Michael Ryan Bell – Bonsai Pots

Posted by on Jun 4, 2016 | 6 Comments
Michael Ryan Bell – Bonsai Pots

I had the chance recently to sit down with Michael Ryan Bell and discuss a few things about bonsai containers. He says that the “Michael” is just to keep the riff-raff away, everyone just calls him Ryan. For years now Ryan has been compiling a gigantic database of Japanese and Chinese bonsai chops aka “hankos”. He has researched so much information about these pots that he is unequaled in the English-speaking world in knowledge of types, regions and makers of bonsai ceramics.

Ryan gave a presentation for multiple clubs in the Bay Area during his visit including the Bonsai Society of San Francisco. His visit was thanks to the efforts of Thom de Cant and Catherine Wolf; with supplemental funding provided by the GSBF, and shared expenses among all the clubs that participated including East Bay Bonsai Society and Bay Area Bonsai Associates.

When he gave his presentation to the members of BSSF, Ryan had many pots on hand available for sale to club members, an opportunity that comes around rarely. The selection was largely comprised of smaller Japanese containers by well-regarded makers, some new and some older.

A shohin-size pot by Bushuan.   This container is Japanese and relatively modern.

A shohin-size pot by Bushuan. This container is Japanese and relatively modern. Check out Ryan’s comments about it in the video below.

Ryan’s knowledge is encyclopedic, and he’s so quick with bonsai pot identification and valuation that it’s sometimes amazing to just watch him at work. I watched as he plowed through crates full of pots, rattling off the makers names and the value of the containers relative to others on the local market.

Bonsai containers are one of the aspects of bonsai that are sometimes difficult for beginners to discern differences in. Because of that I asked Ryan to talk a little about how to identify differences among lower- and higher-quality bonsai containers. Developing your eye for good ceramics will help make your trees look all that much better.

Check out this short video that I produced from our conversations:

Michael Ryan Bell – Bonsai Pots from Eric Schrader on Vimeo.

You can read Catherine Wolf’s review of his program on the BSSF.org website
If you haven’t had the chance to see Ryan’s website, check it out now: www.japanesebonsaipots.net.

Ryan checks the chop and signature on the bottom of a medium size container.

Ryan checks the chop and signature on the bottom of a medium size container.

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  1. Carter Beall
    June 4, 2016

    Interesting to note that the inside walls of the green/blue pot are glazed. I have always heard that it is important that the inside of the pot not be glazed, but is this just a myth?

    • Eric Schrader
      June 4, 2016

      Yeah, preferable to have no glaze on the interior walls and inside bottom. The pot is more of a collector’s piece as Ryan mentions in the video.

  2. Thom de Cant
    June 4, 2016

    I love the shohin-size pot by Bushuan. What a beauty!

  3. Jeremiah Lee
    June 4, 2016

    Love the videos, thank you for posting!

  4. Michael Ryan Bell
    June 4, 2016

    Carter, the idisde walls aren’t fully glazed, and the inside bottom definitely isn’t. There’s some drip from the rim to the inside, but that’s really not an issue. As to it being a collector’s piece, the greatest of pots, Tofukujis, Yusens, and in the current generation, Bushuans, are collectible for their usability more than anything. While the glazes are often pretty elaborate, they’re also not out of place in a Shohin display.

  5. Felix Laughlin
    June 4, 2016

    Eric and Ryan, this is a terrific post, and wonderful to see Ryan’s very educational video.