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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


An Old Suiseki from the Kamogawa


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It is hard to believe we haven’t posted since who knows when but life has been busy as we moved across the country to be closer to family.

We haven’t been to Japan in a few years which means our collection of Japanese suiseki has been sparse. Our time has been spent collecting stones from Northern California rivers and about those we hope to post soon.  Today, we want to share with you a stone we purchased from Kyoto, Japan.

One of the suiseki sites we take a peek at a few times a week is Mr. Kawai’s located in Kyoto.  We visited him a few years ago and he is not only a delightful individual he has a great collection of stones for sale in his second floor shop above his flower store.  We had seen this stone on his site, but unfortunately the photos were small and didn’t reveal how beautiful this stone actually is.  We were fortunate to have Dr. Tom Elias and Hiromi Nakaoji post a photo of this stone on their VSANA Facebook page after their return from Japan last month.  When we saw it we immediately went back to Mr. Kawai’s site to see if it was available.  After a few days of negotiations on price, we purchased the stone.

Kamogawa (11x4x5")

Kamogawa (28 x 10 x 12.7cm)

This is a remarkable stone and without question one of the nicest in our collection. It reminds us of the stone said to be owned by Rai San’yo a very long time ago and reportedly is from the Kamogawa . The name of this stone is Yamato Murayama (“Mountains of the Kanto Plain”) and is 27.0 x 10.0 x 8.0 cm.

Rai San'yo stone

Rai San’yo stone

We wonder if our stone wasn’t modeled after the Rai San’yo stone. What do you think?  Let’s take a look at the other views of the stone and its daiza.

IMG_0007-6 IMG_0008-6IMG_0003-7Unfortunately the daiza isn’t marked so it is impossible to tell who made it, but their craftsmanship was superb as seen by viewing the detail on it’s edges. Click the photo for a much larger version.

So what about the stone being worked. It is clear to us that it has as we can see marks on the stone. Does it diminish it for us? Not at all.  The Rai San’yo stone was worked as well and it is still shown at the Nippon Suiseki show in Japan.  Clearly because it is an important stone, has a provenance and it quite beautiful.

We only know the stone was in a collection in Japan for a very long time. We have no idea what was the cause for selling it but often stones exchange hands at the end of one’s life.  Regardless of the cause we are quite happy it has a home with us.

Japanese Aesthetics and Suiseki

I was given 20 minutes at our last suiseki club meeting to give a presentation.   My first thought was to give somewhat of a historical overview of stone collecting that started in China and progressed to Japan and then to the US.  However, there was a subject that was to me perhaps more important to discuss and that was the Japanese aesthetic and how it influences the Japanese view of suiseki and other art forms as well.

Often in the US I hear people talk about how the Japanese “see” suiseki.  That always puzzled me since often what I heard from collectors in Japan differed greatly from what I heard Americans convey about their view.  This set me on a quest to try and understand how do the Japanese people really see suiseki or any art for that matter. It lead to a few weeks of research in regards to the Japanese aesthetic and frankly the start of a better understanding of their viewpoint.

Do we as Americans need to understand their view of art – I leave that answer up to you. I will state for us that I believe if we are going to pursue suiseki in the Japanese form, which many profess, then it becomes imperative to understand the Japanese perspective on how they view this art form.

I prepared 16 slides for this presentation. I understand that slides without being present is less than optimal but our hope is that this presentation encourages you to do more research for your self.  We have listed a set of references that we used to help you quickly find authors with a much deeper understanding of this subject.   Note: to truly understand the Japanese art aesthetic from my perspective requires being Japanese since it is so immersed in who they are not just what they like, so I say up front I understand so very little of this subject but do want to gain a better understanding.

Japanese Aesthetics and Suiseki

Slide1 Slide2 Slide3 Slide4Slide5 Slide6 Slide7 Slide8 Slide9Slide10Slide11Slide12Slide13Slide14Slide15Slide16

Shiokai Kenji Pots – Kaohsiung Koha or Takao-koyo


Shiokai Kenji who lives in Kyoto, Japan began making pots in 1972.  There is a good bio of him on Ryan’s site that can be found here. We purchased one of Takao-koyo’s pots a good while back from Koju-en located in Kyoto.

Takao-koyo glazed pot.

Takao-koyo glazed pot.

We placed a very nice exposed root maple over rock in this pot.  I always smile when I tell this story because almost everyone who saw the pot and then the tree said it will never work together.  Everyone’s attitude changed once the trident/rock was in the pot as it was a stunning combination.  It is clear that Shiokai Kenji has been influenced by Tofukuji by just looking at the glaze treatment.  This is the only one I have seen on Koju-en’s web site.  Ryan has several of them and I believe he would agree they are quite lovely.

Historical Pots

Heian Tofukuji (平安東福寺)

Heian Tofukuji (平安東福寺)

If you follow Tofukuji pots at all then this pot is instantly recognizable. Beautiful glaze combination and a very nice form.  This pot was for sale at Kokufu-Ten this year.  We bid $5,000 US for it – it sold for over $12,000.  It is one of our very favorite Tofukuji pots.  You can easily see how Shiokai Kenji styles his pots after the glazes of Tofukuji.

Another favorite of ours is Yusen.  We believe his paintings are the best of any potter/artist that has painted scenes on pots in Japan.  We are fortunate to own two of them, thank you Peter, and we enjoy them due to Yusen’s ability to paint highly detailed scenes in very small spaces.

Tsukinowa Yusen (月之輪湧泉)

Tsukinowa Yusen (月之輪湧泉)

This pot in our collection is just barely 5cm in size, but look at the detail in his painting.

Collecting Before the Potter Becomes Famous – or Dead

So at this point you are likely wanting to know – if you are still reading – why talk about Tofukuji and/or Yusen in a post about Shiokai Kenji?  So here is the reason why.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have said something like this: “I sure wish I had been in Japan when Tofukuji was alive and selling his pots. I bet I could have gotten a hand full of them at a great price!”  There are a number of potters we could say this about: Yusen, Kouzan, etc.  So back to Shiokai Kenji – one day I was reading Ryan’s blog post about Shiokai Kenji and his comparing his painted pots to Yusen it struck me – “wait a minute this potter is awesome, his pots are reasonably priced, and his paintings are excellent.”

I think you know what comes next.  Duh – “KJ we should buy some of his pots for our collection.”  Yes, we were awed at our own stupidity – wishing for something that will never occur while an opportunity literally sitting in our lap – or perhaps on our American Express card.

We have only been able to find Shiokai Kenji’s pots at Koju-en owned by Tomohiro Masumi.  So we went to his site to see what he had and then we reached out to Tomohiro to see what he had in stock.  He has just left for Kokufu-Ten (February, 2014) but promised on his return he would check to see what he had in inventory – we had ask for a specific pot on his site.

In the end we decided to purchase 11 of his pots. Nine we have received and the other two are being made by Shiokai Kenji.  Tomohiro was kind enough to ask Shiokai Kenji to paint a pheasant by his signature on one of them and on the other to hand sign Higa and Yogi in Kanji as these are KJ’s dad and mom family names.

So let’s take a brief look at Shiokai Kenji pots.  We will post more details as we take photos of all sides of these pots.

Shiokai Kenji – pots signed as takao-koyo


Tsukinowa Yusen (月之輪湧泉)

Tsukinowa Yusen (月之輪湧泉)

We learned from Tomohiro that pheasants are Shiokai Kenji’s favorite animal.  They are often seen on his pots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto 1This is Shiokai Kenji artist mark.  On some of his pots only the square mark is shown. We know that some of the pots that he paints are purchased from a third-party while some he makes himself. Our guess is that those that he has made and painted have both marks.

Classical Bonsai Art

Classical Bonsai Art: A Half Century of Bonsai Study – The Creations & Passion of William N. Valavanis

We always enjoy reading new books about bonsai or suiseki and Bill’s latest book is no exception.  You can pick up a copy for a very reasonable price by clicking here. This is quite a large book at 9×12-inches with over 250 pages of color photographs.

CoverIn addition to the beautifully photographed trees he also includes: Drastic Pruning of Maple & Deciduous Bonsai, Improving Design by Inarch Branch Grafting, Improving Deciduous Surface Roots, Bud Pinching Used to Limit, growth & Reduce Foliage Size, Bending & Moving Heavy Trunks & Branches, Juniper Approach Grafting
and more

We think you will really enjoy this book as it truly does show Bill’s passion for bonsai.  Enjoy a few other selected photos from his book.  All photographs are copyrighted by William N. Valavanis 2013.



Spirit Stones, The Ancient Art of Scholar’s Rocks


Update – Spirit Stones has been released

Hi Everyone,  we received our copy of this new book this week and it is excellent.  One really doesn’t realize how large it is until you hold it in your hands. We really appreciate the format as each stone’s photograph is given a full page which allows you to see it in great detail. In the back of the book there is additional information such as stone type, dimensions, stone name and any historical details that might be relevant.

We highly recommend that you pick up a copy of this reasonably priced book.  I’m not sure if the introductory price required a pre-order or not.  You can obtain a copy of this book by contacting Dr. Elias at the following email address: tselias at msn dot com.

Sam and KJ

Our good friend Dr. Thomas Elias and Kemin Hu are publishing a new book on Chinese stones.  Dr. Elias and Ms. Hu have published numerous books on the history and art of viewing stones.

The book is being made an at introductory price of $70 plus shipping.  The published price will be $95 plus shipping.  This is a large format book at 12 x 15 inches and comes in a beautiful hard bound cloth binding in a nice slip case.

The book is 232 pages with 300 duotones. The text is by Kemin Hu and Thomas S. Elias. The photographs are by Jonathan Singer.

We highly recommend that you reserve a copy today by contacting Thomas at tselias at msn dot com.   The book should be available sometime mid January, 2014.

We have virtually all of Dr. Elias’ and Kemin Hu’s books and can highly recommend them.  Most of the books on Chinese stones have not been translated into English so it is a must for those who appreciate this art form to take advantage of those written and published in English.

Spirit Stones, The Ancient Art of Scholar’s Rocks

cover chapter stone

Suiseki For Sale by David & Jeff

We just received a nice note from our friends David & Jeff.  They have an extensive and very nice collection of suiseki. Here is their note:

Note from David and Jeff

Greetings Sam and KJ, your site is just a plethora of great pics and plenty of info!

Jeff & I are reducing our vast collection of Japanese Suiseki by one third, Over 100 fine stones that we have loved and personally chosen for ourselves. Some even purchased from the Wabi catalogue with documentation and provenance. Not leaving behind the Suiseki art at all, it is in our blood, just passing on the pieces we are done enjoying. We would appreciate if you could post this on your site.

Items are just beginning to appear on Ebay and we welcome and will consider all offers.

Peace & Love
David & Jeff

Their Auctions

You can see what they have for sale up at eBay by clicking this link.

We hope you find something nice to add to your collection. We know we did!

Two Peak Setagawa S

Two Peak Setagawa Stone

North American Viewing Stones

Well it has been three months since we blogged last as our schedule in launching our new company has been fast and furious.  And speaking of launching something new!

Our friend Dr. Tom Elias is going to publish a new book in 2014 on American Viewing Stones and we would like to fully support his effort.  For those interested in participating please read a small excerpt from his document.

North American Viewing Stones: A Contemporary Perspective

“This book will feature approximately 120 to 130 excellent North America (Canada, United States, and Mexico) stones from private and public collections. The purpose of this volume is to illustrate the rich variety of North American stones and to acknowledge the perspective that North American collectors bring to the practice of viewing stone collection and display.”  Dr. Tom Elias

How you can participate

First download the PDF document from Dr. Elias – you can do that here.  One of the keys to participating is making sure you have excellent photographs- this means the correct lighting, distance and setting.  Also, remember this is for North American stones only, so you will have to leave your favorite Japanese or Chinese stones out of this opportunity.

The book will be portrait style with the dimensions of 11-inches in height and 8.5-inches wide.  Tom would prefer primarily portrait photographs so careful consideration of how far away you are when you shoot the photograph is key.  They photos also need to be in TIFF or RAW format.  If you don’t know what this is see the offer to help below.

Also, with 120 pages this means that many entries may not be published.  I hope you all agree that the selection is not up to us no matter how much we love our stone. I trust Tom to make the right decision to include those stones that best represent our hemisphere.  Perhaps if we solidly get behind this publication (buying them) there will be a Volume II.

An Offer to Help

In speaking to Tom a few weeks ago and to several of our suiseki club members, I thought KJ and I might offer to photograph your stones if you live in the Bay Area or are close by.

We only have about two months to get our photographs into Tom so I might suggest that if you are interested in getting together with us please let us know.  You can bring up to 10 stones for the shoot to make the trip worth your while.

We will setup in San Ramon, CA on a Saturday and for those that might be interested perhaps one weekday night as well.  After we see the response we can set a date and then schedule you so that you don’t have to spend all day sitting and waiting for your turn.  After the shoot, we will color correct the photos and output them into the format the Tom needs for the book and insure they they are sent to him promptly.  In addition, we will send to you those photographs in JPEG format for you to easily print or share as well as in TIFF or RAW format if you desire.

So please let us know as soon as you can so that we can setup a time to help you get some of your very best stones photographed.

For those that would like to shoot the photos yourself, we offer up a prior article on how we shot over 120 suiseki one day last year.  We hope it helps.




California Suiseki Society


The California Suiseki Society held their annual show at Lake Merritt on June 8-9, 2013.  We headed over to see the show on Sunday afternoon which was a mistake as there was a celebrate Lake Merritt day and many of the streets were closed leading to the park where the show was being held.  Note to self: Go the show on Saturday in 2014.

The CSS was founded by Felix Rivera and their web site is located here.  We know only a few members of this club and will post the photos without comments for you to enjoy.

For those wanting to attend a show in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Suiseki Kai will be having their annual show on August 3-4, 2013 in San Francisco. You can learn more here. KJ and are going to exhibit a few stones so please drop by and say hello.

Please click for larger photos.