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Earth and Fire

Hand-made Bonsai Pots

Earth and Fire


An excellent Bonsai pot, I do not see it - I feel it. Would I see it at the first glance, it would not be an excellent one.

A pot is for a bonsai what a frame is for a painting: one cannot be without the other but may not compete with each other. The painting as well as the Bonsai plant, is of paramount importance. Both frame or pot just make it perfect.


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In Europe neither the potter’s craft nor the ceramics art have reached the same status as in Japan. A professional potter in Japan might receive promotion and support from the government their entire live since they are considered "living monuments". The 88 years old potter Toyza Arakawa (Shino) gets a life annuity of 12.500,- € per year from the government to enable him to keep the ceramics art alive for the following generations. In Germany, workmen and artists mostly have to fight for their wages - not to mention appreciation.


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For the traditional as well as the modern potter the industrial-made ceramics and porcelaine destroyed  the basis to fully develop his art in an adequate space of time in order to find appreciation. Price structure forces him to produce large quantities. Thus, he has only little margin for experimentation and this mostly results in less quality. For that reason  there are  to be found  only few professional potters taking the risk to make Bonsai pots. And there are even more difficulties: pots cannot be made by means of the potters wheeel (except the round ones but these are hardly used.). Even if the pots are moulded or moundet from pre pressed parts, the hand-made expression of a fully hand-made pot is missing. Those completely hand-made pots require from the potter much skilfulness and sensitivity for the Bonsai esthetics (it would be beyond the scope of this article to mention in detail the numerous manual and technical difficulties). Those pots, Japanese or German if you buy them in the specialist shops or directly from a few potters in Europe, have of course their price. By the way, in Japan an enormous prices is paid for high-quality hand-made Bonsai pots.


Hand-made Bonsai pots are not only a “utensil”, mostly they show an expression of art. The Bonsai plant and the pot will enter into an optical symbiosis. Sometimes for the potter and also for the viewer the pots seem must have a “soul”. It happens that now and then a pot will be so excellent nearly reaching the Japanese feeling of “Wabi” and “Sabi”. It is not only the potter who is responsible for such an excellent pot: important and appreciable facts for the potter are also Earth, Air, Fire and the Spirit where every being comes from.


Bonsai pots of high quality are rare and expensive. Hand-made pots are hardly available. Chinese and Japanese pots offered by specialized shops  are perfectly suitable for most of the Bonsai. The shapes of these pots, produced in large quantities, are satisfactory. Even the price is in an appropriate relation to the quality. The glaze, which is of great importance, often leaves something to be desired. But, there are also exceptions. If you have a large selection, you may notice small differences with pots of the same shape and glaze. I personally would prefer glazes with little faults (like runs of glaze) to a monotonous and even glaze.


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Your own hand-made pottery that perfects the Bonsai hobby


One possibility to get good and individual pots is to do pottery yourself or to have it done by someone else. The advantage being the shape of the pot may be harmonized with the Bonsai tree; the glaze can be suited to the bark and the leaves. The disadvantage is that you need the experience of having done pottery for some years if you want to make a suitable pot for Bonsai trees. At the beginning, you will fail or you will be disappointed if you make the pots yourself. But all that will be forgotten after two or three years if you carry on and improve yourself  gradually.


The Glazes


The glazes should be like the tree. If the tree is young, I use a light glaze for the pot. If the tree is old, the glaze must be chosen very carefully. It should reflect the colour of the patina of  the trunk, the colour of the leaves, or it should be in harmony with them. In any case, the shade of the glaze must be soft and discreet no matter whether it is a light or dark glaze.


Sometimes the glazes appear to have aged together with the tree. Crevices in the glaze look like the bark of trees that withstood the rigours of the nature for decades. Particularly for this purpose stoneware glazes with their dull colours are also suitable.


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Light glazes can give the impression of spring and calmness. They are particulary suitable for young Bonsai trees or trees like birch and zelkova.


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The colours light-green to dark-green remind us of moss.


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Light-blue to dark -blue glazes associate a calm lake or a bay and the variations in the glaze are like the rolling of the sea. These colours are particularly suitable for Ishitsuki shapes (rock planting). Only the rock is placed into the pot. The tree clings to the rock or grows downwards.


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Glazed and unglazed pots sometimes show little faults and even slight distortions. They remind us of its earthen origin and are, therefore, not perfect.


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Modes of Firing


There are two different modes of firing an unglazed pot: the reduction firing and the oxidation firing method. Reduction firing takes place in an open fire kiln. During this process, the oxygen  of the air is consumed by the flames. No oxygen will get into contact with the clay during  the whole process. The oxidation firing method takes place in an electric kiln where the oxygen  can react with the clay. The result is different with the same kind of clay. Changes in the colour of the natural clay, which increase the beauty of the surface, depend on the flames with the reduction firing method. I fire all pots to about 1250 ° C  in one step process, no matter whether reduction firing or oxidation firing. At this temperature the pots become water, shock and also frost-resistant. Calcium-carbonate deposits will appear on the pot surface if the pots are fired at lower temperatures. Unglazed pots are particularly suitable for all pinewood trees, spruce and juniper trees.


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Peter Krebs


Translation: Gill Marriner 


Photographs No. 1-2-3-4-5-7-12-17-24-29  BONSAI ART AUCTION Japan


Photographs No. 6-8-9-10-11-13-14-15-16-18-19-20-21-22-23-25-26-27-28  Peter Krebs


These pots were made by Peter Krebs. Foto Nr. 6-8-10-11-13-14-15-16-18-19-20-21-22-23-25-26-27-28


Oxidation fired at 1200° C







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