Chris Baker has been studying and working on bonsai for more than 16 years. Like so many, he started out as an enthusiast with a true love of horticulture, nature, and natural trees. Baker was an active member of the Baltimore Bonsai Society when a chance encounter at an open house event with bonsai curator Jack Sustic at the U.S. National Arboretum, Bonsai and Penjing Museum (U.S. National Arboretum) happened in 2010. In that meeting, Baker inquired about a volunteer position—that conversation altered the path of his life. He began volunteering in 2011 and did so on and off until 2014. Thanks to an introduction by Sustic, Baker spent six months in 2012 studying with bonsai master Torho Susuki at the Diajuen Nursery in Japan. Returning to the U.S. in late 2012, Baker was awarded the “First Curators” Internship at the U.S. National Arboretum in early 2013. In 2014 Baker was hired as the first full time curator of bonsai at Chicago Botanic Garden. Baker is the President of the North American Bonsai Federation and a board member of the World Bonsai Friendship Federation. Since his arrival in Chicago, the collection has more than doubled its display of quality trees, increased display times and locations in the Garden as well as promoted bonsai in the Midwest. Despite his training in a more formal bonsai style, Baker was drawn to natural-looking bonsai, North American species, and American potters. This led Baker to visit other bonsai curators, professionals, and ceramicists around the country to study this approach. Though the Chicago Botanic Garden has a history of displaying traditional bonsai, Baker has added another dimension using more native tree species, American potters, and a naturalistic style to the collection.
Curator of Bonsai