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Blue Star Museums

‘Connect with living art’

Northwest Guardian

Published: 09:41AM July 17th, 2017

Local Blue Star Museums

Harbor History Museum, 4121 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor. Open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. Closed on most holidays, 253-858-6722

Historic Fort Steilacoom, 9601 Steilacoom Blvd. SW, Lakewood. Summer Hours (Memorial Day through Labor Day): Open every Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Winter Hours: Open every first Sunday of the month from 1 to 4 p.m., 253-582-5838

Job Carr Cabin Museum, 2350 N. 30th St., Tacoma. Open Wednesday-Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., 253-627-5405

Museum of Glass, 1801 Dock St., Tacoma. Open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., 253-284-4719

Northwest African American Museum, 2300 S. Massachusetts St., Seattle. Open Wednesdays and Fridays-Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., 206-518-6000

Pacific Bonsai Museum, 2515 S. 336th St., Federal Way. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the third Thursday of each month from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., 253-353-7345

Steilacoom Historical Museum, 1801 Rainier St., Steilacoom. Open Saturday-Sunday now-Oct. 29 from 1 to 5 p.m. It’s also open Wednesdays from 2 to 4 p.m. in connection with the town’s farmers market. The museum also coordinates the town’s annual Salmon Bake July 30 from noon to 4 p.m. at Sunnyside Beach in Steilacoom.

Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 253-272-4258

The Museum of Flight, 9404 E. Marginal Way, Seattle. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 206-764-5700

The Whale Museum, 62 First St N. Friday Harbor, Wash. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., 360-378-4710, ext. 30

To learn more, visit

Short on cash but want a quality, educational and interesting outing for the family? Check out one of the many local Blue Star Museums offering free entrance to service members and their families through Labor Day.

The Blue Star Museum program is provided through the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense and the many participating museums across the country. Since 2010, Blue Star Museums have offered free admission to America’s active-duty military service members and their families during the summer months.

Museums range from a whale museum in Alaska to the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way and more typical museums, such as the Steilacoom Historical Museum in nearby Steilacoom.

The Steilacoom Historical Museum is a taste of small town history in the state of Washington. Fort Steilacoom was the first town in the then- Washington Territory to become incorporated in 1854.

It also boasts the state’s first port in 1849, first post office in 1852, first protestant church north of the Columbia River in 1853, first school in 1855, first public library in 1858, first territorial jail in 1858, first brewery in 1858 and first gas station and garage in 1925.

With all these firsts, and folks bustling to this thriving town, one might think Steilacoom would have grown greater than some of its nearby entities, say Olympia or Seattle. But no, Steilacoom is currently a bedroom community, with no full grocery store and only a few restaurants.

Almost all of the buildings in the town are on the National Historic registry, except the Steilacoom Historical Museum, which was built in 2006 on the grounds of the historic, 1857 Nathaniel Orr house, which is owned by the museum and part of the museum tour. Informational plaques are located near the door of each house or business and self-guided and guided walking tours are available through the museum.

In addition to being one of the town’s early pioneers, Orr, who traveled the Oregon Trail in the 1850s to migrate to Steilacoom, was somewhat of a Johnny Appleseed of the Pacific Northwest. He brought with him a variety of apple seeds, which for the most part account for the nearly one dozen varieties of apple trees that make up the site’s orchard.

Orr also was a wagon maker and carpenter. The shop where he worked on wagons and created wood products also is on the property. Part of the tour allows for present-day children to participate in crafts and use some of the tools that would have been used in pioneering days.

The Steilacoom Historical Museum, 1801 Rainier St., Steilacoom, is open every Saturday and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. now through Oct. 29.

For botany enthusiasts, another Blue Star Museum offering in the area is the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way. The museum’s current exhibit, available now through Oct. 8, is titled “Natives” and incorporates art, bonsai trees and vegetation from various areas across the country, including from Mount Rainier to areas of the East Coast.

The museum previously was owned by the Weyerhaeuser Company, a Northwest-based company that is one of the world’s largest private owners of timber lands. In 2013, the museum became a separate, nonprofit entity. There’s a different primary exhibit each year, with a photography competition — in the spirit of Ansel Adams — planned for 2018, which is hoped to incorporate the camera lens and bonsai, according to Liz Sullivan, museum coordinator.

The museum commissioned Iuna Tinta, a Swiss artist from Berlin, to create many of the mountain-scapes and other art pieces that accompany bonsai displays in the “Natives” exhibit. Since the museum is mostly an outdoor venue, the artwork was transferred in print form to multiple outdoor display boards. Many of the original art pieces are available for purchase at the museum.

Several of the pieces are on display but already have been purchased, while others — both acrylics on canvas and watercolor on paper — also on display are for sale, ranging from $750 to $2,600 in price.

There’s also a Scavenger Hunt for Horticulture for kids visiting the Pacific Bonsai Museum. Children can find answers to questions about bonsai at the exhibit. There’s an answer key at the end of the experience, though not any physical prizes.

“It’s more about what you have learned,” Sullivan said, adding it all incorporates the theme at the museum: “Get outside; be surprised. Connect with living art.”