While the title of this post comes from a phrase on a few older maps depicting uncharted or dangerous territory, there’s no danger here, although maybe there is a little uncharted territory.
Rather than a potter specific post or pots from my collection, today’s article will be the first in a series of articles which will focus on containers from a variety of potters, each with a specific theme, style, or glaze. Today: Dragon Pots!
The history and mythology of Dragons is long and fascinating, a thing that binds all cultures together in our collective mythology. Both the East and the West have mythological histories with dragons, though in the West dragons are almost solely regarded as evil(most likely a medieval link to the book of Revelations which refers to Satan as “the great dragon”), while dragons in the East are almost solely good(China) or both good and evil(Japan). Depictions of dragons have appeared for over 8,000 years in human artwork, and, of course, still appear today. For a little more online reading about the history of Dragons, take a look at these pages:
Chinese Dragons Wiki
Japanese Dragons Wiki
Famous Dragons in Western Religion
So, there’s a bit of reading up to keep you occupied for a while. Now, on to the Dragon Pots!
Among Japanese potters and painters, Makuzu Kozan is one of the most famous. Bonsai ceramics are but a small part of his works, and his name is famous among ceramics lovers of all stripes. Most of Makuzu’s bonsai pots were made as custom pieces, as such, there are very few. Painting in go-sai(5 color) and unique shapes are his specialties, and his paintings frequently feature dragons. This pot, a go-sai piece, is one of a pair made to order. The dragon is both highly detailed and realistically rendered, as well as classically portrayed. A very famous piece.
Koito Taizan is not very well known here in the West, but in Japan, his works are considered charming and masterful, and command very high prices. This is one of only two Koito Taizan dragon pots. It’s very easy to see the whimsy and charm that he is famous for in this lovely childlike depiction of dragon.
A lovely yellow rectangle with an overglaze enamel dragon, from another potter well known in Japan but virtually unheard of in the West: Eiraku Zengoro. This style of dragon depiction (enamel on yellow) is common to many different makers of Kyo-yaki(Kyoto Style Ceramics), and similar pieces can be seen from other famous ceramicists like Aiso and Heian Kouzan Jr, but this piece is one of the most exceptional. The patina and perfect execution make this piece a treasure.
An antique Chinese Canton ware pot in green depicting the famous mythological scene of dragons fighting over the “pearl”. Both antique and modern Canton ware frequently features this image, and similar depictions, in indigo, green, and red. In the Asian lore of dragons, the pearl can cause replication of any item it comes into contact with. In addition, the dragons pearl may be a likely historical harbinger for the phrase “pearls of wisdom” as the pearl also brings wisdom to its bearer, be they dragon or human!
This image came from the site of my friend Peter Krebs. No pot enthusiast or potter in the world is more obsessed with Dragons. As such, take a break and check out what he has to say on the subject:
Dragon Pots Articles by Peter Krebs
More on Mr. Krebs and his Dragon Obsession a little later in the article…
An Old Crossing black clay Chinese pot(Kowatari Kuro-dei). These stylized dragons are common for old crossing Chinese antique pots, and their antecedents can still be seen today in the works of Bigei and Koyo and other Japanese potters, who always look back at the best that has come before them to create modern masterpieces.
Two views of another Ito Gekko, this one Sometsuke porcelain. The dragons are both painted nicely, although, while it’s said that Gekko paints freehand, comparison between these two images and the go-sai above, painted a long time apart, makes me wonder if he paints from a reference image.
An incredibly detailed dragon image from Tsukinowa Shosen. This painting feels almost like anime to me, with the dragon grasping the pearl in its 5 taloned claw. It’s worth noting here that dragons in old depictions that feature 5 claws were meant for the emperor only, while other depictions have 3 or sometimes 4 claws.
Sruga Yamasyou with relief dragon in rich Shudei(Vermillion red clay). Among carvers of reliefs on bonsai pots, no artist is more well known, and rightfully so. This piece is intricately detailed and produces a wild feeling.
Another Sruga Yamasyou, this one is a brownish black clay. While the dragon itself is similarly detailed to the previous piece, this pot has a much more restrained feeling. Dragon motifs are common on Yamasyou containers, and are worth the often exorbitant cost.
This piece is a cooperative pot. The pot itself was constructed by Munakata Isso, and the painting by Mayu. Very nice details and lifelike Sometsuke. It is difficult to make a painting seem lifelike with a single color.
An unglazed piece from Tokoname potter Seizan, with dragons in relief. Unglazed Tokoname pots with dragons of a variety of styles can be found from several kilns, including Bigei, Izumi-Ya, and Maruhei.
This piece is a really unique square semi cascade from Fukusho(福昌). I’ve only seen a couple of containers from this artist, and they all feature this similar cartoonish dragon. A really nice use of golds and blacks.
A relief dragon from Yokohama guild carver and weirdo extraordinaire Okatani Zeshin. That’s enough said about that, if you like odd and unusual containers, he’s your man. Flip up to the “Table of Contents” page to see more works from Zeshin.
The base of another piece from Fujikake Yuzan. It’s small details like this, that most will never see(the signature also features figure paintings on the interior of the pot) that make all the difference between a mid level and top tier artist.
These 5 pots(the first from my collection), are all from German potter Peter Krebs. Mr. Krebs is a masterful potter, one of the best in the West. His containers often feature dragons in a multitude of pottery styles: Carved Pieces, reliefs, and painting in several styles. It’s rare to find a potter, from any culture, who is gifted at 2 styles of motif creation; for one to be gifted in all of them is virtually unheard of.
We’ll finish up todays look at Dragon pots with this piece from my collection, a gift from my friend and bonsai enthusiast, potter, and professional painter(of the art, not house variety!), Steve Ziebarth. This is a really fantastically rendered Dragon, realistic and detailed, and really comes to life despite the use of a single color. This is one of a handful of the first containers made by Steve, which is very impressive. More on Mr. Ziebarth and his works later….
Thanks for reading this, the first in series of feature specific articles! In future, I have articles planned for specific glaze types(Oribe, Kinyo, and Canton Style), unglazed clay varieties(Shudei and Shidei) as well as a few other decorative motifs!