Michael James – Assistant Curator

Michael James grew up on his family’s woodland homestead in the hills above Clear Spring, Maryland. His childhood duties included tending to an acre of blueberry bushes and keeping the firewood pile chopped and stacked. He left home to study fine arts at Maryland Institute College of Art and received a degree in Plant Sciences from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

In 2001 he traveled to Viet Nam to collect tropical bonsai which he imported through APHIS. After returning home he helped to expand his family’s one acre of blueberries into a profitable farm business which became Certified Organic under the U. S. Department of Agriculture. In 2011 the farm was given special recognition by the White House when Michael and his wife Kristina were invited to share the blueberry harvest with Members of Congress at the Annual Congressional Picnic on the South Lawn.

Michael has taught advanced placement biology and agricultural sciences in Maryland’s Washington County Public Schools. He first arrived at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum as an intern in 2002. Since that time he has held multiple staff positions and from October 2014 until his permanent appointment as Assistant Curator in October 2016 he served as the interim Assistant Curator. During his tenure at the Museum he has worked with three of the former Curators: Robert Drechsler, Jim Hughes and Jack Sustic, as well as many local and international bonsai artists.


Kathleen Emerson-Dell – Assistant Curator for Artifact Collections

Ked studied Art History at the University of Maryland and completed graduate studies at the University of Michigan in Japanese Art History and Asian Art History. She received a Freer Fellowship to study Japanese Ceramics at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and a Japan Foundation Fellowship for advanced Japanese language studies in Tokyo Japan. As the Japanese specialist at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, she catalogued the Japanese collections and authored publications on Japanese decorative arts of the Meiji-period. She was appointed Assistant Curator in February 2006.

Aaron J. Hughes – Intern

Aaron J. Hughes is a multidisciplinary artist who works in the fields of painting, drawing, sculpture and of course bonsai. A native of Arlington VA, Hughes received his BFA in Sculpture from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in 2015. During his studies, he began to experiment with using different plants and fungi as a medium for his sculptures. It was not long after that he realized his efforts should be directed at the cultivation and manipulation of dwarfed trees in pots.

Since then he has worked as a gardener, a children’s teacher and most recently as an Exhibitions Specialist at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. Hughes found his way to the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum when he was selected for the 2016 First Curator’s Apprenticeship. Thanks to a bit of good timing and dedicated work, Hughes was appointed to the staff of the Museum in October of 2016. He is very excited to be working with Assistant Curator Michael James to maintain the diverse and significant collections of bonsai, penjing, and viewing stones.

Erin Holden – Museum Gardener

Erin is the Gardener for the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. She has a B.S. in Biology from Radford University and worked as a veterinarian technician in North Carolina before moving to Maryland. In 2011 she graduated from the Maryland University of Integrative Health with an M.S. in Herbal Medicine. After graduating she served as the National Herb Garden intern for a year and a half before moving into the Bonsai Museum in 2015, where she enjoys maintaining the Japanese style gardens.