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Bonsai Potter Spotlight - John Cole

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

I know next to nothing about how to make Bonsai pottery, but I love everything about Bonsai pots! I love how they look, how they feel. I love learning how to pair the right pot to the right tree. In short, I love bonsai pots!

I've had the good fortune to know a few potters over the years and I look forward to meeting many more. Hopefully, I can make interviews with Bonsai potters a regular feature of the Peace Love Bonsai blog.

For my first interview, I spoke to my good buddy John Cole. John and I are students together at Bjorn's and have known each other for a while now. In addition to being a great potter, John runs a bonsai business in Nashville called Creekside Bonsai and is the current Nashville Bonsai Society president. He’s a busy man, which makes me all the more thankful that he took the time to let me interview him recently.

Me: Which came first for you, the Bonsai or the Pot?

John Cole: I was just getting into the Nashville Bonsai Society and they had a workshop for a cypress forest. I wanted to go, but you had to bring your own pot. I didn't have one for a forest, so I started shopping around online and found they were kind of pricey. So I looked up how to make a bonsai pot on YouTube and I just started from there.

Me: Wow, so you didn't have any kind of pottery experience? No type of ceramics experience at all?

John Cole: None.

Me: That's pretty awesome, actually, how long ago was that?

John Cole: Oh gosh, 2016, I had to look on one of my pots here the other day. One of the first ones I did was numbered from 2016.

Me: What’s the most challenging aspect of Bonsai pottery for you?

John Cole: The most challenging aspect of doing pottery is finding the time. For me, at least. There’s some that can get out there on the wheel and just crank'em out. But it takes me some time, especially to do the slab building, which I really like to do. Like the pot I’m doing today will be a three day process.

John cole slab build unglazed bonsai pottery pot
A John Cole pot from my collection

Me: I see. Speaking of building bonsai pots through the slab process, I have a question to ask that I really am hoping to learn more about. Why do you think there aren’t more slab potters in the US today?

John Cole: Well, for one, it is time consuming. Another thing is there's no one to really teach you about how to make'em. When I first started, I took a local ceramics class, but that was pretty much all about the wheel. So if you want to build slabs, you pretty much have to teach yourself. Even the videos you watch on YouTube often leave out certain steps. And of course, dealing with the shrinkage of the clay is also a huge challenge.

Me: It’s sort of amazing, actually, given how great some of the conifers and yamadori that are coming out of the US, that there’s not more US made pots to put them in. I hope that changes. Maybe you can help make that change, are you aware of any potters doing a lot of slab work?

John Cole: I'm probably not the best person to ask, but last year I did have the opportunity to talk with Ron Lang at the North Carolina Expo and he was really great. He does all kinds of stuff, really big stuff, including slab work. I was able to ask him questions and he was really nice.

Me: What are you working on now?

John Cole: Throwing some ovals. Basically using the wheel to create the wall and putting a slab on the bottom.

John Cole Bonsai pot pottery signature
John Cole's signature

Me: Ok, I’m new to Nashville and this is where you grew up, where’s the best BBQ in town?

John Cole: Martin’s BBQ is great. And a guy I went to high school with started a place called Peg Leg Porker. It’s blowing up, been on Good Morning America, all kinds of places. I guess that real good also.

Me: Awesome, I’m gonna have to check them out! Finally, John, where can we find you online?

John Cole: or my Instagram & Facebook pages

Me: Great! Thanks so much John!

Again, I appreciate John sharing a bit about his slab making process. I'm super interested in learning more about American slab potters. If you know some good ones, leave me a comment or hit me up on Instagram, maybe I can interview them next! If you know of a great American potter that needs to be featured in my Potter's Spotlight, let me know!

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