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Earth and Fire – Decorated Pots

Is ceramics an art or craftwork?

This question is also relevant for bonsai ceramics, of course. If a ceramist tries to express himself by his work, I think this is an art form. It is an artistic task to create the pieces by hand without molds.

Handmade pottery needs an artist with light-fingeredness, with profound knowledge of the material and a strong aesthetic sensitivity. On the other hand the potter, especially when he is making bonsai pots, must subordinate to nature. In container ceramics the potters had and still have utmost personal freedom. Bonsai pottery is different. The potter must try to keep a balance between nature (tree) and art (pot).

This pot is from the potter city „FUSHAN“, China. It was decorated with typical Fushuan ornaments. The pot was built of single parts (slab technique). The rim overlaps on the inside and outside and the feet were created seperately and then attached to the pot. On all four sides of the pot there are rich picture frames. All motifs are molded by hand and show an elaborate flower decor. The glaze was applied by hand and consists of four harmonising colours. Night blue, bottle-green, beige and brown. Traces of use from 120 years give it a „soul“ and make it a matchless solitaire.

Measurements: 46 cm x 27 cm x 14 cm.

This is an expressive blue-white ceramic (not porcelain). A thick plastically applied floral belt dominantly decorates the center of the pot's body. The blue glaze accentuates the plasticity of the handmade pot even more. Only a few examples of these „FUSHUAN“ pots from China still exist. This pot might be about 200 years old.

This pot also bears a luxuriant decoration. Playing dogs in a symbolic garden landscape were included in a picture frame. In the four corners of the octagonal pot there are symbols for good luck and longevity. At last the pot was painted with a black engobe-glaze mix. After firing a metallic sheen was the result.

This extraordinary pot proves that even not very long ago (50 – 60 years ago) pots with abundant decoration were made and they were very popular. This is one of the most unusual pots I have ever seen. At first I did not understand the motif and assumed that some excess clay had been applied.

At a closer look you discover that it is an imitation of a tree trunk, more exactly a pine trunk. On the left side of the pot's rim there is pine twig that stretches to the right. The small semi-circular shapes represent the needle clusters.

Measurements of the pot: 39 cm x 23 cm x 9cm

You could argue that antique Chinese bonsai pots are very ornate, colourful and often very folkloristic. This is due to the fact that at the beginning of bonsai history there were no special ceramics for trees and the first planters were cultural containers meant for other purposes.

Only 200 – 300 years ago kilns originated in China which specialised in bonsai pots. At the beginning they worked for China's own requirements but later they increasingly produced pots for Japanese customers.

During the last centuries bonsai pottery developed to more or less simple and plain shapes under the influence of Chinese, Korean and Japanese taste.

It is assumed that the sense for bonsai pots was derived from the high aesthetics of tea bowls. Thanks to „RIKYU“ (a must-read for bonsai aestheticians, Horst Hammitsch – ZEN in the Art of Tea Ceremony) the simplest and plainest shapes were most appreciated.

Imported Chinese pots that were made to match Japanese taste were very sought-after already 200 years ago. This special taste is the spiritual and sensual root of bonsai pottery to this day. You can even say that this taste has become timeless and will always remain.

Measurements of the pot: 21 cm x 21 cm x 45,5 cm

One of the most beautiful dragon pots I ever saw. Read all about the dragons on this website in the category „Dragon Pots“.

The elements earth, fire, water and air are closely related to the human senses. Especially in the art of bonsai it is important to recognise and refine this sort of taste. Taste and feeling merge and produce something called BONSAI in our case.

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All these pots are from the collection of Paul Lesniewicz.

Text and photographs: Peter Krebs

Translation: Heike van Gunst