Blast from the past...

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Blast from the past...

Post  Chris Cochrane on Sun Jan 09, 2011 6:25 pm

In recently reviewing the dai/daiza question on suiseki, I visited the Internet Bonsai Club members' associated Viewing Stone List archives-- a mail list of primarily IBC bonsai enthusiasts who took discussions of stones outside the IBC portal in mid-1997. The VSL discussion returned to IBC when Jim Lewis invited the group to return as the IBC for stone discussion as the photo gallery was formed. Thanks, Jim! Jim saved discussion on stones from disappearing by encouraging a forum where friends would be welcomed.

Gail Middleton wrote an exceptional description on her visit to the 1997 Rosenblum exhibition of scholar's rocks. Especially for those who visited the exhibit or who have access to the catalog/text Worlds Within Worlds, this is an interesting supplement by an enthusiast with fresh expression:

Archive-Date: Tue, 08 Jul 1997
From: gail.e.sheldon
Subject: Oh how I want to go back....
My visit last week to Harvard University's Arthur M. Sackler Museum to view the first major exhibition and study of its kind in the West, Worlds Within Worlds: The Richard Rosenblum Collection of Chinese Scholars' Stones was simply not enough. The exhibition features eighty select rocks (called qishi or "fantastic rocks") from the largest, finest, most comprehensive collection of such materials in the world.*

Organized by Robert D. Mowry, Curator of Chinese Art at the Harvard University Art Museums, the exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog exploring the history, aesthetics, typology, and scientific examination of Chinese scholars' rocks. Fortunately, I had ordered my copy previous to my visit, had perused it, and was somewhat familiar with the collection.

I say 'somewhat'...although the catalog is exquisite in its presentation, mere pictures no matter the quality simply cannot do the subjects justice. Literally, my breath was taken away when we stepped into the totally quiet, austere atmosphere of the gallery.

It was early in the day and we were totally alone (except for a security guy with squeaky sneakers...I asked could he please stop pacing?). As I moved from stone to stone I found myself opening to the appropriate page in the catalog trying to force myself into remembering each detail. Funny, stones that impressed me in picture blew me away in reality, but stones that I thought "mediocre" absolutely took on life right before my eyes.

The second stone in the collection, "rock in the form of a seated tiger" (No Joe, I could not slip it into my bag for shipment to you. Sorry!) I thought was going to leap out onto my shoulders. I was so impressed. Being the touchy-feely person that I am, I had to put my hands on each
rock I could...until I was told "no, no, no". (Then I only touched when her back was turned.)

It was in this chastising conversation with the security guard that I found out that the rock numbered 26, "rock in the form of a cresting wave or a landscape with massed peaks" had previously been displayed with a mallet since the stone was so resonate, and the public was invited to give it a hit. Apparently some (idiot) person wailed it and in doing so, chipped the stone slightly. I understand that Mr. Rosenblum went ballistic ...the mallet is no longer present and the public is discouraged from touching. Be that as it may, I could not resist... I had to feel the life as much as I could.

I spent much time admiring one of the smaller stones in the collection, simply beautiful in its striking contrast of black and white, numbered 4 "miniature rock or brushrest in the form of a mountain range" a favorite of mine from the catalog. I found myself wondering about the person or persons who might have put it to good use...the literati of the time and their fine calligraphy. I wondered also how long it might have been until its stand was made...since the rock was obviously older than the stand (which was of a more contemporary or of Qing-date design).

It was then that I took notice of the different styles of stands...some are extremely ornate, some difficult to differentiate between end of stone and beginning of stand. Others were much more simple, refined and elegant. For instance, in the Ming period stands were designed to be much wider than the rocks they support. Some rocks in their stand simply defied gravity or so it appeared. On two I noticed that there was an equally ornate wedge (carved like the stand) used to hold the rock in place.

One such stand was designed for rock numbered 29, "tall rock in the form of an honorable old man." A truly awesome piece, displayed so that someone (of my height anyway) had to look up into his eyes. I wish I could describe the feelings that washed over me as I did... a contemplative sense of inner peace and balance. How could this be? I asked myself...without answer.

Another quite interesting stand grew, yes grew, for rock numbered 64, "mountain stone". The stone is 45x57x17cm...solid yellow wax stone. Apparently, it had been set into a freshly carved section of root which was allowed to grow around the stone becoming a custom fitted stand. This might have been done to assimilate the stands, traditional of the Ming dynasty, carved to resemble root systems. Impressive? To say
the least!

The special exhibition Rocks, Mountains, Landscapes, and Gardens: The Essence of East Asian Painting also on display as a companion exhibition explores the place of rocks in the greater context of East Asian art including ones for garden and studio. Although I thought myself somewhat familiar with Asian art, I never realized the special aesthetic qualities of rocks displayed in painting. Rocks appealed to the scholars' love of mountains and things wrought by nature which, much like landscape painting, represent "a microcosm of the universe on which the scholar could meditate within the confines of garden or studio." (quoted from info at the exhibition's web site)

I hear you wondering, how long is this getting to be? I'll close for now saying that I wished you were all with me; conversation would have been a delight. Halfway through the visit we decided to have lunch during which my husband said something like "I wonder what those scholars' pondered while they gazed upon those rocks? Should I mow the lawn today, or put it off until tomorrow? Or perhaps, Bud or Bud-lite?" Funny, he himself doesn't drink either. Spouses!!! You gotta love them.

That's all for now folks!

Gail Sheldon

(postscript: Just one more... I saw a dragon! Stone numbered 1, "stone pendant or chime in the form of a coiled dragon. There's just no question about it, it's a dragon. Perhaps turned to stone by some magician for dis-obediance or something, but it's a dragon nonetheless.)

* Note: Since Gail's visit, the Rosenblum Collection continued on world tour. Through bequests by the family after Richard Rosenblum's death, several important scholar's rocks from the exhibit now reside in international museums' permanent collections.


Last edited by Chris Cochrane on Sun Jan 09, 2011 9:53 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : A mis-spelled word changed its context-- especially for automated translations of the post)

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Chris Cochrane
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Re: Blast from the past...

Post  Todd Ellis on Sun Jan 09, 2011 7:44 pm

Chris, this was a very nice read. Thank you!

Todd Ellis
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