American Bonsai History – Keystone Arts

Jim Doyle, Don Gould and David Knittle

Last year at about this time I attended one of Jim Doyle’s (Nature’s Way Bonsai Nursery, Harrisburg, PA) annual “Woodstock” weekends that featured Jim, Chase Rosade and Seth Behner as instructors. A number of the attendees took advantage of Jim’s great material, including collected trees, for the workshop. I was an outlier of sorts because while searching for material I found a number of young but  well-branched Korean hornbeams that Jim had been growing in the hoop house and decided to make them into a forest. 

I found a suitable container underneath a stack of pots in Jim’s workshop. After I liberated it, I was surprised to see that the center drainage hole was shaped like a keystone (people in Pennsylvania are familiar with this shape, since Pennsylvania, the “Keystone State”, had a keystone shape stamped on its license plates for decades). I showed it to Jim who immediately said, “Oh, that’s one of Don Gould’s pots!”.

Container with the Keystone-shaped drainage hole. Jim Doyle said that Don carved the wavy lines in the bottom of the pot “to give the roots something to look at”.

Jim explained that Don Gould was a central PA ceramic artist who also made bonsai pots for many years. In fact, Jim, Don and David had formed Keystone Arts in the 1990’s as a collaborative effort to sell pots, stands and woodwork, and bonsai supplies. They all had connections to Pennsylvania and attended shows of asian art and bonsai exhibitions. There was more to it than that, however. They each had a significant influence on one another’s work.

Don unfortunately passed away in 2006. He was a very creative artist and innovator. He had worked on computer-aided design of Bonsai containers. He was also exploring the use of ceramic vessels to filter drinking water in African countries. Dave Knittle described Don as a “true artist”. He studied ancient Chinese, Japanese and Korean pottery and bronzes. Don’s glazes feature a bronze detail or highlight most noticeable along the edges of the ceramic. A website,, features a number of his pots, however when I accessed it recently it did not seem to be functioning. The following is copied from the site’s home page. I am not sure who the author is. I believe the site owner is Nathan Grealish whose father Robert Grealish also helped to start (and fund) Keystone Arts. There are additional posts on BonsaiNut.

Don believed that the pot should never upstage the tree, but rather help it appear natural and ancient. He didn’t try to create “art” pottery; rather he let the clay and the fire express itself in union with the potter. He was a student of the folk art of many world cultures, and he incorporated patterns for East and West into his work. One day he would make a reproduction Chinese bronze in clay, and the next incorporate African and Celtic patterns into his pottery or glasswork.

Don appreciated and taught us the value of shibui – the subtle beauty of everyday objects, the inexpressible impact of a texture or glaze of a pot, the anonymous casualness of an antique Chinese, Japanese or Korean utensil. He understood that true art, or perhaps Zen art, was not contrived or created.
Detail of the glaze with the bronze highlights.

Additional images of Don Gould pots can be seen at

At that same time, David Knittle was making furniture with Asian themes. The name of his company was Tansu woodworking. Don had a contact at one of the Smithsonian Institution gift shops and he engaged David to make wooden display stands for Don’s ceramic pieces that they sold there. Jim Doyle showed David books and photographs from his trips to Japan. David credits Jim (along with Bill Valavanis and others) with educating him about the proper proportions and the classic designs of bonsai display tables. David has become one of the premier makers of bonsai display tables in the world. Listen to an interview that David Knittle did with Ryan Neil here

David Knittle’s table. Cherry with rosewood stain.

Keystone Arts collaboration: Current display with Jim Doyle’s Korean hornbeams, Don Gould’s container and David Knittle’s display table. Accent plant is Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) harvested from a nearby wooded area.

I was able to commission a table from David Knittle to complete the display shown above. This will be exhibited at the Mid-Atlantic Bonsai Societies 40th Spring Festival

Copyright 2023, Walter J Scott

  1. Peter Neal Avatar
    Peter Neal

    I love how you brought all these elements of beauty into this story!

    1. artistreebonsai Avatar

      Thanks for your comments!

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  1. Peter Neal

    I love how you brought all these elements of beauty into this story!

    1. artistreebonsai

      Thanks for your comments!

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