Live Long and Prosper

When Mas is out collecting, he will pick up a stone if he sees something of interest.  If the stone material is good enough, with beautiful color or texture, he will bring it home for study even if he does not immediately see the potential suiseki.

Mas collected this dramatic piece of jadeite simply because it is so beautiful.  He hoped to perhaps find a good mountain shape in it.  He left it in the yard for several months while studying it .

During that time he noticed that in some views it looked like some sort of animal, maybe a cow or a sheep.  Then one day he happened to put it in the right orientation, and discovered the image of a turtle.  Mas cannot even find the words to describe his feeling – it was such a big surprise.  For a Japanese (and other East Asian people) the turtle is a powerful symbol of good luck.

Minogame - Edo period scroll The minogame (蓑亀), or 1000 year turtle, is a mythical animal that symbolizes longevity and brings good fortune.  It is usually depicted with a long, feathery tail of seaweed, which is thought to grow in the turtle’s shell. 

His first daiza presented the stone very explicitly as a turtle.  It had large legs and tail and he proudly showed it in 2001 at the 20th Anniversary exhibit of San Francisco Suiseki Kai.  But his excitement quickly faded.  By making such an obvious turtle, he hid the beauty and mystery of the stone.  To me, it became “cute” instead of profound. 

Following this Mas tried a couple of non-traditional approaches.  He first used the “Suiseki Art” approach he was developing at that time.  He used a large Cedar board as the base and carved out a seat for Kame-san (Mr. Turtle).  This was okay, but that Mas felt that it was missing something important.  Sitting on the large board did not emphasize the beauty of the ancient turtle.  (Click here for some earlier posts about Mas’ Suiseki Art.)

  A few years later he tried a this rather contemporary sculptural form, with simplified long legs and an open tunnel under the stone. He did it in plaster just to see if it would work, and he says it absolutely did not!  You can judge for yourself in this picture.

So Mas decided to go back to suiseki for this stone.   He first tried the “contemporary style” of daiza that he has been using recently for some natural stones (see, for example, Hideko’s stone).  This is a somewhat minimalist style, and Mas felt that it didn’t have enough “bite”. 

None of the bases he had made so far satisfied him.  They did not harmonize with the aged, dignified, feeling of the stone and Kame-san was not happy.

Finally he has gone all the way back to a traditional daiza.  The simple elegance of the two-level rim, with its slightly decorative touch, supports and harmonizes well with the stone.  While the finished piece does acknowledge the turtle shape (with the legs and fan-shaped tail), it does not over-emphasize it.  The viewer can enjoy the suiseki, using her own free imagination.

Mas says that it is amazing to find a stone such as this. He has been constantly trying to change the daiza and the way of displaying the stone, hoping each time for a bit of improvement.  He says that the more he loves the stone, the more it gives him energy to continue meeting its endless challenge.

As always, click on the photos for larger views, and a gallery of additional pictures.

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6 Responses to Live Long and Prosper

  1. Kathleen says:

    Looks like the head of a bear to me. Head, snout, nose, mouth eyes, and one little ear. A California black bear or brown bear. After reading futher I could also see the turtle image. Like the simple daiza best as it doesn’t distract attention from the stone.

  2. [...] year Mas plans to show two stones that I have recently written about: Longevity and [...]

  3. xwires says:

    Thanks for sharing the story – it’s a good one!

  4. Mark says:

    Janet,
    Wonderful story of affection, respect and commitment. Sharing the details of Mas’s continuing quest is so inspiring! It also sent me scrambling to find my turtle stone which had been moved by someone with considerably less affection for it. My turtle is all black with shell like veins, more suggestive than realistic. This is also difficult to find the right way to display. I had thought a suiban with sand and water would be perfect, until I tried it. It was worse than awful!My quest continues too. Thank you for sharing, there no one else who comes close to what you and Mas do!

    Mark

    • Janet Roth says:

      Mark – thank you so much for your encouraging words. It’s nice to know that someone else is also on the journey, isn’t it? Mas said to tell you

      we have so many ideas, but each time when you do actually try it, it’s disappointing. The idea and reality doesn’t match at all. Until you finally see the harmony and the stone is happy.

      I hope we get to see your turtle some time!

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