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Pius Notter (1)

In bonsai art, good expertise is a precondition to being able to work on your bonsai happily and in a relaxed fashion. Along with techniques, care etc., aesthetics is one of the subjects of this art. Bonsai aesthetics also pertains to the bonsai pot. However in Europe, the importance of the bonsai pot hasn't been fully recognized yet. So everybody has to make an autodidactic effort. The few Japanese bonsai pot books that are available are hardly accessible to us. My knowledge about bonsai pots is very limited too. To gain knowledge you have to go back to the roots of bonsai ceramics, to the old classical pots. These pots will hardly be used any more for potting due to our changed artistic and aesthetic sense. They are mostly regarded as pieces of art and collector's items.

These two pots are from the province of Kanton in China and are about 150 years old. They have been freely built up in a bead technique. For the basic shape an old wooden mould must have been used. The clay strands were pressed into this mould. On the inside of the pot the texture of the bead technique can be seen. On the outside the pots have been smoothed with a paddle.

Then the octagonal pots were decorated with relief-like illustrations of plants and animals. They have been painted with black-brown engobe and partly glazed. The encrusted hand painted glaze changed its colour after firing to black-blue at the spots where the glaze formed drips. The pots have eight staircase feet. Their size is 30 cm x 30 cm x 20 cm. On the four sides of the pots there are pictures of flowers, grasses, aubergines, butterflies and dragonflies.

On the four small sides of the pots there are bats hanging head down. In China the bat is a synonym for good luck, as the words for “bat” and “good luck”, “Fu”, have the same sound. Bat decor was used to wish somebody good luck. All of the four bats have been made in a mould and were then attached to the leather-hard clay just like the other decorations.

We can assume that these pots were mass produced. The pot described above (on the upper four pictures) differs from the lower one only in the themes of the pictures. Probably this pottery gave the potters some more artistic freedom, allowing them to individually choose the pictures.

One side of this pot shows a lotos plant and a duck. Lotos is the symbol for enlightenment. The roots growing in the mud are a symbol for human involvement and passion. Leaves and flowers opening to the sun are a symbol for purity. The superficial workmanship does not make the pots plump, on the contrary, they look spontaneous which would be very hard to achieve in modern pot production. I saw similar pots only twice, in the bonsai books of Man Lung “Artistic Pot Plants”, page 195, and the Japanese bonsai pot book “Pot, Basin and Stand” Vol. II, page 33.

This is another very old pot from this series. Photograph from my picture archive. The owner of the pot is unknown.

Peter Krebs

The topmost pot is in the bonsai pot museum of PIUS NOTTER, Switzerland (4 photographs by Pius Notter).
The lower pot is from PAUL LESNIEWICZ's collection.

Photographs Josef Wiegand.

Translation: Heike van Gunst


New report on the bat pot of Hoe Chuah – USA – December 2017

It has been quite a while since we last communicated. Last month my wife and I made a Bonsai trip to Taiwan, visited I.S. Su, Amy Liang, attended the Asia-Pacific Bonsai and Viewing Stones Show etc. In Taichung we went to a Taiwan Contemporary Bonsai and Flower Pots Show, every pots in the show were made in Taiwan from the early 20th century to the early 1990s when most of Taiwan’s kilns shut down and were out of business.

In the show, I saw a pot that looks like the one illustrated in you webpage in Pius Notter’s collection. It was listed as from Canton. I spoke with Mr. Tsai Shi-Ming, the show organizer and a long time expert Taiwan pot collector. He said that pot came from the Nantou kiln in Central Taiwan, made prior to 1945 and probably older to as early as 1900 when Nantou’s pottery industry was doing well. It was wood fired but the exact kiln where it came from is not known.

Many Taiwan pots were similar to the Chinese pots as early potters came from Yixing, Jingdezhen, Canton, Fujian areas and brought with them similar techniques but with local flavors.

On checking the internet, Nantou is no longer producing much pottery at all. There are a few kilns operating as tourist attractions, selling wares and ceramic crafts or letting tourists try out making pottery and fire in their “snake kiln” as souvenirs.  The long kiln is similar to the dragon kiln in China but smaller, and probably called as a snake instead of a dragon.

Anyway I am attaching a tourist ‘s description on her visit to the snake kiln, it has many photos, including the snake kiln which might be of interest to you.【台灣南投】水里蛇窯陶藝文化園區