Kathy McCabe points to a broken branch of a Silverberry bonsai tree.
Just as the delicate tree, along with a Japanese Black Pine bonsai are on the mend, the museum is also recovering from the recent thefts of the two trees.
“For the most part I feel secure and safe, but for anyone who’s had a theft … it’s so violating. I don’t know if you ever fully recover from it,” said McCabe, the executive director of the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way. “In that way, we’re mirroring the trees because this tree will never exactly be the same … It suffered some damage.”
The bonsai trees, estimated to be worth thousands of dollars, were stolen from the Pacific Bonsai Museum the morning of Feb. 9. Then the two beloved trees were “mysteriously returned” a few days later, museum officials shared.
While responsibility for stewarding the historic bonsai treasures rests on the shoulders of the museum staff, McCabe says there’s now an added layer of caution.
From the theft came a shared sentiment that the museum needed to “beef-up our security to help prevent this from happening again,” the museum wrote in a newsletter on Feb. 19.
Over the past five years, the museum has upped security measures several times, but there is always more to do as technology advances in surveillance, deterrents or GPS monitoring, she said.
“We’ve been investing in security upgrades,” McCabe said. “It’s a continuous process, not a one-time fix. We’re taking a pretty good look at what is going to be the best solution for us.”
The nonprofit museum started I Stand For Bonsai!, a donation campaign to raise funds for security improvements. An anonymous donor has also offered to match every donation of $20 or more, up to $5,000, donated by March 2.
So far, the museum has raised just shy of $2,300, which is nearly halfway to their goal of $5,000 total.
Despite this bonsai burglary, the museum is focused on the future, McCabe said, and will remain anchored both in Federal Way and in their mission of connecting people to nature through the living art of bonsai.
Bonsai is multifaceted, McCabe explained, allowing people to explore by means of design, history, horticulture, ancestry, and many more.
News of the tree theft went national, the story making it to the platforms of NPR and CNN. Such media attention also brought an outpouring of worldwide support.
“We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of love and support in all kinds of ways,” McCabe said, noting the kind words from people near and far, financial donations and an uptick in visitors to the museum.
Last week, three gentlemen from the south Puget Sound region were visiting the museum and one of the men told McCabe he had been driving past the area for more than 50 years and finally decided to stop by for the first time.
“We’ve had so much interest in helping the museum continue to thrive,” McCabe said. “It’s heartwarming — and inspiring.”
In a guest sign-in book kept near the entrance, visitors write comments about their experiences at the museum. While some visitors remark on the beauty or serenity of the museum, one visitor wrote “crucial” — a word that summarizes the deep, powerful and essential art of bonsai, McCabe said.
One of the trees in the heist, the Japanese Black Pine, will be the centerpiece of the upcoming exhibit, “World War Bonsai: Remembrance & Resilience.” Japanese American Juzaburo Furuzawa grew the tree from a seed in a tin can while incarcerated in an internment camp during World War II.
This is the museum’s first exhibit focused on history, opening May 8.
The museum is located at 2515 S. 336th St. in Federal Way.
To learn more about the Pacific Bonsai Museum, or to donate to the I Stand For Bonsai! campaign, visit pacificbonsaimuseum.org.