Abbeville Press, publisher of fine art and illustrated books
Home The Weeping Goldsmith
[ Cover Image ]
Send as an e-postcard!
Table of Contents
Click to enlarge
Page 45.  Thatbyinnyu Temple in the old city of Bagan was built in the middle of the 12th century by King Alaungsithu.
Page 151.  Boats at Kalewa on the Chindwin River.  Photo by James Henry Green, c. 1920s, courtesy of The James Green Centre for World Art.
Page 78.  Elephants being loaded at Alaungdaw Kathapa.
Page 15.  The goldsmith was weeping. No matter how hard he tried, with all his skills, his
tools, his experience, and his love, he could not re-create nor imitate the intricate
structure of this delicate white and yellow-gold flower. He and his fellow craftsmen
had worked tirelessly to capture in gold the intimacy and simplicity of the
individual parts of the flower. It looked possible. He just couldn’t do it. Perhaps
the sacredness of this flower was what prevented him from fully understanding
its nature in order to reproduce it. Many had tried, but no one had succeeded.
The plant itself could easily be grown in the garden of the monastery, but the
goldsmith could not work his precious metal into its gentle form. And so the
natural flower itself must be gathered from the fields to serve as a special offering
to the Buddha in the village pagodas and household shrines.
Such is the legend behind a real flower that is commonly found in Myanmar.
The first time I saw padeign gno, which literally means “weeping goldsmith” in
Burmese, the flowers were in a giant pile in a basket. This basket was perfectly
balanced on the head of a lovely, slim Burmese woman who wore a long pink
longyi as she headed for the local market in Bago. Bago is about fifteen miles
(25 km) from Rangoon, the former capital city of Burma—or Myanmar, as it is
now called by the military regime currently in control of the government.
From the Prologue:  This book is about the natural landscapes and people of Myanmar as interpreted through the eyes of a modern-day scientist and plant explorer.  Over the course of nine years I explored many areas in this enigmatic country as I surveyed the teak forests, bamboo thickets, timber plantations, rivers, and mangroves to document the plant diversity of this vast unknown land.  Myanmar is one of the great biodiversity hot spots in Asia, but  because of its social isolation and reputation for political repression, it has been off-limits and avoided by many biologists, conservationists, and environmentalists.
Page 46.  A golden image of the seated Buddha.
Page 188.  The red inflorescence and yellow flowers of the Hedychium bordelonianum.
Page 174.  The Shwemyinzu Pagoda situated on an island in Indawgyi Lake.
The Weeping Goldsmith
Discoveries in the Secret Land of Myanmar

Text and photographs by W. John Kress, Foreword by Wade Davis

Size: 7 1/2" x 9 7/8", 
Cloth, 288 pages
200 illustrations, 170 in full-color
Published 2009
ISBN: 978-0-7892-1032-6
In Stock

 Send page to a friend
 Print this page

A distinguished Curator and Research Scientist at the Smithsonian Institution, W. John Kress, recounts his natural history exploration over the course of nine years in the wild lands of Myanmar in search of rare, beautiful, and scientifically unknown plants.

-- A Booklist Top 10 Science & Technology Book of 2009

"A fascinating memoir... engagingly written and beautifully illustrated. Highly Recommended" -- Choice

In the great tradition of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle, this book is a first-person narrative of daunting travel and scientific discovery in the little-known country of Myanmar. Dr. Kress explored many areas in this enigmatic country, surveying its teak forests, bamboo thickets, timber plantations, rivers, and mangroves to document its incredible botanical diversity. Myanmar is one of the great biodiversity “hot spots” in Asia, but because of its social isolation and reputation for political repression it has been closed to—or avoided by—many scientists. Nevertheless, Dr. Kress was determined to search for and record plants that had not been studied since they were first discovered by Western botanists over a century ago. Among the rarities he came upon was a new species of plant called “the weeping goldsmith,” a ginger flower whose Burmese name was derived from the legend that the local goldsmiths were reduced to tears because none of their own creations could rival its exquisiteness.

Dr. Kress also relates how he came to appreciate the people and culture of Myanmar through an understanding of their flora, natural habitats, and human-dominated environments. Included are fascinating excerpts from his field journals that serve as counterpoints to the accounts of earlier plant explorers. Illustrating the text are some 200 of Dr. Kress’s own color photographs of the incredible plants, people, landscapes, and temples he witnessed in his travels as well as 30 archival images of Burma taken by past explorers. The back matter features an illustrated portfolio of representative native plants.

This lively armchair exploration should appeal to a general readership as well as to botanists, conservationists, and environmentalists.

W. John Kress is a Curator of Botany and Research Scientist at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution. He is the co-author of A checklist of the trees, shrubs, herbs, and climbers of Myanmar and Plant Conservation — A Natural History Approach, and has written many botanical articles. Wade Davis is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society and has written many books, including The Serpent and the Rainbow, One River, and Light at the Edge of the World.

Related Titles