National Arboretum Canberra

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The Suiseki Display - Viewing Stones

The National Bonsai and Penjing Collection also features a remarkable display of Suiseki, or Viewing Stones, collected from nature.

The Chinese have collected and admired stones for thousands of years, since 206 BC; the Koreans for about the same amount of time and the Japanese from around 593 AD.

Westerners developed an interest from early Japanese migration to the USA with their bonsai in the early 19th century. Europe, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region now also enjoy the art of stone appreciation.

The art of stone appreciation has many names, including Scholars’ Rocks or Gongshi (China), Suseok (Korea) and Suiseki (Japan).

There are three main categories for viewing stones

Scenic Landscape Stones

Evoking impressions of near and distant mountains, islands, waterfalls, caves, lakes and other examples of natural topography.

Object Stones

Resembling man-made objects such as boats, bridges and old Japanese thatched huts. Also prized are stones resembling human figures and animals such as birds and fish.

Pattern Stones

With unique surface patterns, variations in colour, unusual textures and contrasting mineral inclusions. Examples include chrysanthemum stones, celestial (sun/moon/star) patterned stones, abstract and figure stones.

The stones are displayed in a typical Chinese timber stand (bogu) but they can also be displayed individually on daiza (the carved wood platform under each stone), or in a suiban (ceramic tray) or in a doban (metal tray) or on a mat.

Descriptions - clockwise from the bottom left

  • Chrysanthemum pattern stone from Japan - the white crystalline forms appear as flowers against the reddish base stone.
  • Dark black basalt object stone collected from the Yangtze River - the site is now under water following the building of the three Gorges Dam, Hubei Province, China.
  • A limestone and quartz mountain landscape stone from California, USA.
  • Dark jasper Fengli mountain landscape stone from the Gobi Desert, Mongolia.
  • Volcanic ironstone object stone from Guangxi Province, China, was formed from magma lava. As the magma cooled the hot gases escaped leaving a pocket inside. The stone then eroded to form this strange shape.
  • Fish shaped black Lingbi object stone composed of calcite and limestone was found in the Qingshi Mountains of Anhui Province, China.
  • The two stones in the centre are classical Chinese Scholars’ Rocks - object stones. On the left is a figure composed of white and grey Lingbi limestone with dotted red spots and is from Duga Mountain, Anhui Province, China – do you see a nun in her religious habit with red rosary beads ? The other is dark grey Lingbi limestone and has a very interesting feng shui type hole.
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