VSANA Library of Stone Appreciation Books
The following reviews are intended to give readers an indication of the wide range of books available, primarily on Asian stone appreciation, but also on Western stones. Additional reviews are added to this site each month. They are presented in the country where they are produced. Unfortunately, some of the books are out of print and difficult to obtain.
Spirit Stones Australia, Deluxe 135 Stone Collection Edition.
30 pp. Spirit Stone of Australia, Ltd. Brisbane. ISBN $49AUD.
This is a large format (30 x 30 cm), self-publication using standard, commercial, online digital publishing software. It is basically a photo album of high quality images of 135 stones from the private collection of Bradley Barlow. The photographs and the stones are excellent. Unfortunately, there is no title page, very limited text, and no information about the publisher or publication date. The titles on many of the photographs are very difficult to read. This fine collection of stones deserves a better quality production, with an essay explaining what the owner sees in each stone, and more carefully researched information about the stones.
Spirit Rock, Scared Mountain: A Chinese View of Nature.
J Young Art, New York. 42 pp. ISBN: 978-0-6154391-8-1. No price given.
This is an exhibition catalog to accompany the display of a selection of Kemin Hu’s scholar rocks, Hai Tao’s paintings of mountains, and three ink paintings by C.C. Wang that was held at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery at Baruch College in The City University of New York. The exhibit was held from February 25 through April 6, 2011. Two introductory articles, one by the editor on Chinese rock culture and a second short background article on the Chinese artist Hai Tao. Seventeen stones from Kemin Hu’s collection are beautifully illustrated in this catalog. This includes several Lingbi, a Taihu, Ying, Mohu, and other stones, mostly ones that were appreciated during the dynastic periods in China.
This importance of this booklet is to document a fine exhibition of Chinese stones and art.
Beyond White Clouds—Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection.
Christie’s International PLC, London. 119 pp. $50
This is an auction catalog to publicize and promote the sale of some exceptional Chinese scholar stones, several Chinese paintings, artifacts, and two Japanese items—a Furuya stone and a man-made stone. A six page essay by noted Chinese scholar Robert D. Mowry, adds relevance to the sale and is recommended reading. Mowry is a leading expert on Chinese scholar stones. There were twenty-three items described, and all but six were stones. The remaining were paintings, root wood, or artifacts that resemble stones. The auction was held on December 2, 2015 in Hong Kong. Christie’s obviously expected to attract wealthy Chinese businessmen and art collectors with this sale. This auction catalog is a valuable reference for students of Chinese stones and a good guide to how fascinating stones increase in value over time.
Lu Dan and Zeng Xiaojun.
The Chinese Porcelain Company. New York, NY. 27 pp. No ISBN number. No price given.
Chrysanthemum Stones, The Story of Stone Flowers
Floating Worlds Edition. Warren, Connecticut. 141 pp. ISBN: 978-1-891640-59-9. $29.95
This is the first and only book about chrysanthemum stones in the English language, and is the most comprehensive work on chrysanthemum stones in any language. This is due to its coverage of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and North American chrysanthemum stones and by providing a lengthy list of references to these stones. The introduction defines the stones are and their basic categories. Then, the authors proceed to describe those from China, followed by a chapter on Japanese stones. Next, the newly found chrysanthemum stones found in North America are described. A small section on Korean stones is also included. Some of the first uses of chrysanthemum stones can be traced to 1740 in southern China. Readers may be surprised by the wide range of these stones--particularly in China and Japan--that are illustrated in this volume. The bulk of the text and photographs in this book is devoted to the Chinese and Japanese stones. The authors have travelled extensively in China and Japan over many years to gather information and photographs for this work. Many rare and unusual chrysanthemum stone photographs are included among the 120 color photographs in this book. It is a soft cover volume with a perfect binding.
Viewing Stones of North America.
Floating Worlds Editions. Warren, Connecticut. 147 pages. ISBN: 978-1-891640-72-8. $50 when published.
This is the first book to present outstanding North American viewing stones from private and institutional collections. A jury of stone specialists selected 151 stones from 63 different sources for inclusion in this book from over 330 photographs of different stones submitted. The introductory essays compared eastern versus western stone appreciation, an examination of the role of stones in Native American culture, and concepts relating to North American viewing stones. This was followed by an essay examining American stones as contemporary art objects. The contributors were Richard Turner, Rick Stiles, and Paul Gilbert. Two pages of references and recommendations for additional reading are included.
Since its publication, the book has been well received by the stone appreciation community and many glowing reviews of it have been published. It is an attractive, hardbound volume.
Contemplating Rocks. Sylph Editions.
London. ISBN: 978-0-9569920-7-9. 190 pp. 120 £.
This beautiful, limited edition book by Marcus Flake, a London-based Chinese antique dealer specializing in Chinese furniture, is warmly welcomed to the growing body of publications in English about Chinese stone appreciation. In addition to ten short essays by Flake, the book contains an introductory chapter titled The Historical Importance of Scholar’s Rocks in Chinese Culture by Robert D. Mowry and short essays by well-known Chinese art scholars and artists — Lu Dan, James Lally, Nicolas Chow, and Brice Marden.
This will be a very enlightening work for many western stone collectors. For example, Flacks states in one of his ten essays that “One of the greatest misconceptions in modern times about the collecting of rocks is that their value is based on them being untouched natural objects. This notion was probably started by western collectors looking for suitable criteria for collecting rocks whilst being unaware of their long, rich histories.” His accompanying essay about inscriptions will also be an “eye opener” for many western stone collectors who consider any inscription on a stone to be undesirable.
Each feature of this book — from the selection of the paper, font and type size, design and layout, photographs, text, and binding — shouts quality, refinement, and excellence. Its size — 28 x 30.5 cm — is non-standard; however, this larger format is perfect for presenting the photographs and other art work in an highly effective manner.
Rock Show at the Garden. Exhibition and Sales Catalog.
June 2nd through July 9th, 1994.
E & J Frankel Ltd., New York, NY. 34 pp. No ISBN number. 34 pages.
This auction catalog consists of twenty-one natural stones, five carved stones, three paintings and some root sculptures, framed sliced Dali marble, brush rests, and two handmade porcelain rock-like sculptures. Each item is beautifully illustrated in this handsome, large format volume. Unfortunately, no information is given as to owners or the provenance of the various items offered for sale. Nearly all of the items are Chinese in origin except for one Japanese Neo Valley chrysanthemum stone. This stone was mistakenly identified as a fossil fantastic rock. The authors stated “The fossil, which looks like a flower or a starburst, is a sea organism in the trilobite category.” Numerous technical studies, some published long before this catalog, clearly showed that the chrysanthemum flower stones are true mineral formations and not fossil organisms. We recommend that information from sale catalogs be taken lightly and not relied upon for accurate information.
The C.C. Wang Family Collection of Fantastic Stones.
Exhibit and Sales Catalog.
E & J Frankel Ltd., New York, NY. No ISBN number. 37 pages.
This auction catalog describes twenty-one stones from the famous artist C.C. Wang’s personal collection. The stones are beautifully illustrated, but the catalog contains little or no provenance information; it is always helpful to include origin and previous ownership if known. The stones are Chinese and one of the Lingbi stones was purchased by Wang in Japan. This collection consists primarily of Lingbi stones in a color range of grays to black. Two lighter colored stones, possibly from the Gobi Desert, are included. Wang was continuing the long traditional of an artist collecting and appreciating fine Chinese fantastic stones for their beauty and for their inspiration, a tradition that dates back to the Song and Tang dynasties.
Beyond Suiseki, Ancient Asian Viewing Stones of the 21st Century.
Water Stone Press, Arcata, California. 142 pages. ISBN: 975-0-9793729-0-2.
This is an interesting and important book that took courage to write and publish. Gerstle is a collector of stones with a strong interest in Asian arts. She is neither a Chinese scholar nor an expert of Chinese stones; however, she is a keen observer, and noticed a definite bias in North American stone appreciation. Gerstle wrote a passionate introduction to the book which outlined how so much of western stone appreciation concepts were based upon Japanese concepts or, more correctly, western interpretation of Japanese stone appreciation concepts. She describes how Japanese suiseki became ingrained in many people’s minds as the only approach to stone appreciation. Then, she proceeds to discuss how Chinese stones have had a major impact on western stone collectors and encourages readers to be more open to Chinese and Korean stone appreciation. Her text contains some minor misstatements and translation errors, such as the use of the inaccurate statement “gongshi viewing stones” or the misspelling of Gobi Desert wind blown stones as “Fongli” instead of “fengli.” But overall, the strength of her text allows the reader to easily overlook these errors.
The superb photographs by Fernando Aguila serve to make the individual stones come alive and appear three dimensional. The detail shown in each photograph is extraordinary. The layout of the book complements each high quality photo; text and photos are presented on opposing pages. Many of the stones are Chinese, and each stone was given a poetic name. Enjoy the photos and be challenged by Gerstle’s message. A second edition was published as an e-book in 2012.
American Viewing Stones, Beyond the Black Mountain: Color, pattern, and Form.
American Viewing Stone Resource Center, Santa Monica, California. 138 p. ISBN: 978-0-9817689-0-8.
This volume was produced to coincide with an exhibition of viewing stones from the James and Alice Greaves collection held in the International Pavilion at the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum in the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. It provides in-depth background information about the stones on display. But this volume is much more than that. It is an excellent introduction to North American viewing stones. This book is strongly influenced by the author’s understanding of Japanese style suiseki culture. Greaves has devoted considerable attention to the study of American stones and this is reflected in his observations and comments about each of the examples illustrated in this book.
It is well written and generously illustrated with high quality photographs. This volume is now out of print, but a slightly revised version may be produced later in 2016.
The Bonsai & Suiseki Collection of Felicidad Sanchez-Gupit.
Privately Published, Manila. 112 pages. No ISBN. No price given.
This is a special book that was produced by the children of Felicidad S. Gupit in celebration of her 75 birthday. Mrs. Gupit, more than anyone else, has been a long-time, tireless advocate of bonsai and stone appreciation in the Philippines. She is a leader in the Philippine Bonsai Society and in the Natural Stone Association of the Philippines.
This is an attractive hard bound volume that is divided into two major sections. The first section contains full page illustrations of 59 of Mrs. Gupit’s bonsai. The second section is a comparable treatment for 50 of her best stones.
The Wonders of Natural Stones. The Philippine Collection.
Natural Stone Society of the Philippines. Manila. 56pp. No ISBN. No price given.
This small booklet is the first publications focused on viewing stones of the Philippines. Prior to this, stones from this country were included in exhibition catalogs of the Philippine Bonsai Society. Over fifty stones, mostly from the Philippines and with only a few Chinese stones, are illustrated in this 15 x 21.5 cm volume. The wide range of stones types illustrated here is interesting in that fantastic-shaped limestone pieces closely resembling Chinese Lingbi stones are found in the Philippines. Their rivers yield some wonderful cobbles with fascinating patterns along with water-worn limestone with fossil shell deposits.
The stone appreciation culture is only about 15 years old in the Philippines, but there is a small, very enthusiastic group of people searching for stones there, influenced by both Chinese and Japanese stone cultures.
Kernals of Energy, Bones of Earth, The Rock in Chinese Art.
China House Gallery, New York City, 160 pp. No ISBN number. Out of Print.
This book was produced to accompany an exhibit of fifty items at the China House Gallery of the China Institute in America in New York City from October 26, 1985 until January 26, 1986. The exhibit focused on Chinese stone appreciation as expressed in various art forms: fans, scrolls, paintings, bronzes, screens, brush stands, tree roots, and stones. These objects were assembled from many of the leading art museums in the United States and slightly more than half of the items were paintings. Despite that, this volume has become one of the more important references for westerners studying Chinese stone appreciation. This exhibit was one of the first post dynastic China exhibits relating to stones, and it set the stage for several significant exhibits that would follow. The catalog has become highly sought after because it is one of the best sources in English to gain a good understanding of the role of the important role that rocks played in Chinese society. The scholarly treatise contributed by Dr. John Hay of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University is excellent and is essential reading for rock enthusiasts living in western countries. Detailed notes accompany the generously illustrated text and all plates are in black and white. People who read this book carefully will likely change the manner in which people they view rocks.
Modern Chinese Scholars’ Rocks.
Floating Worlds Editions. Warren, Connecticut, U.S. 143 pp. $29.95.
This attractive paperback volume is the best introductory guide in English for people at the entry level of Chinese stone appreciation. The author has provided beautiful photographs and brief text about 38 major types of stones. These are the stones that visitors frequently encounter at the stone museums, markets, and classical gardens in China. Hu also includes chapters on how to make wood bases for stones and how best to display the stones. A short list of suggested English language references is given at the end of this book. This book was written by one of the most knowledgeable people in North America on Chinese stone appreciation, particularly stones from the dynastic periods of China. This book belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in artistic stones.
The Spirit of Gongshi: Chinese Scholar’s Rocks. L.H. Inc and Art
Media Resources, Ltd. Newton, Massachusetts and Chicago, Illinois. 128 pp. 1-878529-51-X. $40.00
This interesting volume was Kemin Hu’s first book about Chinese stone appreciation and provides readers with an indication of Chinese stone appreciation in the United States in the mid- to late-1980s. It has one-page contributions from leading stone aficionados of the time including Ian Wilson, Richard Rosenblum, C.C. Wang and Hu Zhaokang, Kemin’s father and teacher. The text is in English and Chinese. The majority of the book is devoted to numerous, high quality photographs of outstanding stones from the collections of Richard Rosenblum, Ian and Susan Wilson, C.C. Wang (stones and paintings), Hu Zhaokang, Chang Dai Chien, and of historical and famous garden rocks in China. It is a valuable overview of many fine stones.
The use of the word gongshi in the title has led many people in western countries to believe that this is the accepted and widely used term in China for stones appreciated as natural art objects. In later books, Hu shifted to use “scholar rocks” in describing Chinese stones.
Scholar’s Rocks in Ancient China.
Weatherhill, Inc. Turnbull, Connecticut. 163 pp. ISBN 0-8348-0503-0 (North America), 974-524-016-8 (Asia, Europe, UK). $50.
This is a wonderful book for anyone wishing to learn about stone appreciation in China during the dynasties. This beautifully illustrated work introduces readers to this fascinating aspect of Chinese culture by focusing on the first and most comprehensive illustrated book, the Suyuan Stone Catalog, published in 1613 in China about appreciating stones for their natural beauty. Hu takes twenty of the nearly 100 stones or stone types featured in the early stone catalog and presents information about each in a informative and interesting manner. This is not a book just about stones, because it also includes other stone art forms such as ancient brush rests and Yanshan mountain ink stones. Readers are introduced to important early books, poems, and paintings of stones. This book demonstrates the role that stones played in the lives of the artists, writers, calligraphers, and government officials. Reading Hu’s book helps immensely in understanding the value and importance of the Suyuan Stone Catalog published nearly 500 years ago. The book is attractively designed and the 188-illustrations included in this work are excellent. It has a quality binding and overall production resulting in a long-lasting publication.
The Romance of Scholars’ Stones. Adventures in Appreciation.
Hu, Kemin. 2011. The Romance of Scholars’ Stones. Adventures in Appreciation. Floating World Editions. Warren, Connecticut. U.S. 148 pp. ISBN 978-1-891640-61-2. $50.00
Students and scholars of Chinese stone appreciation during the dynastic years now have an additional source of information to add to their libraries. This latest work from Kemin Hu is a series of seven essays on varying topics relating to stones from the early to the latest dynasties. She describes the early use of mountain shaped stones that had depressions and served as ink stones for use in calligraphy. These yanshan stones dated back to the Han dynasty and later southern Tang dynasty and Northern Song dynasty. The most intriguing chapter is an account of a 2,000 year-old stone from the Han dynasty that has been handed down from one generation to another in the Li family.
The book is beautifully produced with excellent, high quality photographs. Books like this are rare and provide us with a valuable peak back in time to learn about the stones that were treasured by several emperors and scholars. This book along with Hu’s other works on Chinese stone appreciation, belongs in the library of every serious student of Chinese stone appreciation.
Suiseki in British Columbia.
52 pp. privately published by Bill & Julie Hutchinson. Canada. No ISBN number given.
This is one of the earliest England language booklets published on viewing stones found in North America, and probably the earliest book to provide information about stones in Canada. It is a remarkable work in that the authors have a good background in Japanese suiseki as well as a basic knowledge of the rocks of this region of western Canada. The first part of the book is text providing an introduction to Japanese suiseki, flower pattern stones found in this region, followed by a discussion of other types of rocks that can be appreciated as viewing stones.
The longer, second part of the book contains black and white photographs of individual stones the Hutchinson’s collected. Seventeen different flower pattern stones, known as gabbro porphyries, are illustrated. Usually white feldspar crystals comprise the “flowers” that are embedded in a harder matrix stone. A series of abstract shaped metamorphic or sedimentary rocks comprise the remaining photographs.
Wabi Sabi, The Japanese Art of Impermanence.
Tuttle Publishing, Tokyo, Rutland, Vermont and Singapore. ISBN: 978-0-8048-3482-7. 165 pages. $12.95
Most stone enthusiasts have heard of the Japanese aesthetic terms wabi and sabi, but, few people can adequately or accurately define what they mean. Some people use these words freely when they speak about stones or bonsai, and even add additional words like yugen and shibui without understanding their meaning or use. Understanding and using Japanese aesthetics terms is difficult as they are deliberately vague and their meanings have changed over time. This book will aid readers in understanding two commonly used terms—wabi and sabi. They were adopted for use in stone appreciation practices from their original use in other more major art forms.
Andrew Juniper begins his book with discussion of the development of the terms and their role in Zen and the formal tea ceremony. He then delves into the adoption of wabi and sabi in the Japanese culture, and their sharp contrast with aspects of modern Japanese architecture. The third major section of this book examines the role of these terms in garden design, tea gardens, poetry, ceramics, and flower arranging. This section may be the most useful to readers in conveying the meaning and role of wabi and sabi. The final section of this book focuses on the design principles of wabi and sabi and the materials that best express the feeling of these aesthetic concepts.
The concise and clearly written text helps distinguish this book from other volumes on the subject of Japanese aesthetics. It is an inexpensive paperback [one word] volume that is a great investment for those wishing to learn more about the Japanese sense of beauty.
Treasures From Nature. A Selling Exhibition.
Katie Jones & Brian Harkins. London. 16 pp. No ISBN.
Sales or auction catalogs from antique dealers can be important sources of information, and this one is no exception. Fifty items—pieces of wood, carved wood, woven baskets, and small gourds, or accoutrements from Imperial China or Japan from the Edo to the Tashio eras—are included in this sale. The objects include a wall hanging vase, walking stick, scroll and brush pots, decorative wood root items (okimono), and baskets. The catalog says that these are tasteful objects used to adorn a gentleman’s studio. Three individual stones, each embedded in root wood, included in this volume are noteworthy. Stones of this type are not seen in modern Japanese stone appreciation culture.
Unfortunately, the sale price for each of these objects was not available.
Rocks Into Gold. Zhan Wang: Sculptures from the Sierra.
Asian Art Museum. San Francisco. Distributed by Tuttle Press. 88 pp. ISBN: 978-0-939117-45-2. $24.95 when published.
This is a catalog that accompanied the exhibition On Gold Mountain: Sculptures from the Sierra by Zhan Wang held at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco February 15 through May 25, 2008. Wang is a well-respected Chinese artist who gained fame by making stainless steel sculptures from rocks. He perfected a technique of beating thin stainless steel plates to conform to the shape of a selected large boulder, then combining the plates to make an artificial boulder in the size and shape of the original natural rock. Wang selected small stones as well as large boulders from the former gold mining regions in the Sierra Mountains in California to use as models for his newly created works of art.
The exhibit often featured a small natural stone adjacent to it stainless steel copy. The exhibit also consisted of stainless steel pots and pans, dishes, and various utensils. This attractively produced volume demonstrated the close relationship between natural stone appreciation and art forms developed from natural stones.
PSBA Viewing Stone Study Group Exhibition at the Pacific Bonsai Museum March 26-April 24, 2016.
PSBA Viewing Stone Study group. 27 pages. No ISBN.
This catalog was prepared for the seventh annual exhibition of stones at the Pacific Bonsai Museum by a study group of Puget Sound Bonsai Association. This small but active group of viewing stone enthusiasts encourages people to collect natural stones in native habitats in the state of Washington. The exhibit is limited to stones from this state that have not been exhibited previously. This policy favors newly collected stones.
The quality of the stones and their photographs is very good. This self-published volume is limited in format and design choices, but it makes a satisfactory permanent record of each year’s exhibitions. Each stone is presented with poetic name, type, measurements, collection location, the collector, and the owner. Less than 50 copies are produced each year and these are distributed to members of the study group. Catalogs of earlier exhibits were produced, but are very difficult to find because of the limited printing.
On the Origin and Rise of Rock Appreciation.
Lei Art & Design, Inc. not paginated ( ca 84 pp.), No ISBN. Publication price unknown.
This text in this volume is in English and in Chinese; although, the original text was Chinese and was translated into English. My expectation for this book was high when I first read the title; however, the brief one-page text in Chinese and one and one-half pages in English on the origin and develop of rock appreciation was disappointing. It is not that the information is necessarily inaccurate, but I was hoping for more detailed information. The value of this book lies in the photographs of the 34 stones, sculptures, screens, and root art which comprise most of the book. The photographs are excellent and provide good detail of the objects and their often intricate and varied bases. Many of the stones appear to older, possibly dating back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties, but no information is given as to their age or province. This volume left me wanting much more information than it supplied.
(新世纪中华奇石). China’s Rare Stones in New Century.
Shanghai Classics Publishing House, Shanghai. ISBN: 7-5325-2825-1. 168 RMB when published.
This is a somewhat early but useful publication for non-Chinese to learn to recognize the wide range of stones being appreciation at this time. This book reflects the modern approach in China to stone culture, breaking away from just presenting information about the traditional classical stones. It will be surprising for many to see the vast range of stones, minerals, and fossils that were being collected during the growing interest in modern stones.
China’s Rare Stones is generously illustrated with excellent quality photographs. They are grouped by several broad categories: landscapes, portraits, plants, animals, architecture, all things, writing, beautiful stone, and Dhyana stone. The last category focuses on stones that display certain Zen principles and philosophical concepts. The major advantage to foreign audiences is that all captions and text are in English and Chinese. Many of the stones illustrated are accompanied by a short poem.
The Ian and Susan Wilson Collection of Chinese Stones, Paintings, and Related Scholars’ Objects.
The Art Institute of Chicago in association with the University of California Press, Berkeley, California. 112 pp. ISBN 0-86559-173-3 (The Art Institute of Chicago), 0-520-22045-5 (University of California Press).
This fascinating volume was published in conjunction with the exhibition “Spirit Stones of China, The Ian and Susan Wilson Collection of Chinese Stones, Paintings, and Related Scholars’ Objects” held at The Art Institute of Chicago from May 1 until August 1, 1999. This exhibit catalog is another important window to learn about traditional Chinese fantastic stones or “scholar rocks” as they are more frequently referred to in western countries. The majority of the stones in the exhibit are smaller-sized Lingbi or Ying, complimented with a few Yellow Wax stones, Qixia stone, and malachite. In addition, the exhibit contains crystal, root and wood carvings, paintings, drawings, worked stones, and even musical instruments. The insightful text by Stephen Little is essential reading to serious students of Chinese stone appreciation and adds considerably to the value to this work.
It is beautifully designed in a traditional Asian style with folded leaves, string binding, and enclosed in a four-sided, hinged book case with two clasps. All photographs and illustrations are in black and white.
When Men and Mountains Meet, Chinese and Japanese Spirit Rocks.
Sydney Moss Ltd., London, England. Unpaginated. Out of print.
This catalog of an early exhibition of 90 objects held in London is another important work to help people learn and understand about Chinese and Japanese stone appreciation. There are three essays at the beginning of this volume. The first and most important one is The Culture of Rocks in China and Japan, Meaning and Context contributed by John Hay. Each of the objects displayed has, at least, a full page color photograph with a description, size, and background information on the opposing page. The objects displayed were mainly stones, but there also sliced rock wall hangings, bronze castings, porcelain, dried fungi, paintings, and dried roots. It appears that most of the Chinese objects are from the Qing dynasty and were, at one time, in the hands of Japanese collectors due to the fact that some of the stones are kept in handmade Japanese boxes. There are more Ying stones illustrated than any other type of Chinese stones. Wall hangings with sliced rocks are also well represented. Japanese Furuya stones dominate the Japanese stones exhibited, although Kamo, Ibi, and Seta River stones are included.
This is a beautifully produced book that serves as a valuable reference to Asian stone appreciation. It is a pity that it is out of print and almost impossible to purchase a copy today.
Worlds Within Worlds.The Richard Rosenblum Collection of Scholar’s Rocks.
Harvard University Art Museum. 317 pp. ISBN 0-916724-92-1. Out of Print.
This is one of the most important books in English on Chinese scholar stones. It was prepared for an exhibit of one of the earliest and finest collections of scholar stones in North America assembled by Boston artist Richard Rosenbloom. He purchased most of his 350 stones in the 1980s and 1990s when they were available at true bargain prices. In 1997, a major exhibit of eighty of his stones went on tour in the United States and Europe. This volume was prepared by Mowry, Curator of Chinese Art at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University, is divided into two major parts. The first half contains a series of seven essays by Mowry and six other academic colleagues; while the latter half of the book is a catalogue of the exhibit. Each of the eighty stones is beautifully illustrated and accompanied with a detailed description and commentary by Mowry. The stones are mostly from the Qing dynasty, but with some from the earlier Ming dynasty. This is one of the most scholarly works on this subject and, typical of a university professor, the work is meticulously documented and contains a lengthy selected bibliography.
It is essential reading for serious collectors of artistic stones and for Qing dynasty scholars.
Suiseki, The Best of Europe
Privately Published by Pius Notter, Boswil, Switzerland. 95 pages. No ISBN number. No price given.
This is an important book in European stone appreciation because it documents the first major exhibition of fine stones from throughout Europe along with some excellent stones from Japan and China. The event was staged by the young European Suiseki Association (ESA), and organized by Pius Notter with support from ESA president Norry Kirschten. This was not the first exhibition of stones; there were several small displays held in association with the European Bonsai Association annual convention. Arishige Matsuura, chairman of the Nippon Suiseki Association, and Kunio Kobayashi representing the Japanese Bonsai Association were the honored guests for this event. This exhibition attracted the major stone collectors engaged in the art of Suiseki in Europe.
More than 175 stones from private European collections were included in this exhibition. These were beautifully illustrated with sharp photographs that clearly illustrates every detail of the stones. Most stones were displayed in carved wood bases, while other were in ceramic or metal trays with sand. Some stones were displayed in trays with only a small amount of sand around the bases. The level of sand in the tray varied from one display to another. The type of stone and its owner were given for each stone, but dimensions were omitted. The gallery of stones was preceded by brief messages from Matsuura, Kobayashi, Kirschten, and Hans Deak, president of the Swiss Bonsai Association.
Suiseki, The Art of Viewing Stone.
Self published. 59 pp. No ISBN number or price given.
This volume illustrates the personal collection of stones owned by Mr. Ponnuswami, a resident of Coimbatore, India. In addition to collecting viewing stones for many years with the encouragement of his long time teacher, Mr. Nikunji Parekh, Mr. Ponnuswami also has a bonsai garden and has studied both Japanese style bonsai and stone appreciation.
Approximately 130 stones are illustrated in this book. Each was given a poetic name and dimensions. Some stones have additional information to help identify the type of stone. Several petrified objects such as coral and several polished agates are included. A four-page section, Suiseki, the art of silence, was contributed by Chaira Padrini. The photographs are all sharp and the book is attractively designed. Mr. Ponnuswami has assembled a nice collection of stones, presumably in India; however, the provenance of each stone is not provided.
Art of The Natural World.
Rosenblum, Richard. 2001. Art of The Natural World. MFA Publications, Boston, Massachusetts. 157 pp. ISBN: 0-87846-623-1. $35 when originally published.
Art of the Natural World is essential reading for anyone interested in Asian stone appreciation. Rosenblum can be considered the father of modern stone appreciation in the Western world. He began to study and collect Chinese stones and related art objects in the 1970s, long before others. A major part of his Chinese stone collection, titled “World Within Worlds,” was exhibited in Europe and North America over a three-year period. This exhibit was well documented by Robert Mowry in his 1997 catalog World Within Worlds, The Richard Rosenblum Collection of Chinese Scholar’s Rocks.
Rosenblum was a nationally recognize artist, a sculptor, who found qualities in Chinese nature that gave him insight. He viewed Chinese nature art as not just an aesthetic matter, but also a mystical issue leading to the possibilities of transformation. He believed that when a fascinating rock type was placed in an appropriate base, it was transformed into an art object. This transformation process and his other views about stones are the subjects in his eight essays (chapters) that provide a fascinating and informative window of how a trained artist viewed natural objects. Because most current stone collectors in the West are not artists; therefore, they often miss the concept of transformation and the other sometime subtle aspects of stone appreciation that Rosenblum so eloquently described.
Sadly, Rosemblum died shortly after completing the manuscript and before the book could be published. His daughter Anna and Ms. Valerie C. Doran, the Chinese art critic, who wrote the introduction and edited this book, worked with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts to ensure its publication.
Tu Wan’s Stone Catalogue of Cloudy Forest. Floating Worlds Editions.
Warren, Connecticut. 116 pp. ISBN 1-891640-15-1. $40. (First published in 1961 by University of California Press, Berkeley, California.
This is one of the most important books for serious students of Chinese stone appreciation. Tu Wan (or Du Wan) was a 12th century rock connoisseur who wrote the first book in Chinese about stones which are valued and appreciated solely for their natural beauty. It is also known as one hundred and fourteen stones are listed in Yunlin Shipu, many of which can still be recognized today. Stones like Lingbi, Taihu, and the mineral malachite are just three examples. Edward Schafer, a Professor of Oriental Languages at the University of California, considers that this book was first published between A. D. 1126 and 1130 with the latest possible date of A.D. 1133. Schafer’s commentary and synopsis of Wan’s catalog are critically important to the understanding of this ancient catalogue.
Dreaming of Dreamstones, China’s Extraordinary Natural Stone Paintings.
Schneible Fine Arts, Shelburne, Vermont. 68 pp. ISBN: 978-0-578-08204-2. $49.95.
This is a catalog of 70 modern Dali picture stones from the collection of Douglas Schneible and his fine arts gallery. But with eighteen pages of introductory material this is more than just a catalog of selected cut marble panels. There is little information in English about these beautiful stones that have been admired in China since the Tang Dynasty. His introduction to these stones and how they are selected, cut, and made into thin slices of marble to expose the often exquisite patterns and colors is clear and accurate. This is a nice introductory volume for anyone interested in learning more about these thin marble panels without having to struggle with the Chinese language. Most of this book is devoted to the illustration of various types of scenic patterns and color variations.
Dreamstones is an American name given to this fascinating pieces of sliced marble that are used in certain type of Chinese furniture, wall hangings, or mounted in wood stands for display on desks or table tops. It is an apt name; as you sit and observe the panels you can easily imagine extraordinary scenes. Each panel one is unique. This volume was produced to inform and encourage people to begin collecting Dali marble. But, be warned, collecting just one example is difficult.
Rocks and Art: Nature Found and Made.
Chambers Fine Art. New York, NY. 48 pp. ISBN: 0-9709313-5-2. $30 when published.
This modest catalog documents a fascinating 2002 exhibit that took natural antique stones, mainly Ying, Lingbi, and Yin stones, and combined them with modern man-made works of art. The modern works range from rock like sculptures or metal casts to works on paper. Hugh T. Scogin’s opening essay provides background information about the role of stones in dynastic China. Next, he introduces the modern artists who participated in the exhibit-- three Chinese and three from the United States. It is a prime example of a cross-cultural effort that demonstrates the importance of stones as artistic elements. In ancient China as well as in modern China, stones were collected and considered as art objects in themselves. The text is in English and in Chinese.
Art and Rocks: Nature Found and Made.
Chambers Fine Art. New York, NY. ISBN: 978-0-9816272-6-7. 50 pp. $10.
Scogin published a exhibit catalog seven years earlier with the same title. This latest work is not a reprint of his earlier catalog, but a new publication for a new exhibit. As the name implies, this publication accompanies an exhibit of natural stones juxtaposed with sculpted driftwood, ceramics, paintings, and photographs. The exhibit features the works of five artists: Robert Oxnam, Martin Kline, Meng Zhao, Zhan Wang, and Hong Lei. The focus of the exhibit was to show how the cultural and philosophical concepts behind Chinese stone appreciation continue to influence modern artists.
Spirit Stones, The Ancient Art of the Scholar’s Rock.
Abbeville Press, New York, New York. 236 pages in slip case. ISBN: 978-0-7892-1152-1. $95.
This grand, large format, 12 x 15 inch (30.5 x 38 cm) volume is more than an art book featuring stones. The stunning images by award winning photographer Jonathan Singer allow viewers to study and appreciate every detail of the hundreds of excellent Chinese viewing stones. This is one of the few books available today in which every detail of the stones and their bases can be seen. Or you can let your imagination run and appreciate them as magnificent mountains or natural works of art. Regardless of how you use this book, it is a significant contribution to the growing art of Chinese stone appreciation in western countries.
Abbeville Press Publishers, the leading publisher of fine art books, spared no expense in the production of this work. The design, layout, quality of the paper, printing, and binding are of the highest quality. The stones are displayed one per page except for groups of smaller stones in the latter part of the book. The 300 illustrations are duotones rather than color, which is appropriate considering the exotic nature of the stones. Abbeville Press brought together the skilled nature photographer Jonathan Singer, the fine collection of Chinese stones owned by Kemin Hu, and VSANA chairman and writer Thomas S. Elias to produce this work. The result is an extraordinary volume packed with information. Kemin Hu provides an introduction, while Elias provides essays on the history of Chinese stone appreciation, the value and importance of the Hu collection: and stone display.
Gardens of China.
The Ronald Press, New York. xiv + 141 pp. Slipcase. ISBN: none. Out of print, scarce.
This classic reference is one of the finest and best books published in the twentieth century about the gardens of China. Siren worked at the University of Stockholm and the National Museum in Stockholm. He worked and travelled in China in 1922, 1929, and 1935. During this time, he made many observations of Chinese gardens and took extensive photographs of the gardens at those times. Thus, it is a valuable record of the state of Chinese garden during these tumultuous times in China.
The book is divided into two main sections. The first 141pages of text is divided into ten chapters and contains eleven color plates. The second part consists of 208 plates mainly showing half-tone photographs of gardens and some photographs of paintings and sketches.
To fully grasp the concepts of Chinese stone appreciation, one must first understand the role of stones in traditional gardens. Garden stones-- their size, shape, texture and placement-- are a major element of classical Chinese gardens. The first two chapters of Siren’s book are essential reading for stone enthusiasts. Nine pages of chapter two, Mountain and Waters, are devoted to stones and an informative account of stone types used in gardens.
This valuable, large-format reference is, sadly, long out of print and hard to find at an affordable price. It has become a collector’s item.
The World in Miniature: Container Gardens and Dwellings in Far Eastern Religious Thought.
Translated from French by Phyllis Brooks. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 393 pp. ISBN: 0-8047-1674-9.
This is an important reference for students of penjing, bonsai and Japanese style container gardens, and stone appreciation. It consist of three long articles written by the leading French scholar of Asian culture Rolf Stein. These three related articles were previously published in French, but thanks to the skillful translation by Phyllis Brooks, these scholarly works are now available to English reading audiences. The first article, Miniature Gardens in the Far East, is the most pertinent to understanding Asian stone appreciation. The shorter second article, Dwelling Places, Their Physical Details, while the third essay focuses on The World and Architecture in Religious Thought. Stein is the consummate scholar as attested to by more than 100 pages of notes to the threes articles. Much can be learned from these notes as well as the articles themselves.
Miniature gardens of fantastic rocks and dwarfed trees have cultural significance in Asia. Just as a large garden rock may remind its owner of an unusual mountain peak or evoke a spiritual feeling, miniature gardens can be a microcosm of a large scale landscape. Stein stated “A Taoist magician could hide himself in the mythic world, reserved for initiates, by means of miniatures.” Studying this book can help western reader better understand Taoist views towards nature.
Miniature gardens, like certain Taihu, Lingbi, Ying, and Kun Stones, were expected to have certain characteristics—tou, shou and lou. That is, they should have cavities (tou), sparseness and stand upright (shou), and an arrangement that let water fall drop by drop from a hole at the top (lou).
Suiseki & Viewing Stones, An American Perspective.
Horizons West, Flagstaff, Arizona. 40 pp. ISBN: 0-9634423-2-5.
This modest volume is the first book to focus mainly on beautiful stones collected in desert areas of the American Southwest. Melba Tucker and some of her friends were among the first to search for unusual stones in the Mojave Desert and other desert regions long before the area was closed to collecting. The stones illustrated here are from her personal private collection. Even though she basically followed the principles given in Covello and Yoshimura book on Japanese stone appreciation, Melba realized that her desert stones didn’t fit into traditional Japanese categories of stones. She added “an American Perspective” to reflect the need to enjoy this art form in the American way.
Many of the stones featured are small desert ventifacts formed by sand laden winds over time. The stones are hard due to the high level of silica dioxides. After her death, Melba’s stones were dispersed to friends and former students; although two of the finest examples—“Geisha Girl” and “Waterfall Stone” were donated to the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum were they can be seen in the Melba L. Tucker Suiseki Display area. Her small figure and pattern stones are especially nice.
The New Suyuan Stone Catalogue.
Charta, New York City and Milano, Italy. 143 pp. ISBN 978-88-8158-805-3. $47.50 when published.
If you expected this to be a newly updated version of the Ming dynasty classic, you will be surprised. This book is about the career of the contemporary Chinese artist Zhan Wang whose stainless steel jiashanshi has won international acclaim. Wang carefully selected small to large boulders, placed thin stainless steel sheets on the surface and then slowly and carefully beat the plates to assume the topography of the natural stones. The sheets are assembled and polished to form a shiny sculpture that is his artificial mountain rock or jiashanshi. He was able to patent his invention for making the steel rock-like sculptures in China. Wang’s pieces are displayed in major cities in China and overseas in private and public collections.
This volume is divided into two major catalogues—Scroll I and Scroll II. It is a handsome quality production generously illustrated with color photographs. A fine example of rock art!
Metamorphosis of the Private Sphere. Gardens and Objects in Tang-Song Poetry.
Harvard East Asian Monographs 225. Harvard University Asia Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 301 pp. ISBN: 0-674-01219-4. $45 when published.
This scholarly treatise is not for the casual stone hobbyists. Instead it is an important contribution for serious collectors and scholars of Chinese stone appreciation. Mountains and stones were revered in ancient China and played a critically important role in the lives of painters, posts, writers, and learned officials. Individual stones and artificial mountains made of stones were a conspicuous element in Chinese gardens. The author of this volume carefully documents how gardens and garden objects were incorporated in some of the more important works of poetry in the Tan and Song dynasties. Chapter three, Fetishism and Its Anxiety: A Poetic Biography of Fantastic Rocks, is the most important chapter of this book for pterophiles. The appreciation of stones and their incorporation in gardens expanded greatly during the late Tang dynasty. Yang provides numerous examples of the way poets described in their work different types of stones, especially one from Lake Tai. He shows how the leading poets of that time wrote about these stones,and were also avid collectors of stones. Yang compares and contrasts the poets and their views in this valuable reference. Readers will begin to understand the importance of fantastic stones in Chinese society and in the lives of the literati after carefully studying this book.