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STLCC Ceramics Students Learn Art of Bonsai

Thursday, May 2, 2024


Forest Park ceramics students create Bonsai pots.

Bonsai is a Japanese term which literally means “planted in a container.”  The art it describes is derived from an ancient Chinese practice, called penjing, that involves creating miniature landscapes with rocks, trees and figures. 

But thanks to the Bonsai Society of Greater St. Louis, the Japanese potting craft is alive and well with ceramics students at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park. In fact, their works will be available for purchase at the Bonsai Central slated for May 3-5 at the Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville, Ill.

The collaboration between Forest Park’s Clay Club and the Bonsai Society began in April 2022 with a lecture on bonsai vessels that focused on the history of bonsai, the types of trees used, and the essential role of pots in controlling growth. 

Bonsai potsThe collaboration also included a hands-on workshop organized by the Clay Club, where members of the Bonsai Society got to try their hand at creating bonsai pots using the kurinuki technique, which involves carving into solid clay. 

“Our students have been fully immersed in the world of bonsai pots, exploring different clay bodies, testing for shrinkage and tensile strength, and learning about the diverse styles of bonsai trees and pots,” said Norleen Nosri, assistant professor of ceramics at Forest Park. ”They have been working side by side with bonsai artists to understand the intricate balance between the tree and the pot, and they've been loving every minute of it.”

Students were invited to sell their pots at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s 2023 Japanese Festival.

The students' enthusiasm has been contagious, as they've thrown themselves into experimenting with clay bodies and glazes, gaining a deep understanding of bonsai and its unique design elements. Their passion has even led some students to continue creating bonsai pots on their own time.

“I had tried to grow bonsai several times over the years without much success. I have killed so many little trees trying to create bonsai, so I was very excited to be able to talk to experienced bonsai artists,” said Michelle Smith, a student participant. “I thought I knew something about bonsai before the collaboration, but I found out there was quite a lot more to learn.”

Even though students no longer are working on the project as a group, Smith has continued to work on refining the clay bodies she liked the best. 

“I have even added a new clay body to the test group, one that fires black without any glaze,” she said. “It looks promising. I can’t wait to get feedback from the Bonsai Society on the black clay.”

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