I’m walking through my collection on a Monday. Last Monday, or maybe two mondays ago, as I write this, but you may be reading this three years from now so I’ll just say, “It was a Monday”. I’m looking around at the trees, as I do, and I see an empty spot. Of course the first thought is “Uh oh, someone stole it!” But the second is to look around on the ground in the jungle of growth under my stands. And there it was. I’d like to blame the cats. But the stand needs to be repaired too (tip of the day, metal stands rust. They look cool but you gotta fix them after a while. Fertilizer really eats up steel). So here I am, oh, woe is me, a broken pot, a rusty stand, I’m in for a bad day. But, as is always the case, my problems are pale by comparison to the rest of the World’s.
On the Tuesday, I learned of a friend’s passing. His name was Paul Katich, an American bonsai potter, bonsai artist. My Monday wasn’t so bad after all. His obituary, as they all do, leaves too many details about a man’s life, out. And I don’t know many of those details either. I only know what he did, which was excellent bonsai and bonsai containers, and the conversations and time I spent with him. And that’s what life is, spending moments and remembering those moments when, perhaps a shared joke, or a drink, or meal, make the loneliness that is the true reality of man, go away for a little while. And it’s those moments One should cherish.
The last time I saw Paul and his beautiful wife Norine, who is always smiling, was at the 2017 Abs/Bsf convention in Orlando. But, because of a snafu that occurred with a scheduled teacher that didn’t make the seminar, I was suddenly occupied for the whole event, teaching four classes and giving a demo. The only words I spoke with him were the usual ones “Hey! How are you? How you been?”. I spoke with Norine a little more, she told me that Paul was just getting over a cold. She was always looking after him. Of course, I wish now I had spent more time with him at this convention, even just a short conversation over pots, but, as I thought, I was too busy.
I remember a convention, this one was in Lake Mary Florida, several years ago. I was instrumental in finishing a bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon that Paul had brought along. We both got in trouble that night. That’s where I learned why it’s better to buy, and drink, good bourbon.
I have a new student, his name is Evan. He is going to be a senior in high school next school year and he’s already thinking of college. What that means, if you are into bonsai trees, is that you can’t take them with you when you do go to college and stay in the dorm room. Bonsai don’t live very well in dorm rooms, as you may have known. Evan is so intelligent and has the forethought to understand this, a good two years away from his dorm room experience, that he reached out and asked, on the Bonsai sub on Reddit, for some suggestions as to what he should do. As usual, on any Internet forum, there were many a varied and convoluted bits of advice. Well, for my two cents, I volunteered to board his trees at my nursery in exchange for labor, like pulling weeds, carrying heavy things, etc. After some private messages, and asking his mothers permission, we came to an agreement. And now I have a student that comes once a week. He’s helped with unwiring and re-wiring, repotting, defoliating. And carrying heavy things too.
How does that relate to Paul Katich? I let Evan choose a new pot for the ficus from above. Here’s some of the choices: As I set Evan to work defoliating that ficus (it’s a ficus salicaria, btw, a willow leaf ficus)….. …let me show you the pots.
Not only were the glazes interesting and unique, but if you liked a glaze on one pot but needed a larger or different shape, he could reproduce it. He took copious notes on the processes and recipes when he practiced pottery. He knew what worked and what didn’t. He made handbuilt, slab built, thrown, and pinch pots. Which is a rarity in today’s bonsai pottery scene.
This was one of the first pots I got from him, I still love it and think it’s one of his most beautiful. It’s a wheel thrown round. One of his first. You can just see a few things off. The drain hole isn’t quit the perfect circle he achieved in his later works. The tiedown holes are a little small and not as numerous as on the later pots. And he just has a chop, he hadn’t started his signature FLA-USA with his catalogue number. The name, Bellota, came from Bellota Italy. He loved the area and loved the name. I believe the chop might be an acorn with leaves. It is the acorns in the region of Italy that are fed to pigs to produce a type of ham that rivals the Spanish or French cured hams.
The number system on the bottom of the pots are how he kept notes. It allowed him to be able to look up the build and recipe specifics and be able to reproduce those effects on that specific pot. That’s the difference between a hack, like I would be, and a true master. And he was a master. This is him winning first prize for oval pots at the Third National Juried Bonsai Pot Exhibition at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, June 2015. He also won 2nd place for rectangles.
The three pots that fit our poor ficus today are these:Evan didn’t know but I let him chooose which one we would use (well, I guided him a little). The funny thing is, his first choice was also his last choice. Here’s the tree in each pot.
The reasons we chose this one were a few. The shape of the pot wall mirrored the trunk movement on the left. With this being an emergency repot, I wanted a deeper pot for the health of the tree. Lastly, the color complements the new, red growth of a willow leaf ficus.
And now Paul. It’s hard to write this. I wish I had spent some more time with you. It’s always going to be that way. You were young, and your passing was and still is a surprise. I still have the dwarf acer rubrum you gave me. I’ll grow it out and cherish it. I have these too few pots to cherish. I have the memories, especially of the time right after I got out of the hospital the first time. I went to that years Joy of Bonsai, the one where they had the special benefit auction for me. The one where I got shocked looks from everyone because of how bad I looked. There were people who said I looked like I was dying. You didn’t treat me any differently. You just let me sit in your booth and we shared time. I can’t remember much of our conversation but it was a comfort. I remember that. Thank you for the time you gave me. I wish I had had some more time to give you. I won’t say Rest In Peace, because, even though you had had some challenges recently, you always seemed at peace, with a smile, a laugh, and a warm handshake. May your journey be one of delight, discovery, and creation. I truly feel for your wife and your family for the hole that your passing has left in their lives. I cannot imagine their pain. Thank you sir.
Paul Katich, Bellota Pots: December 17, 1955-June 12, 2017