The curator of the Federal Way museum was, indeed, partially inspired by Mr. Miyagi in “The Karate Kid.”

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Aarin Packard

What do you do you? I am the curator of the Pacific Bonsai Museum located on the former Weyerhaeuser campus in Federal Way. I am responsible for maintaining the horticultural and artistic integrity of 150 bonsai trees with the assistance of staff and volunteers. I also develop unique exhibits which reinterpret our collection in a way that provides an avenue for new audiences to appreciate this living art.

How did you get started in that field? As a kid I was exposed to bonsai by my father and by Mr. Miyagi [from “The Karate Kid”], and began practicing it as a teenager. I also wanted to be a curator and went to George Washington University for an M.A. in Museum Studies. Immediately after graduation, I was hired as the assistant curator of the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the National Arboretum in D.C. I was there for eight years before moving to Pacific Bonsai Museum in October of 2014.

What’s a typical day like? A typical day varies significantly depending the time of year since trees change seasonally. Currently, we have just begun repotting season. Repotting is performed as the trees come out of dormancy, allowing us to prune the roots, incorporate fresh soil into the root system and change the pot if necessary. We are also about a month out from the opening of our 2017 exhibit, Natives, making the next few months our busiest time of year.

Aarin Packard, curator of Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way. (Courtesy of Pacific Bonsai Museum)
Aarin Packard, curator of Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way. (Courtesy of Pacific Bonsai Museum)

What surprises people about what you do? Most people are surprised that someone could be a curator of a bonsai museum. It’s a lot of fun to see people’s reactions when I tell them. Most people get really excited to tell me about the bonsai they once had, or how someone they know grows bonsai. It’s interesting that most people have a bonsai story.

What’s the best part of the job? As an art, bonsai are unique because the medium used is a living tree. Caring for bonsai satisfies my human need to connect with nature on a daily basis. It also connects me to the past, present and future as I learn of those who cared for them before me; I see how our visitors respond to them now, and I know my care will ensure they survive for future generations to enjoy long after I’m gone.

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