By Frank English
Suiseki (Sui=water, Seki=stone) is the Japanese name for those serenely attractive "Viewing Stones" frequently shown in conjunction with minature trees at Bonsai exhibits Not just accent pieces for the Bonsai, Suiseki stones are themselves examples of a classic oriental art form with long established standards for judging and display.
Basically the art of Suiseki involves the collection, preparation and appreciation of certain unaltered naturally formed stones. These stones are found in mountain streams, on wind blown deserts, along ocean beaches - anywhere the forces of time and nature may have temporarily deposited them. They are chosen from among the countless stones examined for their perceived resemblance to familiar scenes in nature or to the various objects closely associated with nature.
There are three main category groupings in Suiseki. The first and most popular being Scenic Landscape Stones. These may evoke impressions of distant mountains, islands, waterfalls, caves, river-formed terraces, lakes and other examples of natural topography.
Object Stones constitute another primary grouping. Included are stones resembling man-made objects such as boats, bridges and old Japanese thatched huts. Also prized are animal-shaped stones, bird stones, and stones that resemble fish, insects and human figures.
Pattern Stones make up the third category. They are valued for their unique surface patterns resulting from variations in color, unusual texture and contrasting mineral inclusions. Best known of this group are the beautiful Japanese chrysanthemum stones. Others include tiger-striped stones, celestial (sun/moon/star) patterned stones and abstract pattern stones.
To the Japanese collector the essence of Suiseki is more than just representational. It is also spiritual. Quoting from a pamphlet of the San Francisco Suiseki Kai,"The contemplation of a stone as a symbol of nature relaxes the mind from pressures of a complex daily life and allows a person to retain his sense of values. The imprtance of life in its simplest form is reflected through the beauty, strength and character of the stone."
A fundamental premise of Suiseki requires that the stone be kept in nearly "as found" condition. The only acceptable modification is a leveling cut sometimes made at the bottom of a piece so that it can fit on a display stand. Much of the appeal of this natural form of art lies inthe viewer's realization that the stone being contemplated could have taken hundreds, thousands or even millions of years in forming.