FAQ's - Frequently Asked Questions
My FAQ's page's questions and answers will be decided by you, the reader, as you page through my site and book, and still feel there are subjects that need further elaboration.
I have received many e-mails asking for more details on various subjects, and, where appropriate, I have referred the parties to a particular section of my book or a suiseki web site, like Marco Favero's from Italy. Please see my links page for these references.
I keep hearing about "young" and "old" suiseki. How does one get a young or new suiseki made old?
Some minerals may be affected by UV rays, but almost all minerals will react to moisture in the air and weather in a variety of ways, depending on their composition. Darkening is a common result, but the weathering can take a number of forms, including oxidation of iron in the mineral to form various shades of red, brown, tan or orange, solution of soluble constituents like calcium carbonate (calcite) and change of silicate minerals (like feldspar or mica) to clay. When vegetation like lichen or algae is present the carbon will also darken the mineral surface. Almost all of these processes will darken the mineral. Even jadeite, jasper and serpentine will darken with time, but they may be so dark to begin with, that it's hard to tell the difference.
Do you give awards to club members' suiseki at your annual shows?
As may be seen from the images in our society's page, our members have some truly magnificent suiseki. It's been asked often if I judge our stones and award prizes. The answer is an emphatic no. There are many reasons why we don't judge. The most important reasons have to do with the fact that since we're dealing with an artistic medium, it's not fair to say that one stone is better than another. Of course some have more aesthetic merit, but, even the humblest suiseki has merit for its owner. My goals are to encourage all our members to go out and get the best stones possible; they know where the weaknesses in their stones are, for we spend a great deal of time evaluating stones and discussing what makes a great suiseki great. Judging all too often becomes political, something we wish to avoid. By critiquing our stones we all learn their strengths and weaknesses without having to give an "award".
Some suiseki are cut, others aren't. What the reason for cutting suiseki? I thought suiseki were totally natural stones?
Through the years of my involvement with suiseki, this is one of the first questions I'm asked at our exhibitions or by newcomers to our club. Although I answered this question in my book in some detail, I will answer it again, but this time with supporting evidence from Japan.
The reason we cut stones is to extract the well-proportioned or "visible" suiseki within the mother, or "invisible" part of the stone. Shape is the name of the game in suiseki. Without shape we just have a lump of rock. Some collectors believe that cutting a stone is a personal decision. I don't abide by that philosophy. Sometimes cutting a stone is required to make that stone a suiseki. I've seen too, too many stones on exhibit that are nothing but amorphous lumps of rock. But, their owners steadfastly refused to cut their stones, thinking they were being "purists" about the art! Unfortunately, the quality of the rocks on exhibit was just that, rocks. I prefer not to cut stones, but some times the stone dictates that it be cut. Some put a monetary value on uncut stones. Unfortunately that gives the collector the wrong impression. Just because a stone is natural doesn't make it better than a cut stone. There are many more important variables at work, such as shape, texture and color.
The Japanese cut their stones if they need it. Please keep that in mind. The decision to cut is not a facile decision. Who are we to say that we know better than they?
In the seminal book titled Nihon Aiseki-shi (The History of Suiseki in Japan), by Hideo Marushima, the author, has a dialogue with two suiseki sensei in the section titled "The Suiseki Climates in Japan, China and the United States: An Interview." A lecture I gave at the World Bonsai Congress in Orlando, Florida, in 1993, was heard by one of the suiseki sensei, or teachers, and I was referred to by them in the book.
The sensei were as follows:
Akira Mori: Editor-in-Chief, Gekkan Aiseki no Tomo, a monthly suiseki magazine
Keiji Murata: President, Nippon Juseki-Kyokai, another monthly suiseki magazine
Hideo Marushimna: Author, The History of Suiseki in Japan
The published dialogue goes as follows:
"Mori: How high is the level of suiseki and bonsai fever in the United States?
Marushima: As far as I observed, they are more orthodox than us Japanese, and they study hard. Most leaders are Japanese, but a few excellent American leaders are coming out and trying to establish American style bonsai theories. In the field of suiseki, they are still blindly worshipping Mr. Murata's theory (laugh) and the Japanese terms like "yamagata" and "kuzuya" are used there. They are also studying the meanings of words like "shibui."
Mori: What do they think about natural stones and processed stones?
Marushima: In California there is a fairly famous authority on suiseki who writes for the newsletter of the American Bonsai Society. His name is Felix G. Rivera, and I heard him give a lecture. He said you can't find a perfect stone, so if only part of a stone you find is good for appreciation, it is OK to cut the rest off. Of course he doesn't recommend any other form of processing. He says the beauty of suiseki is in the original shape of the stone.
Mori: So he is saying to leave the visible part as is, but it's OK to process the invisible part a little, is that right? Sounds like he is passing along what Master Murata preaches (laugh).
Murata: Nothing is better than an unprocessed stone, but I think processing of that kind should be tolerated.
Marushima: Mr. Rivera rhetorically asks, What is a bonsai without a suiseki?' He means something like coffee wouldn't be any good if you don't use cream in it (laugh)."