Partners in Lang Bonsai Containers



Ron Lang

I have been working with clay since 1971. It was a bit of an accidental discovery. Although I tried to get into a studio art course for the first three years of college at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, the ones I wanted, like painting, drawing and sculpture, always seemed to conflict with my major Literature or English requirements. By senior year, I was determined to take a studio before graduation but realized the only one that would fit into my schedule was ceramics.

A year later I was at Penn State University in the midst of an early-career change. Playing catch-up, I was taking a full year of studio and art history courses and beginning to build a portfolio of work in clay in order to apply to the MFA program. Three years later I was graduated from Penn State with an MFA in Ceramics and began a teaching position in Wisconsin. And in three more years in 1978, I began a position as Chairman of the Ceramics Department at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD. I “retired” in 2008.

I first discovered Bonsai as a child of about ten on a visit to the collection at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. I remember my sense of wonder when I came upon these ancient looking trees. I don’t recall seeing them as dwarf or miniatures, so powerful was their sense of reality. But I was mystified as to how they could grow, leaf out and seem to thrive in the shallow pots they were given for accommodation. I am convinced bonsai is one of those things that either captivates at first sight or you just don’t get. On about my second visit to the collection, I did sneak a peek under the tablecloth to verify where, I believed, the hidden mystery of bonsai would be revealed. But there was nothing to discover. No roots emerged from phony pots without bottoms to grow deep into ample sized containers -no smoke, no mirrors. I asked around. I learned that bonsai was an ancient practice that somehow intermingled horticultural science with the aesthetics and philosophical principles of the Far East. These were things well beyond my world for the time being. My dormant interest in bonsai was briefly nudged again in graduate school. The seductive process of throwing, forming clay on the potter’s wheel had hooked me on ceramics a couple of years earlier. But I had all but stopped making pots and moved into sculptural clay work at Penn State. I was offered an Intro to Clay course to teach in my last year of graduate school and would need to instruct beginners in both wheel and hand-building techniques. I made some pots again to get myself back into practice. I had found a copy of “Dwarfed Potted Trees” from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. I made my first bonsai pots and started my first bonsai. I learned that they would need to be kept outdoors. After only a couple of weeks some other “enthusiast” decided to acquisition my first Japanese maple and two Chinese junipers. A dozen years pass before I would begin again.

Bonsai pots are a challenge to make right. Not a technical one so much as an aesthetic challenge. Pots need to fit trees. Beyond functional requirements, good pots will fit the natural characteristics inherent in the material or the design decisions forwarded by the bonsai artist. So often a good match between tree and container is yet another good design choice by the bonsai artist with an eye for the pot that will bring out the best in the tree.

The challenge of the bonsai potter is to provide fresh options, subtlety and variety for bonsai artists. Pots that come on too strong, that make too much of a statement all on their own and have too much “ego” are difficult to marry off. But the opposite extreme is just as problematic, the generic, the mass produced, the anonymous manufactured containers offer little opportunity for nuances in relationships beyond traditional arrangements.

I try to make containers that have life, that take breath, that move, that are not static. The successful pairing of tree and container is a collaborative gestalt.


Sharon Edwards-Russell

Sharon Edwards-Russell has been a practicing artist and college professor for more than 25 years.  Sharon has retired from teaching 20 years at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold Maryland near Annapolis and four years at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. She also designs handsome and functional websites like the one you are currently viewing (

Sharon has had a rewarding studio and teaching career in Ceramics. Both undergraduate (MICA) and graduate (Tulane) degrees are in ceramics, she has exhibited her sculptural work nationally and internationally.

The direction of her personal art work has changed over time starting as a sculptural approach in ceramic media. She has developed a strong interest in digital art. Her prints have been exhibited by the New Orleans Museum of Art in an 2004 Exhibition titled “Works on Paper by Sculptors” and are now in their permanent collection. She has also had prints included in 48th Annual National Juried Print Exhibition at the Hunterdon Museum of Art in Clinton, New Jersey.

Sharon has focused on the creation of Hand-built Rectangular, Cascades, Hedge Row Containers, Ikebana and Kusamono wares. She enjoys the freedom and informality that she finds in this genre. She has invented new shapes and forms for the genre such as Inset Planters, Strata Textured Forms. The textures are derived from observations of the cut away sections of mountain showing the underlying evidence of Plate Tectonics throughout Central Pennsylvania.  Her eye for design, subtlety of form and detail has made her work popular among collectors.  Several of her pieces can be seen at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in Washington, DC where her Kusamono containers from their collection are routinely displayed in various exhibitions of both Bonsai and Suiseki.

Our home and studio are now located in Boiling Spring Lakes, NC