UPDATE, Feb. 12, 2020: The missing bonsai trees have been mysteriously returned to the museum.
Two decades-old trees – estimated to be worth thousands of dollars – were reported stolen Sunday from the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way, according to the museum.
In a news release, the museum said the theft happened about 7 a.m. inside a secure and alarmed exhibit area before the facility’s scheduled 10 a.m. opening. Kathy McCabe, executive director of the museum, said they are working with Federal Way police to identify suspects and recover the bonsai.
One tree, according to the release, was a Japanese black pine that Japanese American Juzaburo Furuzawa grew from seed in a tin can while incarcerated in an internment camp in Topaz, Utah, during World War II. It was scheduled to be the centerpiece of an upcoming special exhibit, “World War Bonsai: Remembrance & Resilience,” which opens in May.
The other bonsai, a Silverberry, was created in 1946 by artist Kiyoko Hatanaka, who the museum described as a “pioneer in her time.”
“This is a tremendous loss, not only to our collection, but there is a strong likelihood that the trees will perish,” museum curator Aarin Packard said in a statement. “These trees have been cared for every day for more than 70 years, and if that daily care doesn’t continue the trees will die.”
The museum had surveillance-camera video footage of what appears to be two individuals entering the public-display space where the trees went missing. But Federal Way police officers who responded to an alarm call at the museum shortly after 7 a.m. did not locate any suspects, according to police spokesman Cmdr. Kurt Schwan.
He encouraged anyone with information about the incident to contact the Federal Way Police Department.
The museum did not have specific dollar amounts for the value of either bonsai. But, “given the unique history of the Japanese black pine, it is truly irreplaceable,” McCabe said in an email.
She added that, if not properly cared for, the bonsai could die or be severely damaged within days.
“It’s not too late for these bonsai to be returned, no questions asked, so we can make sure these trees will be around for another 70 years,” the museum said in its release.
In 2015, a 60-year-old miniature tree, also worth thousands of dollars, was stolen from the bonsai museum but recovered two days later, pruned and abandoned in bushes about two miles away.
Clarification: The name of the Japanese-American who grew the Japanese black pine was Juzaburo Furuzawa. The museum’s records collections included an incorrect spelling of his name.