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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