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Beyond the Black Mountain
Color, Pattern and Form in American Viewing Stones
September 4 – October 13, 2008


Selections From the James and Alice Greaves Collection
DESERT VISIONS
BY THE SEA
BEYOND LANDSCAPES

The appreciation of natural stones as art objects comes to the West from Asian cultures. In North America, the first viewing-stone collectors were the Japanese Americans who also introduced the art of bonsai. They collected stones here just like the types they had found in Japan, in particular, stones with shapes suggesting mountains.

Black Mountain stones typify suiseki, the natural landscape stones of Japan. Beyond the Black Mountain is a metaphor to illustrate the evolution of American viewing stones as a more diverse art form including stones with unique patterns, colors and shapes not found in the centuries-old Japanese tradition.

Further breaking with tradition, the stones in this exhibit are displayed in a number of thematic scenes. This is an innovative approach promoted by the collectors, Jim and Alice Greaves. They are creating a new context in which to collect and display viewing stones.

Entrance to exhibition with stones displayed in the foreground inviting
visitors to “Please touch!”


Monolith, Abstract Shape Stone collected in the Kern River, CA;
ceramic suiban by Ron Lang


Takarabune (Treasure ship), Boat-shaped Stone collected in
the Trinity River, California


Autumn Kimono, Brocade Pattern Stone collected in
the Eel River, California

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DESERT VISIONS
Some of the most uniquely American landscapes are found in the arid Southwest. The stones on this bench suggest some of the varied rock formations of our desert landscape. One reason they fall outside the Japanese suiseki tradition is because there are no deserts in Japan for the art form to emulate.

Stones found in the desert are formed by thermal activity, water erosion and even freezing, but most striking are the shapes and surfaces created by the sandblasting effects of wind-transported sand. The stones are known geologically as ventifacts or ‘artifacts of the wind’. Their sharp, brittle edges and bright colors place these stones well outside the realm of the river-rounded forms characteristic of classic suiseki.
 
 

The Apse, Desert Landscape – Window Stone collected
in Calaveras County, CA
 

Mustang, Animal-shaped Stone collected in Wyoming;
Hopi Woman with Goat, Human-shaped Stone collected in the Eel River, CA;
American Bison, Animal-shaped Stone collected in the Kern River, CA
 

Windows West, Desert Landscape Stone collected in Saddle Peak Hills, CA
 

Display of a variety of desert stones
 

Osage Sentinel, Desert Landscape Stone collected in Oklahoma
 

Rising Horse, Embedded-image Stone collected in the Thomes River, CA

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BY THE SEA
The viewing stones on this bench allude to the world where land meets sea. Dramatic shorelines and islands are accented by stones with images or shapes that suggest birds, fish and other coastal inhabitants. Most of these stones are lighter than the typical dark suiseki. In fact, sharp-edged, lighter-colored stones—collected in mountains and deserts—often do a good job of imitating rocky, storm-dashed shore stones.

Note that land-form stones are displayed in shallow trays. The open space of the tray (whether filled with sand or water) evokes the image of surrounding water.
 
 

The Rookery, Coastal Rock – Arch Stone, collected in Calaveras County, CA;
surrounded by:
a fish-shaped stone from the Yuha Desert, CA;
a stone with an embedded-image of a crab from
the Klamath River, CA;
and another stone with an embedded image of
a line of birds, Riding the Updraft, from
the Eel River, CA
 

detail: crab and rookery
 

Island Stone collected in the Eel River, CA
 

Thematic grouping: NOCTURNE
Cloudy Night, Moon-pattern Stone collected in Oceanside, CA;
Midnight Surf, Embedded-image Stone collected in the Eel River, CA;
Moonlit Figure, Embedded-image Stone collected in the Eel River, CA
 
Cape San Martin, Coastal Headland Stone collected from
the Pacific Coast, Big Sur, California
 
Thematic grouping: THE PASSING STORM
Boat-shaped Stone collected in Thomes Creek, CA;
Moring Glory, Evening Grace, Weather-pattern Stone collected in the Feather River, CA;
Storm over the Sea, Lightening-pattern Stone collected in the Eel River, CA
 
Coastal Rock collected in the Eel River, CA

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BEYOND LANDSCAPES

The stones on this display bench go far beyond the boundaries of Japanese suiseki in form, color and pattern. Rather than landscapes, the stones evoke art forms, such as modern abstract painting, or scenes, such as a pond at twilight, as well as objects. Like suiseki, however, they are meant to engage the imagination. See if you agree with the title the collectors gave to each stone—you might “see” something different!
 
 
Abstract Pattern Stones:
Tiger Stripes, collected in British Columbia, Canada;
4th of July, collected in the Merced River, CA
 
Abstract Pattern Stones:
Dragon Scales, collected in Thomes Creek, CA;
Jazz, collected in the Eel River, CA;
Roly-poly Daruma, Color Stone collected in the Feather River, CA
 
The Matriarch (Old Plum Tree), Plant Pattern Stone collected
in the Merced River, CA
 
Kannon Bosatsu, Human-shaped Stone collected in the Feather River, CA
 
Predator, Animal-shaped Stone collected in the Trinity River, CA

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© 2006, National Bonsai Foundation
Supporting the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum at the U.S. National Arboretum - contact2007@bonsai-nbf.org