Visitors coming to Pasadena for the New Year’s parade and football game can start things off with event that really rocks: the annual display of “viewing stones” at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. The show opens Dec. 27 and continues through Jan. 2 in Friends’ Hall. (Closed on New Year’s Day.) Admission to the event is free.
Popular in Asia for centuries, viewing stones are rocks found in nature that have been transformed by wind, water, and time into shapes resembling landscapes, animals, and other forms. What may appear at first glance to be an ordinary lump of basalt is revealed at closer inspection to be a distant mountain or a cascading waterfall. Centuries of blown sand may have etched the pattern of swaying grass into another stone’s polished surface, while the petals of a chrysanthemum are revealed in a cluster of mineral deposits. Resemblances are usually suggestive rather than literal, inviting the viewer to look beyond the surface to mine hidden depths of meaning.
Nearly 150 outstanding examples of this ancient art will be displayed at The Huntington in this show presented by members of the California Aiseki Kai.
The art of viewing stones lies in the eye of its beholders. It is an art of appreciation. Each stone has been found in nature—on a beach, in the desert, along a mountain trail—by a collector who recognized its unique qualities. As the name “viewing stones” implies, the act of contemplation is essential to the art itself. Each viewer brings something different to the art, moved by his or her own memories and associations to draw enlightenment from the stones.
The history of viewing stones began in ancient China, where Chinese “scholars’ rocks” or gongshi were collected for aesthetic and philosophical appreciation as early as the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Poets of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) made references to them in their writings. The stones were introduced to Japan around 600 as diplomatic gifts from the Chinese imperial court, and their popularity grew over the centuries among members of the Samurai warrior class. The influence of Zen Buddhism, which emphasized austerity and inner enlightenment, led to a preference for stones with subtle forms, more metaphor than precise representation. By the 19th century the art had become highly formalized through the development of classifications: Chin-seki (rare stones, figure-shaped or patterned), Biseki (beautiful stones that may be polished or cut), Suiseki (scenic landscape forms), and many sub-classifications ranging from Taka-ishi (waterfall-shaped stones) to Dobutsu-ishi (animal-shaped stones).
The 20th century saw the popularity of viewing stones expand into the international community. Today it is practiced by enthusiasts around the world.
Contemplating the subtle, graceful forms of suiseki is said to uplift the spirit, stimulate the mind, and purify the soul — a wonderful way to start the new year.
Extended holiday hours are in effect from Dec. 26 through Jan. 4: The Huntington will be open 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, with the exception of New Year’s Day. For those wishing to stay and explore the gardens and galleries during their visit, adult admission is $15 on weekdays and $20 on weekends. Discounted admission is offered for seniors, groups, students, and children. Members are admitted free.
Must-sees for visitors to The Huntington include the new Chinese garden, the exhibition “A New and Native Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene & Greene,” and the recently opened permanent installation on the history of science and technology, “Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World.”
For additional information call (626) 405-2100 or visit www.huntington.org
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About The Huntington
The Huntington is a collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars and the general public. For more information, visit online at www.huntington.org