First and foremost, it has been over five months since my last blog post and that is hard for even me to believe.  Our schedule has been hectic with the children home from college this summer and work keeping us on the road since September.  We hope to get back to a regular posting schedule as long as work doesn’t require the constant travel back and forth from the Bay Area to Santa Monica, CA.

The Golden State Bonsai Federation convention was this week in Santa Clara, CA.  Fortunately that is only about 30 miles from our home.  In the earlier part of the week, Janet Roth had invited me to join her and about 30 others on a tanseki (stone collecting trip) to the Eel River in Northern California approximately 175 miles from our home in the East Bay.

Janet and Sue planned a terrific trip for those who signed up for this portion of the convention.  Many who joined us had never been on a tanseki before so that was thrilling to see the excitement on their faces the morning we arrived riverside.  We were able to hunt for stones for about 5 hours before the heavy rains began and just about everyone found a stone or two.

That evening we had dinner at a local Chinese restaurant and might I say that Sue and Janet did an awesome job of selecting foods for us.  There was way too much too eat – and everyone left quite pleased.

After dinner Felix Rivera gave us a fine lecture on suiseki and Bob began the process of reviewing stones found earlier in the day.  Unfortunately I didn’t take photos as the room was not conducive for this purpose.  The next morning, we had hoped to head back out for more stone collecting but the weather simply did not cooperate and instead a quick three hour program was put together to review more stones that were collected the previous day.  John did a fine job of evaluating these stones, and I must say that several very nice stones were found by first time collectors.

Today, Saturday 10/30/2010, there was a Suiseki Panel Discussion held at the GSBF convention that ran for just over three hours.  There was a strong panel of suiskei experts including: Jim Greaves, Hideko Metaxas, Mas Nakajima, Larry Ragle, and Felix Rivera.

Bob lead us in the discussion with short presentations by everyone on the panel. I may blog more about that at another time but for today’s post I want to concentrate on the presentation given by Hideko Metaxas.

If you have never had the opportunity to listen to her wisdom and insight, might I suggest that you simply try and determine where she is going to be next, go there, and plant yourself in a chair.  Our suiseki club, San Francisco Suiseki Kai was privileged one Saturday earlier in the year to visit her home and be under her instruction on suiseki presentation.  A day that I will simply not forget.  Her grace, her insights, her wisdom and simply her beauty and outlook on life is frankly – unique.

Her presentation today was simply no different.  So what did I learn today – frankly a simple concept for the mind but frankly illusive for the heart.  She spoke about how suiseki started and how most stones where of the size that could be held in the hand.  She describes how the viewer attempts to place this stone in the visual context of a space must larger than the hand.  Her apt description is that of holding a part of the universe in your hands and the emotions invoked both in the mind and heart.  Sometimes of sadness and sometimes of intense peace.  She had several stones that evoked that feeling for me.

Let me add that Hideko always points out that the visual and emotional experience is quite different for each person – in the eye of the beholder.  So what I’m going to provide is my view of these stones knowing that they may be quite different for you.

Let me say these photographs in no way represent how these stones looked in person.  First they were not shot with the appropriate lighting conditions to reproduce color with a great degree of accuracy.  Secondly, I only had 1 minute in order to take all of these photographs as many others wanted to see and photograph them as well.  Nevertheless, these “quick snapshots” will impart to some degree the beauty of these stones.  Let me emphasis though that I have never seen a photograph do justice to seeing the suiseki in person.  And in particular the opportunity of holding these stones only adds to the visceral experience.

I was unable to capture the maker of the diaza nor the original owner. I will try to obtain this information from her and update the post next week. [Author Note: I received an email today (11/7) from Hideko and she informed me that the maker was Isseki Miyazaki.  If I receive a bio on him I will post it.] Hideko explained to us that she has owned this stone for a good while but yet doesn’t completely understand what this stone is communicating to the prior owner or to herself.  I very much like this explanation as often it takes careful observation, if not meditation, for the stone to communicate to you what it is trying to express or convey.

From a personal perspective, the stone evoked the following to me.  I see this stone and I’m reminded of times when I have been alone and truly missing home.  As I look across the vast landscape of this scene, it reminds me of how far my own home is (2,200 miles) and the loneliness I encounter when I haven’t seen my immediate family for a long period of time.

The diaza is exquisite and was carefully handcrafted by the artist who created it.

Just look at the detail in the carving. This is a top view and where the stone is cradled for display.  The long channels are where the stone protrudes down into the diaza; whereas, the small indentations hold the portion of the stone that is significantly flatter.  The suiseki this stone holds is a natural and uncut stone.

The diaza maker didn’t stop with this type of detail just on the top look at the art on the bottom and the artist signature.

Is this not simply a work of art?  Imagine the number of hours required to carefully carve the upper portion of the diaza so that it gently snuggles and holds the suiseki.  However, even more time was then spent carving out another beautiful scene on the bottom of the diaza even though this would seldom ever be viewed.  The next time we are in Japan you can bet I will be on the lookout for a stone/diaza combination by this individual.

Once again this photo in no way depicts the true beauty of this stone.  It is deeply black and smooth and evokes a feeling of tranquility.  Holding this stone deepens that experience significantly beyond just the visual experience.  This suiseki is from Japan and I believe it is a Setagawa river stone located near Kyoto.  The texture is called “pear” as it has fine bumps or dimples on the stone.

As black is the absence of color or in the CMYK world of printing inks on paper, it simply doesn’t reflect light – therefore the light is absorbed by the object.  This is apt as it tends to absorb my thoughts as well.

Eel River Suiskei

Eel River Suiskei

This last suiseki is very special to Hideko as she personally collected it on the Eel River in Northern California. The diaza is made by the artist Mas Nakajima.  It is an extraordinary piece of craftsmanship by Mas harmonizing with the stone and in no way over shadowing it or hindering the suiseki from one’s view.

The colors are deep and the patina of this stone is rich.  It is no wonder this is such a special suiseki for her and I would venture to say it has to be one of great importance in her collection.

So how do we end today’s post – I think it is simply this in two constructs: 1) It is wonderful to experience this educational experience by those who have deep and personal knowledge with suiseki; and, 2) it should encourage each of us to make every attempt to organize and experience as many tanseki trips as we can.  I find it very ironic that often we don’t engage in the art form of suiseki until many of us display the graceful color gray in our hair which often is a sign that we simply don’t have a very long time to collect stones such as this – so let it be a reminder that we need to take every opportunity to get out doors and enjoy the sun, collecting and our friends in this passionate art and hobby.