Stone Appreciation in the U.S.


Stone appreciation in United States developed primarily along two primary but separate lines—one from China and the second from Japan. Chinese stones arrived along with a wide range of Chinese antiques and other artifacts mainly during the mid to late Qing dynasty and subsequent years. Fine examples of Lingbi, Taihu, Ying, and Wax stones were part of the flow of fine art objects coming to the West. Most went to private collectors, but some were given to major art museums such as the Boston Museum of Fine Art. The world of Asian antique collectors learned about Chinese stones from many of the auctions and auction catalogues produced by dealers.

Beginning in 1985 and continuing to the present, several major exhibitions of Chinese stones at leading art museums in North America and Europe greatly helped to introduce these beautiful and intriguing pieces of natural and altered stone art to the American public. Concurrently, the writings of John Hay, Richard Rosenblum, Robert Mowry, and Stephen Little provided Western audiences with well-researched information about Chinese stone appreciation. As a result, Chinese stone appreciation became well established in Western societies primarily as an ancillary product to people collecting furniture, calligraphy, painting, prose, and other artifacts from China.

Japanese stone appreciation came to the U.S. largely as an adjunct to the introduction of the more popular practice of bonsai art. Bonsai was first introduced via the Japanese and Japanese-American communities, mainly along the west coast of North America and, then to the broader American public beginning in the 1950s and continuing for the next three decades.  This was the peak of popularity of bonsai in Japan and the U.S. and the introduction and establishment of Japanese style stone appreciation. Richard Ota published two thorough articles on Japanese suiseki in a Japanese language newspaper, Rfau shinpo, in Los Angeles in 1961 and in 1968. By the late 1970s and 1980s, books in English were beginning to appear based upon Japanese preferences. Japanese suiseki was well accepted by American hobbyists who then promoted the practice, particularly among the many bonsai clubs. The state of California was an early leader in promoting Japanese-style stone appreciation. The San Francisco Suiseki Kai was established in 1982, while the California Aiseki Kai group was established in 1983 in the Los Angeles area of the southern part of this state. Both organizations held annual exhibitions, organized stone hunting trips, and held meetings to inform members

Japanese bonsai master, Yuji Yoshimura, immigrated to the eastern U.S. and began teaching bonsai to Americans. He also introduced Japanese style stone appreciation there and, more broadly, in his coauthored book with Vincent Covello, The Japanese Art of Stone Appreciation (1984). He became a widely accepted authority on viewing stones. Interest is Japanese style stone appreciation began in the eastern U.S. where the first meetings were held in the early 1990s, and later clubs were established in the Washington, D.C. region and in New York.

The mountains and rivers along coastal western North America provided many excellent stones for collectors as well as the desert and semi-desert regions of southern California. It was largely clubs and individuals in California that led the slowly growing trend in the U.S. of Japanese style stone appreciation. Later, stone enthusiasts searching in the Rocky and Appalachian mountains found beautiful and interesting stones. There are many other others areas of the U.S. that have great potential for yielding wonderful viewing stones, especially areas with extensive limestone deposits at or near the surface.

Japanese stones were largely in the realm of the bonsai related hobbyists while Chinese stones enjoyed acceptance among the Asian antique dealers, collectors, and certain museum art curators. For more in-depth information see Viewing Stones of North America (2014) by Thomas S. Elias and American Viewing Stones, Beyond the Black Mountain (2008) by James L. Greaves.


(Text and photographs copyrighted by VSANA).



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