Updated Catalog & Facebook

To all of you that expressed how much you enjoyed our catalog – thanks!  To those that purchased pots, a special thank you for your order and we hope you enjoy them for years to come.

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We have marked the pots which have been sold.  Just click the above link for the updated catalog.

Facebook

Many of us met on Facebook and once it was a terrific place to meet and catch up with people as well as meet new friends who share similar interests.  However, over the last 6 months it seems Facebook has become more about political views and ads than anything else.  After reviewing my feed for more than two weeks I noticed that the majority of posts where about political positions both left and right and an unbelievable number of sponsored ads for everything imaginable.

For this reason, I decided to deactivate my account.  Perhaps I will return at some point if the site returns to its original roots of keeping people connected. But for now, it just seems best to walk away from it.

Having done so, it has been eye-opening at the number of friends that have done exactly the same thing over the last few months.  Perhaps this doesn’t bode well for Facebook and I do wonder if investors are starting to pay attention.  Regardless, we hope you stay in touch through our blog, email and phone.

Best wishes for 2017.
Sam and KJ

Stone and Stories; Creating Provenance

Years ago, we had the opportunity to work on a project to build a software museum collection project entitled EmbARK and interestingly enough that software is still in use today some 25 years later.  This software was created to catalog the New York Museum of Modern Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s fine art collections.

This project was quite interesting in that it provided us insight into the need to catalog art, its history and its provenance.  So it was eye opening to us when we began to collect stones in the US that very little was done to preserve the history, or provenance, of the stones we were collecting and/or buying.  There were however a few exceptions and this was primarily stones we purchased from Japan.

In Japan it is very common to record the history of a stone on the kiri-bako that is used to store the stone.  Often recorded on the box is the name of the stone, the river it was collected from, the period in which it was collected as well as a current or prior ownership history.  We have always placed a high value on collecting stones of this type as it more closely fits our acquisition model of paintings and artwork that we collect.  We believe having the story of the stone adds significant interest and value.

furuya-ishi

This small Furuya-ishi stone was auctioned at Christie’s in December, 2015, at the Beyond White Clouds – Chinese Scholar’s Rocks from a Private Collection. Yes, we find it interesting as well that a Japanese Furuya-ishi was sold in a Chinese Scholar’s Rock auction, but there you are.  This 14.5cm stone sold for 300,000 HKD or at the time $38,891 US.

You, like us, might be taken back by the price of this rather small stone – 5 3/4-inches.  However, as we continue to look at the history of this stone we begin to understand why it was able to bring that price at the auction.

This stone was from the late Edo period in Japan; 1603-1868.  Here is the lead-in on the auction page.

“The horizontal stone with pointed ridges resembling a craggy mountain, the surface with natural calcite striations representing waterfalls gushing out from valleys. 5 3/4 in. (14.5 cm.) wide, wood stand, Japanese wood box with signature of Yamomoto Baitsu dated to 1852, within a larger Japanese wood box with signature of Tani Tetsuomi dated to 1875.”

So we see that the stone’s provenance reaches back to at least 1852  with a signature on the box dated 1875.  So the stone’s history is at least 165 years.

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Let’s continue to review what also came with this historical stone: A mounted album of commentaries by various connoisseurs. What follows is the rest of the auction catalog description of the stone, box and album.

“The current rock mountain is fitted within two Japanese wood boxes. The cover of the smaller wood box is inscribed on one side with the characters long men (dragon gate), signed Gyokuzen; the other side with an inscription by Gyokuzen with a cyclical renzi date corresponding to 1852, explaining that he has renamed the rock ‘Mount Horai (Penglai)’, an immortal dwelling supported on a turtle’s back in Chinese mythology, due to its resemblance of the underside that is similar to the texture of a turtle shell. Gyokuzen is the studio name of the renowned literati painter Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783-1856), who was active during the late Edo period. The other larger wood box is inscribed on one side of the cover with the characters reading Mount Horai, signed Nyoiou with a cyclical yihai date corresponding to 1875, and a seal reading Taiko; the other side with a seal Chisendou. Nyoiou and Taiko are both studio names of the Meiji-period poet Tani Tetsuomi (1822-1905) active in the Omi area, while Chisendou is the studio name of the seal carver Okumura Chikutei (1873-1927).

The rock is also accompanied by a mounted album with commentaries by 15 literati active in the Omi and Kyoto areas during the late 19th to early 20th century. In this album, the painter Murata Koukoku (1831-1912) portrayed the present rock mountain in two illustrations, and in a commentary dated to 1873 noted that the rock was originally possessed by Kosugi, and later came into the collection of Yamamoto Baiitsu, whom first named the rock ‘Dragon Gate’ and then ‘Mount Horai’. Its ownership had thence been transferred to Ichida. It is likely that Kosugi refers to Kosugi Goroemon (1785-1854), a Japanese entrepreneur active in Omi area during the late Edo period, while Ichida refers to Ichida Yaichirou (1843-1906), a Japanese entrepreneur active in Omi area during the Meiji period. Since the larger wood box bears the signature of Tani Tetsuomi dated to 1875 on one side and the seal of Okumura Chikutei on the other, it is possible that the rock mountain was later passed on to Okumura Chikutei and then to Okumura Chikutei.

The 15 literati participating in the making of this album include: Murata Koukoku (1831-1912), Tani Tetsuomi (1822-1905), Yamanaka Ken(1822-1885), Kamiyama Houyou(1824-1889), Ema Tenkou (1825-1901), Jin Shiheng (act. Guangxu period) , Tanabe Hekidou (1864-1931), Nakamura Tansui , Okamoto Yu(1810-1897), Katayama Tsutomu, Hayashi Sokyou (1828-1896), Ichimura Ken(1842-1899), most of whom had poems included in the publication Nihon Dojin Shisen, which was published in 1883 in Japan and compiled by the Chinese poet Chen Manshou who travelled to Japan in the late 19th century and became associated with the literati circle in Omi and Kyoto areas.”

furuyia-ishi-album-1

This is an amazing set of documentation for the provenance of this stone.  I think most would be proud if this were a part of their personal collection and from our perspective this stone and album is certainly museum worthy.

So you might be asking at this point – what’s the point, none of us, or very few, are going to spend $38,000 for a stone and book – we agree, and of course, this is not our point.  Now, we ask you would this stone be worth $38,000 to anyone without the recorded provenance of this stone? This points to the object of this discussion: we would like to emphasize the need for us to better document our suiseki, scholar stones and/or viewing stones.

Perhaps we might ask ourselves who cares about the stones we collect?  We should!  How often have you purchased a stone that has clearly gone through numerous hands to hear when you ask about the history of the stone at best the only thing that can be said is maybe, and I repeat maybe, what river it was collected from some time ago, and even this is often a guess. Typically we have no idea who collected it, who made the stand upon which it sits or any other valuable information that would be helpful for us or for generations to come.

Not everyone will build, or buy, a box to store their stones.  We understand that, neither will we; however, let’s begin to think about at least creating something in writing that we can pass along with the stone in the future.  Janet Roth is perhaps one of the greatest examples as I can give her credit for her fastidious documentation of her bonsai collection.  She keeps very good notes not only on the acquisition, but also the progress and work she performs on her trees. Might I suggest we begin to do the same level of documenation for our stones.  Here is just a few suggestions on what to write down.

  • River, lake or location the stone was originally collected
  • Date of original collection
  • Characteristics of the stone: color, texture, shape, size, etc.
  • Owners, both current and past
  • Creator of the stand for the stone, type of wood, style
  • Exhibitions the stone has participated in
  • Books, magazines or other publications that have displayed the stone
  • The personal importance of the stone: a more personal story of why the stone was collected or the memories it brings to us

I’m sure there are other things you might want to write down, such as where you were when you purchased it, the memories of that trip, etc.  Whatever is relevant to you at the time as this will all become a part of the personal history of the stone.

I know if we were to purchase a stone like this, having its history would be very meaningful. In addition, we want to do this so that our stones and stories will exist long after we depart this earth!

Let us know what you think…

Bonsai Pot Collection Sales Catalog

page-1Click the link below for the catalog.

edge-catalog-2016-v1

For the last 20 years, KJ and I have been collecting excellent bonsai pots from Japan and China.  However, the last 7 years we have been concentrating on building our viewing stone collection.  We therefore we have made the decision to sell the majority of our Japanese and Chinese collector bonsai pots.

Our collection contains Yusen, Tofukuji, Isseki, and Kouzan pots from Japan, several very old Chinese antique pots and others.  Most are show/collector quality pots, with a few exceptions.

If you have interest in any of these pots and would like more information or photos, please contact us at the email address listed on the catalog and we will get back with you as quickly as we can.

Thank you for your consideration.

Our best,

Sam and KJ

David Goscinksi’s New Stone Site

We often receive inquiries in regards to selling stones, pots and the like.  We are more collectors of stones than sellers and we understand how frustrating it can be to find high quality stones.

Our friend David has finally launched a web site David’s Case to help you find that perfect stone.

We have purchased many stones from David and are always amazed that he finds some of the best small stones from both American and Japan.  He is good in his communication, fair in his prices and ships extremely quickly and safely.

We hope you visit his new site and congratulate him by purchasing one of his fine stones.

Best to you David,

Sam and KJ

Kiri-bako for your collectibles

One of the first things we noticed when obtaining an older, high-quality pot or stone is that it often comes stored in a wooden box.  Known as a kiri-bako, these lightweight but very strong boxes keep things safe and allow for your collection to be stacked when storing them away.

Ueno Green Club

Ueno Green Club

There are several people in the US that makes these boxes and the wood can be purchased in the US to make your own.  Often when acquiring a pot or stand in Japan, we have kiri-bako made so that the shipment has a better chance of arriving intact.  After shipping several stands to see them broken or destroyed the investment in the kiri-bako became more of a necessity than a luxury.

In our search, we discovered a kiri-bako maker in Osaka, Japan.  Soichiro Kobayashi is a third-generation maker of kiri-bako. On his web site he refers to them as Paulownia wooden boxes.  Paulownia wood can be obtained from China at very reasonable prices; however, Sochiro explained to me that he purchases his Paulownia from North American because the grain is so much straighter.

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Soichiro Kobayashi

Communication with Soichiro was excellent and he was very careful to understand our requirements.  The order was for 11 boxes; ours and our friend Paul’s. We provided exact measurements of each object; pot, stone and stand.  Next we decided which style of box would be best.  There are numerous designs available based on the size of the object, how you wish to access it and how large it is.

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Production Area

The company is small but they have a significant output of high quality boxes.  From the photo you can see lots of wood working equipment and Paulownia everywhere!

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Katsumi Saito

Katsumi Saito has been making Paulownia boxes since he was 12 years old. He is a very skilled craftsman and with his years of experience you can be assured your box will be of the highest quality.

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Tetsuko checking the fit of the top of a beautiful Paulownia box.

Tetsuko, Soichiro’s wife, also works on the production team.  Note from her picture that these boxes can be made in all sizes including quite large.

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An example of kiri-bakos made for us.

The first thing we noticed is the quality of the Paulownia.  The grain is very straight and the finish is superb.  The framing used on the lids was an extra touch that we did not expect.  It is this attention to detail, in our opinion, that separates their work from those making boxes in the U.S.

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Kiri-bako for a stand

One of the stands we purchased from Japan and shipped to the US arrived damaged.  Fortunately, our friend Jeff knew an antique restorer in San Francisco and we were able to have it repaired.  It was nearly impossible to tell that it has been damaged as their work was superb.  To avoid this from occurring again, we decided to have a box made for it; see photo above.  This type of box has two parts – top lid and container underneath.

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Notice the detail in the lid with the cut-outs to allow for easy lifting of the lid from the bottom container.  We really appreciated this design for its simplicity and protection.  The box was also fitted with material so that the box could be tied. This provides a way to carry the box.

One of the tell-tale signs of how old the kiri-bako might be is the beautiful patina that it takes on over the years.  We were never quite clear on how this occurred but in speaking to Sochiro he explained why.  “We practice the “Uzukuri-shiage” to show the grain beauty. The Uzukuri method is the traditional process which has been applied since Edo period, to emphasize the grain by rubbing the surface and embossing. It results that the surface of wood gets strengthened and does not get damaged easily. The box also has an insect wax, Ibotaro.  Ibotaro is a natural wax which has the high melting point. Varnishing it over the surface makes it elegantly glossy especially for Paulownia wood. This method gives the wood surface preservation.”

Overtime this wax begins to turn a beautiful shade of amber that gives it that aged patina that we so much appreciate.

Another service Sochiro provides is written documentation on the outside or inside of the box.  Note, that this can add considerable costs to the box.  We had 11 boxes made at the cost of ~$650. The addition of writing on the box added another ~$300 in charges.  You will have to decide if the additional cost is worth it.  Our writing fees we higher due to the amount of Kanji characters used in the description.  Since some of our most valuable pots, stands and stones were going to be housed in the kiri-bako we thought the additional cost for having them documented was worth it.

If you think you might like to have one or more made, please click on the following URL:

Order-KiriBako.com

Please let Sochiro know that you found him from our blog.  He was kind enough to answer our questions and send us photos so we would like for him to know his time was well spent.  We have no business arrangement with him therefore there is no monetary relationship.  Our only hope is to provide you with an excellent source to have kiri-bakos made to house and protect your collection.

Shipping cost were reasonable as the boxes are lightweight and can be stored inside each other (depending upon sizes of course) to reduce the overall package size.  Communication with Sochiro was excellent with an acute attention to detail.

Share with us what you have made by his company.  If you have other questions, please feel free to contact us.

Kan Yasuda | Touching Time

As we continue to study the aesthetic of various countries and how they display stones, we are reading a number of books that give us insight into how particular areas of the world view art and stone viewing in particular.  Here are a couple if you have interest:

  • ›Izutsu, Toshihiko and Toyo, 1981, The Theory of Beauty in the Classical Aesthetics of Japan, The Hague, Boston, London: Nijhoff.
  • ›Tanizaki, Jun’ichirō, 1977, In Praise of Shadows, trans. Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker, New Haven: Leete’s Island Books.

In our own stone collecting, purchased or personally collected from a stream or river, we tend to be drawn to stones that attract our heart and eye.   There are just certain shapes and colors that draw us in.  In continuing to research these various aesthetics, we came across the stone and bronze sculptor Kan Yasuda from Japan.  We were drawn to his work as it reminds us of many viewing stones we have seen.

Kan-Yusuda-1

“Kan Yasuda was born in the city of Bibai on Japan’s nothern island Hokkaido in 1945. He received a master’s degree in sculpture from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1969. He moved to Italy in 1970 on a fellowship from the Italian Government and studied with Professor Pericle Fazzini at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. Afterwards he set up his studio at Pietrasanta in nothern Italy, world famous for its superior quality marble. There he continues to live and work at marble and bronze sculptures”

– http://www.kan-yasuda.co.jp/english/profile/

We were immediately drawn to the form and color of his works.  Christie’s in New York is holding an exhibition of his work entitled Touching Time being held from February 24 through March 26, 2016.

There is wonderful video of him describing his work which can be viewed here. “In this film, Yasuda talks of wanting ‘to express in a subtle way something of our relationship to the earth that is crying out in pain’, a feeling he articulates in the plinth he made for ISHINKI for the New York exhibition.”

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TENPI, Arte Piazza Bibai, Kan Yasuda Sculpture Park,
Hokkaido, Japan. Photographer Yoshihiro Kimura

This sculpture is reminiscent of some of the finest suiseki we have seen from Japan both beautiful form and color.  We view this and instinctively sense tranquility and quietness; attributes we love to have in stones in our personal collection.

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A lovely setting in a park with a white marble sculpture that reminds us of so many river stones that we have seen in various other colors.

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A similar shaped stone sculpture in a darker color  The form is very pleasing and reminds me of a suiseki stone in the book Suiseki. An Art Created by Nature.  The Nyogakuan Collection of Japanese Viewing Stones.  2005.

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Kan working in his study and his art being displayed with children playing on and around it.  That his sculptures can be touched rather than just seen is quite appealing.

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This sculpture was accomplished in bronze.  A pleasing form in both smooth and rough textures.  It reminds us of a stone that might be seen in a suiban display.

It is difficult to comprehend the complexity in creating these sculptural forms.  Kan states that he creates with the intent of these lasting for 500 to 1,000 years.  Perhaps this also gives us insight into the complexity of his mind that can devise such a pleasingly simple visual design in such scale.

To see more of his works, please visit his website.

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ISHINKI, White Marble, H 116 x 320 x 220 cm
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White Bronze, H 200×90×30 cm

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White Marble H 59 x 87 x 23 cm, wood base H 95 x 100 x 40 cm

 

 

 

NHK World On Demand Videos – Suiseki & Tea Ceremony

NHK Television has posted two very lovely videos in the English language that are available until 2/3/2016.  The first is entitled:

Suiseki: A World of Understated Beauty within Natural Stone

Suiseki

An excellent overview of suiseki was some very fine stones being shown as well as locations to find them throughout Japan.  The video is 28 minutes in duration.

The second title is:

The 10 Artisans of Senke: Tea Utensils Heighten Rustic Simplicity

tea-ceremony

An excellent introduction into the tea ceremony that runs 28 minutes.

We hope you see both of these video before they are taken off-line.

Private Collections – Hidden from View

In our last blog post, we discussed ways in which to build a respectable collection. Today, we would like to raise the topic of private collections.

How many of you have seen an original Harada Houn doban, a hand-painted Yusen pot, a Tokufuji glaze up close, or a true chrysanthemum stone?  We recall having seen them in books but those photos simply don’t do justice to seeing them in person.  Our post today is going to suggest two ways for us to share our collections beyond a friend or two.

We often like to visit museums or art galleries to view the work of well to little known artist.  Recently the Dixon Gallery and Gardens located in Memphis, TN had a Rodin exhibit of some 60 pieces of his works.  We had only seen photos of his masterful sculptures before so it was a wonderful experience to see them up close.

Rodin

There are museums in most major cities worldwide.  But a shift has occurred in the last 100 years where many of the top art collections are in private hands.   According to an article on http://www.highsnobiety.com/2015/06/16/most-valuable-art-collections/ the five most valuable art collections are now valued at over $11 billion dollars.

The other interesting trend is the number of private (single collector) collections being setup and earning the collector a sizable tax benefit.  Here is a quote from a New York Times article in January, 2015:

“Mr. Brant’s five-year-old museum, cloistered as it is, nonetheless is the beneficiary of what is in effect a federal subsidy. Operated by a nonprofit charitable foundation created and controlled by Mr. Brant, this cozy museum is tax-exempt. Wealthy collectors, of course, have long saved millions of dollars in federal taxes by donating art and money to museums and foundations. But what distinguishes Mr. Brant’s center and a growing number of private tax-exempt exhibition spaces like it is that their founders can deduct the full market value of any art, cash and stocks they donate, even when the museums are just a quick stroll from their living rooms.”

There are countless other collections some open to the public and some not.  I recall when working at Corbis, we gained permission to photograph the Barnes Collection outside of Philadelphia.  If you don’t know the story of this collection it is worth Googling it.

http://www.barnesfoundation.org/

He amassed an incredible collection of post-impressionist and early-modern art. More than 3,000 masterpieces, including 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 59 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 16 Modigli­anis, and 7 Van Goghs, plus textiles, metalwork, decorative objects, African sculpture, Native American ceramics and jewelry, and Pennsylvania German furniture.  We convinced the foundation to allow us to photograph some 300 works to create a CD called A Passion for Art.  At the time it was the top selling art CD at Microsoft moving more than 250,000 copies.  We actually built in a back-door on the CD to access our archive of hundreds more of his paintings because we knew that few would ever visit the museum itself.

At this point you might ask “what has this got to do with anything?”  Many of the readers to our blog are in fact collectors of stones, bonsai pots, stands and the like.  We each tend to collect what we like and I would suggest that most of it is hidden away unseen by anyone including often ourselves.

Sharing our Collections

Our first suggestion, which you may already do, is to open up your home to share your collections to others.  Use them as a invitation to create interest.  I recall sharing with a young man at our home our love for stones.  He saw them in our house, in our garden and in our greenhouse.  It led to him asking questions and then expressing interest.  We then invited him to go collecting with us and he obliged.  Is he going to be an avid stone collector – likely not but he did become educated in the beauty of them and his eye improved to the extent that he collected some very lovely stones.

If there is a show in town, be it bonsai or viewing stone related, offer to open up your home to those guests to enjoy and hear about your collection.  Share and educate your visitors while at the same time learning from those visitors.  Ryan Bell visited our home a few months ago, http://japanesebonsaipots.net/, and took some time to look at a few of our bonsai pots and quickly helped identify a few potters for us that we were unaware of even though we had their pots in our collection.

Open Up our Shows or Create New Ones

The second suggestion is for us to open our shows, or even create new ones, to display portions of our collections.  There are numerous high quality bonsai shows across the country.  I have asked this simple question: Why don’t we use that opportunity to combine these shows and show art in similar form?  If it is a bonsai show why not also display suiseki, bonsai containers and the like.  Offer a program of education about these subjects be it a introductory course or an in-depth dive into a specific subject.

Yes, I can hear the howls right now – who is paying for this?  Where do we get the space?  Who gets to decide what is shown? All reasonable questions.

Perhaps we who collect should consider having a show every few years where we combine the best of what we have to create a wonderful show.  Should we actively talk to one of our local museums to see if they can host a show?

For example, I applaud Christina Linden, the museum’s Associate Curator for Painting and Sculpture, for setting up an exhibit which included suiseki at the Oakland Museum:

http://museumca.org/exhibit/unearthed-found-made

If you live in the Bay Area please support and visit it.

How many of you would attend a show in the US that combined exhibits of the best bonsai, bonsai containers, viewing stones, suibans, dobans and the like?  How many of us have flown to Japan to attempt to see this very thing!

Do we have “the answer” – frankly no.  But we are hoping to create a dialog around this subject to see what others think and to learn what others are doing.  Please email us and let us help share what shows you are planning. If you have an interest in opening up your show to a wider art form let’s discuss that too.

 

 

Collections – Being Purposeful

Those of us that collect viewing stones, bonsai pots, etc. have likely had a long history of collecting things.  As KJ can attest, I have a collectors mind and I like to collect many things.

records

With over 5,000 classical and jazz records in our collection – you can say that we have a record collection.  They vary in age – 1940s through the 1980s. Some of historical significance and others of little value other than to me.

books

We have also amassed a book collection as well; though not as bad as this photo.  I have authors that I love to read, technical books on my field of study, those given the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and of course books on things that we collect or are thinking about collecting.

Over time we collected small bonsai pots and we then progressed to collecting viewing stones and accessories such as dobans, suibans and small bronze accessories.

If you at this point in the article are saying “I can surely relate” then this article is written for you.  Let’s discuss some of the practical sides of creating a collection.

Collect With a Purpose

Here are six guidelines (ours not necessarily yours) to building a collection.

  1. Collect what you like. This is rule number one for us.  We collect what we like, what we are drawn to and what brings us joy.  What we collect may not be what you collect or even like, but that is OK with us.
  2. Educate yourself. To collect without educating yourself on what you are collecting seems foolish but believe me many people do just this. When we started to collect small bonsai pots, I would spend about an hour per day researching them.  I would buy and read any books we could find even if it meant buying them overseas.  We talked to anyone that would listen to us to gain more knowledge about these containers.  If you consider this work, then perhaps you are collecting the wrong things.
  3. Know who sells what you like.  Once you begin to collect it behooves you to learn who sells what you like and get to know them as best you can.  This includes dealers, shops, individuals sellers and other collectors.  The side benefit from this is you also educate yourself.  This point goes beyond knowing the seller by name – truly get to know them.  Who are they, what do they like, why do they sell the items that you collect – show them your passion.  In doing so, you may find a friend.
  4. Comparison shop.  This works for certain types of collections such as books, albums, etc. With some collection types it can be more difficult.  We find viewing stones in the later category; well at least most of the time.  It isn’t like there is a shop on every corner much less one in every city. However, it still pays to compare when possible.  Good examples of this are the Green Club at the Ueno Park in Tokyo, Japan.  If you have been here you know it is loaded with suiseki, bonsai pots, and the like.  What you need to learn quickly is that the prices can be significantly higher here than at the same proprietor’s shop.  It is expensive to be a dealer at the Green Club and prices can reflect that.  Holding out to near the end of the Kokufu show can bring wonderful bargains, or perhaps we should say reduced prices.  Prices from a store front may be significantly higher than those from a collector.  You get the point.  So how do you obtain better prices – see points 2 and 3.
  5. Build a superior collection.  This is where most of us fail including us.  To build a superior collection we must not be random in adding to our collection.  When you see a superior collection – every piece belongs.  How many times in the early days of collecting did we buy lots of things; this was especially true in our bonsai collection.  Over time we learned to only buy the best of what we could afford.  One incredible tree was worth much more than 10 so-so trees.  It is hard as we all want to build our collections quickly, but all of us could use more patience in adding to our collections.
  6. Collect what you like – see number 1 above!

Before You Buy Ask Yourself These Questions

  1. Why do I like it?  This helps to avoid impulse purchases. You know those times that once you get your purchase home you ask yourself “why did I purchase this one?”  That wastes money that could have been applied to an item that increases the value of your collection.
  2. Determine what attracts you to add this item to your collection.  Is it the subject, its color, the shape, its historical nature or simply the artist?  We recognized very early when we starting collecting stones that our value of them went up if the daiza, or stand, was made by Suzuki Koji.  Understand what it is that attracts you to add to your collection.  Having this understanding will help you avoid wasted resources, time and money, and allow you to build a better collection.
  3. Does the item you are collecting help to take you to a special place.  For those of you that are members of BCI, you might have seen the short article I wrote about a stone we purchased from Kyoto, Japan.  The stones attributes reminded me of my mother who had just passed away.  Now whenever I see that stone I’m reminded of my mother.  The final sentence in our article sums up this point for me: “A good stone, like a great Mother, provides us with a lifetime of memories which can be recalled and enjoyed even in their absence.”
  4. Lastly, evaluate and understand what it is that you admire about it.  Is it the technical knowledge of the collection, its artistic beauty, that it reminds you of other experiences or things you love?  If the item doesn’t fit into things that you admire you should probably be asking yourself why am I collecting it?

Document Your Collection

This is likely the greatest failure for all of us who collect.  We don’t take just a bit of time and record in writing the details of the item we just collected.  As most professional collectors know, provenance can add significant art value to any art piece.  This is true for almost all art forms.

We have a friend who is a wonderful painter living in Memphis.  We first met Danny Broadway at an art show that my sister invited us to.  We love his work. KJ and I were at his gallery one day and saw this painting.

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The title of this piece is called Dixie Chain Gang.  You might look at it and wonder why is this colorful piece named as such?  We did too so we asked Danny to tell us the story.  He described that he had studied what happened to African Americans in jails back in the 1920-40s in America.  He had found a photograph of a number of young men who were in prison and in a chain gang – they were literally tied together in iron chains working outside.  This old black and white photographed had inspired him to paint this colorful portrait of four men with musical instruments.  He was transforming their sadness into joy, their chains into freedom.

We were struck by how more meaningful this painting was by knowing the story behind it.   Our documenting our collection is important for us and for the future.  At some point our collections are going to be inherited by someone else or broken up and distributed so it would be helpful for others to understand its history.

Here are a few things to think about recording for each piece in your collection:

  • Artist
  • Dimensions
  • Object characteristics
  • Location of origin
  • Location of purchase
  • Prior ownership history, if available – this is also known as provenance
  • Date acquired
  • Date created, if applicable
  • Was it collected in a memorable moment?  For example, did a once in a lifetime trip to Japan allow you to add something very important to your collection.

I recall one summer hiring an intern to enter our entire album collection into a database that I created.  Yep, they entered over 5,000 albums and their associated data into this well designed database. This leads to our final point:  keep a paper copy of your collection history.

All of the money spent to create the collection database went into the proverbial trash when the computer crashed and our backups were lost.  We highly suggest if you use computerized records – print them out!

In the next few days we will post again about collections but the focus will be on the thousands of private collections and how they are never seen by anyone other than the owner.  What a shame.

Merry Christmas!

Sam and KJ

Suzuki Koji

For all of us in the small world of suiseki, we lost our good friend Suzuki Koji today. To his family, close friends and many admirers our best wishes go out to all of you.  He will be missed.

We want to take a moment and share our fondest memories of him.

If you have participated in suiseki anywhere in the world you might know his name but most likely you have seen his ubiquitous artist mark found upon hundreds, if not thousands, of daizas.

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We still recall turning over a few nice stones to find this mark. At the time, we had no idea who made this daiza but we wanted to know because the workmanship was beautifully done.

We began to do some research and we found a short bio on Koji Suzuki in the book Suiseki-II An Art Created by Nature: The Sen-En-Kyo Collection of Japanese Viewing Stones published by BeeBooks in 2008.

“Suzuki Koji – he is a craftsman of bases born in 1939 in Hammamatsu City, Shizuoka.  His pen name is “Koju.”  After graduating Shizuoka University, he was teaching for a while.  He became ill and when he was recuperating, he came across suiseki and started to make bases.  He learned under the craftsmen working at the quarry sites of the Furuya stone in Wakayama and the Fujieda stone in Shizuoka, and became an outstanding craftsman today. He is a Director of the Japan Suiseki Association.”

A few months later, via a friend in Japan, we made contact with him and arranged to have a number of stones sent to him for daizas to be crafted. Our friend, Jefferey Stern, and I sat in our greenhouse cataloging stones to be sent to him excited that the Japanese master of daiza making was going to hold our stones and craft a base for them.

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Here Mr. Suzuki is studying the photos we sent with our stones in his home. Over the years, many a bubble wrapped stone made its way from the West Coast of America to his home in Japan.

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Over the years he crafted many daizas for important and not so important stones.  We loved to see how he shaped the wood to caress the stone.  He did this so eloquently.

Finally in 2010, we headed to Japan and had the opportunity to meet him at the Green Club in Ueno Park.

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KJ was kind enough to take this photo with included Mr. Suzuki, Jeff and Mary Stern and even Peter Tea in the background!  It was a memorable moment for us.  We had admired his work, spoken to him through a third-party but to finally met him was an event. For us it was like meeting Claude Monet, Diego Riveria or Pablo Picasso.

Having made a few daizas ourselves we came to appreciate the difficulty in taking a raw piece of wood and turning it into a work of art.  How he could work so quickly in making them still astounds us today.

So few people make an impact on so many.  Suzuki Koji was one of those that touched so many lives across many geographical boundaries.  He will be missed by all of those whose passions he shared.

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Little did we know when this picture was taken of him and KJ in February 2010 this would be the last time we saw or spoke to him.  This creates sorrow in our hearts.  I think he knew how much we appreciated him and what he had done for our love of suiseki; at least we hope he did.  There is more that we wish we could say to him but now that opportunity is lost.

In closing, what is in our heart today is to say thank you to those very special people who had impacted our love of stone collecting.  We urge you to take a moment and do the same before it is too late.

To Mas Nakajima and Janet Roth, thank you for igniting in us the passion of stone collecting.  For Mas’ patience in answering ours thousands of questions and for quietly evaluating the dozens of absolutely terrible stones that we found while collecting with him in the early days.  For he and Janet in opening up their home to us, and yes backyard, to see what comes of a lifetime of collecting stones from dozens of rivers.  I guess if we needed someone to “blame” for loving this art form it would the the two of you.  You are very near and dear to us.

To Wil in Japan, a friend of so many suiseki lovers over the world.  Thank you for your patience, your willingness to correspond with us, your assistance in building our library of wonderful stone books and for helping us ship stones in and out of Japan so that daizas could be made by Koji.

To Tom Elias and Hiromi Nakaoji whose passion for stones takes them all over the world as ambassadors of the art form. Many thanks to you both for your excellence in collecting, writing and communicating about suiseki and viewing stones.  Your friendship to us means a great deal.

To our friend Paul Gilbert and brother in Christ, whose passion for stones runs as deep if not deeper than ours.  Thank you for all the times we have written each other as we continue to explore this art form.  How many evenings have we sent emails back and forth discussing a stone, a suiban, etc?  Thank you for your friendship.

To David Sampson, thank you for your passion for Japanese suiseki and your willingness to share it with so many of us.

To Jeff, Peter, Rusty,Brent, Randy and all the others who have helped us collect stones, share them or purchase them. Thank you for being in our lives.  We hope to see each one of you again soon.

And lastly, to Hideko Metaxas who on one cloudy Saturday afternoon in her home opened my eyes to what it meant to hold a “mountain” in the palm of my hands and to contemplate its place in the universe.

To each of you our words have likely never conferred our love and appreciation and we doubt these few paragraphs will adequately do so now.

To Koju and all the rest, our very best wishes.

Sam and KJ Edge