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Spirit Stones

Spirit Stones

The Ancient Art of the Scholar's Rock

Photographs by Jonathan M. Singer
Text by Thomas S. Elias
Text by Kemin Hu


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  • Brilliant photographs of scholars' rocks, or Chinese ornamental stones, from a leading collection
Full Description

Shaped by nature and selected by man, scholars’ rocks, or gongshi, have been prized by Chinese intellectuals since the Tang dynasty, and are now sought after by Western collectors as well.

They are a natural subject for the photographer Jonathan Singer, most recently acclaimed for his images of those other remarkable hybrids of art and nature, Japanese bonsai.

Here Singer turns his lens on some 150 fine gongshi, ancient and modern, from the world-class collection of Kemin Hu, a recognised authority on this art form. In his photographs, Singer captures the spiritual qualities of these stones as never thought possible in two dimensions; he shows us that scholars’ rocks truly are, in Hu’s words, “condensations of the vital essence and energy of heaven and earth.”

Hu contributes an introductory essay on the history and aesthetics of scholars’ rocks, explaining the traditional terms of stone appreciation, such as shou (thin), zhou (wrinkled), lou (channels), and tou (holes). She also provides a narrative caption for each stone, describing its history and characteristics.

About the Author

Jonathan Singer’s double-elephant folio of Botanica Magnifica is kept in the Cullman Rare Book Room at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Dr. Singer was named a Hasselblad Laureate Award winner based on his contribution to fine art photography and to “our perception and appreciation of the botanical world.”

Thomas S. Elias, Ph.D., is chairman of the Viewing Stone Association of North America and a former director of the U.S. National Arboretum. He is the author or editor of seven books including Chrysanthemum Stones, The Story of Stone Flowers.

Kemin Hu, one of the foremost experts on scholars’ stones, has authored several books on the subject, including Modern Chinese Scholars’ Rocks, Scholars’ Rocks in Ancient China: The Suyuan Stone Catalogue, and The Spirit of Gongshi.

Abbeville Press
28th Jan 2014
World excluding USA, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Australia
398 mm x 322 mm
216 Pages
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