Making the art of bonsai attractive to millennials
When you think of the things people do in their 20s and 30s, bonsai doesn’t necessarily come to mind. Unless you grew up in the days of the “Karate Kid”.
But Aarin Packard wants to change that. He is the curator of Pacific Bonsai Museum at Federal Way, and it’s about a 35 year old man who has been fascinated by bonsai since he was 18.
“Bonsai is the art of growing [a tree] in a container and miniaturizing it by pruning it to look like a mature tree growing in nature, ”Packard said. “Corn [the intention is to] also exude an artistic quality beyond what you would normally see in a natural, wild tree.
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Packard says the art of gardening is often seen as a hobby someone’s grandfather would do, or of particular interest to people who study and appreciate Asian culture. But he wants people to see small trees like him, where nature meets art.
“We don’t really need more bonsai practitioners, we need more bonsai enthusiasts,” he said. “I approach bonsai much more as an art than a craft and I try to instill in people an appreciation for these trees.”
His latest effort to make natural art more accessible to younger people was a six-month exhibition called Decked Out. He paired 16 of the museum’s bonsai trees with skateboards painted by local graffiti artists, including women and people of color.
“The idea was to replace the traditional Japanese scroll that we used in Japan to display it with our bonsai to create a theme, setting or location,” Packard said. “But instead of having that vertical artistic image depicted on a traditional roller, use a skateboard.”
Packard has been its curator for two years. So far, his efforts have paid off.
“We have had a 25% increase in our visits so far this year to date,” he said. “I certainly see a much wider range of visitors coming. A lot more tattoos are appearing in the collection which is a good thing.
Packard says bonsai arrived in the United States after World War II, when soldiers deployed to Japan returned to the United States with a new interest in Japanese culture. He thinks the key to engaging young people is to modernize the approach to the subject. After so many years of studying and practicing this traditional art form, he believes he has earned the right to interpret it through an American lens.
“I got to the point where, OK, I’ve been there, I’ve done this,” Packard said. “Now, what can we do that is different while still respecting this traditional aspect? We don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. We still try to maintain this art form and still try to work within the framework of what bonsai is, but make it more relevant to me living in 2016 as a 35 year old American.
“So what does it look like?” ” he added. “Ultimately it’s going to be a bit of a step back, but there have been more people who are excited about this idea of where we can take this historically traditional art form and make it a lot more unique. . “
Packard is already busy planning his next exhibit, and he’s reminding people that entry to the Pacific Bonsai Museum is free.