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.
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:
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.