The potter shapes the pot out of clay, the hollow is where the usefulness of the pot lies.
From LAOTSE – TAO TE CHING
Older than the art of bonsai is the art of shaping and firing. Earth and fire, the cosmic elements, combine with the potter and his work as the third element. In the early days of the human race the first pot must have been made, not as a work of art but as a means of survival. The archetype of the pot is the cupped hand, to collect water or to store food. This archetype is still reflected in the shape of our cups, plates and bowls today.
The symbol of the cupped hand that opens, keeps and protects corresponds with the task of the bonsai pot. It prevents the root ball from falling apart and the soil from drying out.
In China, the original country of the century-old bonsai art, the first pots in which trees collected in the mountains were planted were ritual pots or water pots. As those pots had no drainage holes, the holes were later drilled into the pot’s bottom.
There is no written record when the potters in China had their first orders for the creation of bonsai pots. Very old Chinese pots give evidence that the change from ritual pots to bonsai containers was a slow process. Both were still religious objects. Unfortunately big numbers of those lovely pots have been destroyed during the cultural revolution. The few pots from those times that still exist are not used for plants anymore because of their great value, but are kept as witnesses of the past in museums or private collections.
Pot from the collection of Paul Lesniewicz
Photographs by: Bernd Braun
Translation: Heike van Gunst