student.

Many students said this was their first time ever seeing bonsai.

“I’ve never seen such tiny trees before,” another student commented.

Some students said they hoped to learn how to take care of the trees, as each student received their own Jade bonsai tree at the end of the field trip.

“They’re not like normal trees,” a student said, pointing to the forest of tall trees surrounding the museum grounds. “It’s really cool how they grow in a pot, they don’t grow as big as normal trees and they shape them to grow in a certain way. There’s a lot of normal trees around, then you see the bonsai trees and it’s really different.”

The students learned about the environments that bonsai trees thrive in, the history of bonsai, and how proper care and cultivation can help the trees fulfill century-long lifespans.

A volunteer bonsai tender, Millie Russell from Gig Harbor, explained that in bonsai competitions, the goal is to make bonsai trees appear old and weathered, as if they were hundreds of years old. This type of art can be done by using wire to shape the branches, creating an exposed root base, or carefully carving the tree to create various textures.

One of the most popular trees and perfect for the month of October, Sullivan said, is an Eastern Larch bonsai deemed the “Demon Larch,” created in 1972 by Nick Lenz. Goblin and demon faces are carved into the trunk and within the branches of this haunting bonsai.

Displaying trees with intentional human touch or formed naturally by earth, the museum connects people with nature through the living art of bonsai.

The Pacific Bonsai Museum, located at 2515 S. 336th St. in Federal Way, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday year-round. For more information, visit pacificbonsai museum.org.

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