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The harmony between tree and pot is of extraordinary importance. The pot is an enhancement of the tree and can improve its quality. But how do you find the right pot among all the countless pots provided in every shape, colour and size? I suppose it is a lifelong process of occupation with bonsai that leads to increasing competence in choosing pots. The choice of a certain pot requires a complex knowledge and mastery of the bonsai art. Only a great number of bonsai pictures (trees, pots and both in combination) stored in the brain enables us to find new combinations in order to choose the appropriate pot for a tree. This is the goal. On the way to this goal, every every mistake that we make and recognize deepens our knowledge, until we arrive at a firm judgement at the end.

For centuries potters had all personal freedom when creating ceramic pots. Bonsai pottery is different. Making pots by hand without moulds requires a potter with great dexterity, good knowledge of the materials involved and a lot of aesthetic sense. The potter must take a subordinate role to the elements, especially when creating bonsai pots. He must try to keep balance between nature and art. This seems to contradict the observation that ancient Chinese bonsai pots are richly decorated, colourful and in some cases with a strong ethnic component, so the artistic side is dominant in them. The reason is that in the beginning of bonsai history there were no special ceramics made to fit the trees. The first pots that were used for bonsai originally were ritual containers.

In China, it was only 200-300 years ago that potteries started to specialize on bonsai pots. At first they produced for the local Chinese market, but then also for Japanese customers. It was during this time that, influenced by the taste of Chinese, Korean and Japanese customers, bonsai pottery started to develop simpler, unadorned forms. We assume that this taste developed under the influence of the refined asthetics of the tea ceremony. It is the tea master RIKYU who contributed most to the increased appreciation of the pure and simple forms.

Imported pots from China that were made to suit the Japanese taste were already very popular 200 years ago. Today this special taste is still the spiritual and sensual root of bonsai pottery. It seems to have become a timeless taste that will prevail. The elements of earth, fire, water and air are strongly connected to the human senses. In bonsai art the taste for this should be recognised and refined. In Japan, over the centuries this taste been increasingly differentiated both in the sensual as well as the descriptive dimension. Taste and feeling fuse together and result in an organic sensuality.

austere, plain, tasteful

refined taste

something calm, unobtrusive, created with absolute confidence, nothing loud or garish

These terms describe the inner beauty of an object. Nevertheless the pots on the photographs can hardly be described in words. They have a great sensual presence which can not be captured on even the best photographs. Pots like these must be physically felt, they must be seen with the soul.

A beautiful old, well-used pot. Patina gives liveliness to the surface. A pot like this is destined for a Chinese juniper, a pine or azalea. In the picture below, the huge drainage hole is visible. This is also evidence of an old pot. There were even pots that hat no bottom at all, just a narrow rim on which a bamboo grid was placed.

Size: 54,5 cm x 34 cm x 19 cm.

View of the pot's inside with the large drainage hole. The traces of daily use can clearly be seen, especially on the pot's rim.

A shallow pot with a similar patina. Unlike the first pot this one is very feminine. The soft lines and especially the cloud-shaped feet limit its use to a delicate Chinese juniper, a Japanese white pine or an azalea. It would not be suitable for a black pine.

Size: 51,5 cm x 30,5 cm x 11,5 cm

A smaller pot which is not quite as old. This shape is still in use today. The side of the pot is decorated with an embossed wave or flower ornament. On the photograph you can clearly see that the pot was created in a mould. The potter has pressed the moist clay into the mould with his fingers. This pot shape is very suitable for all kinds of flowering and fruiting plants.

Size: 32,5 cm x 23,5 cm x 15 cm

An octagonal pot that widens at the top. The lower half of the pot is decorated with a meander in the shape of a ribbon. The same pattern is repeated on the upper inward rim. This pot is ideal for a cascading Chinese Juniper or azalea.

Size: 24,5 cm x 24,5 cm x 17 cm

A beautiful example: an ancient pot and a tree in harmony.

Peter Krebs

This article has been published in the german “BONSAI ART” magazine No. 75

Alle photographs were kindly provided by BONSAI ART.

Translation: Heike van Gunst

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