Thomas S. Elias

Thomas S. Elias

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.

Spirit Stones

The Ancient Art of the Scholar's Rock

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Renowned photographer Jonathan M. Singer presents his striking black-and-white images of Chinese ornamental rocks from a leading collection.

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 M. 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 140 fine gongshi, ancient and modern, from the world-class collection of Kemin Hu, a recognized 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.

Spirit Stones forms a trilogy with Singer’s two previous books, Botanica Magnifica and Fine Bonsai. In these volumes, he has established a new style of photography that blends the tonal richness and chiaroscuro of Old Master painting with a scientific clarity of detail; they represent a lasting achievement.

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Fine Bonsai

Art & Nature

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In this luxurious volume, renowned botanical photographer Jonathan Singer presents his breathtaking images of the world's most notable bonsai.

The practice of cultivating bonsai may be traced back some two thousand years, to the earliest representations of potted trees in Chinese art, and is thought to have reached Japan in the Heian period (AD 794–1185), a time of rich cultural exchange. This unique branch of horticulture attained its maturity, and received its present name, in Japan’s Edo period (1603–1868), and many fine bonsai are recorded in the woodblock prints of that era. As Japan broadened its trade and diplomatic contacts after the Meiji Restoration, bonsai became a matter of international interest, and today bonsai masters around the world have learned to grow hundreds of varieties of trees and shrubs in miniature, training them into living sculptures. Their exquisite creations, which change with the passage of the years and the cycle of the seasons, exemplify the connection between man and nature, life and art.

In Fine Bonsai: Art & Nature, the finest extant achievements in the art of bonsai are seen together for the first time, through the lens of renowned botanical photographer Jonathan Singer. This magnificent volume is the result of an ambitious photographic campaign, in the course of which Singer was granted unprecedented access to the most respected public and private collections in Japan and the United States, including the mecca of bonsai, the Omiya Bonsai Village of Saitama, Japan, where photography is normally prohibited. Three hundred stunning full-page images and four lavish gatefolds present bonsai of all types, from quiet representations of nature to colorful fall foliage to bold sculptural forms. The horticultural and aesthetic characteristics of each bonsai are concisely and authoritatively described in the narrative captions by William N. Valavanis, head of the International Bonsai Arboretum in Rochester, New York. And because the container is considered an integral part of any bonsai—indeed, the literal meaning of “bonsai” is “tray plant”—the book also includes some twenty-five photographs of traditional bonsai containers, with descriptions. A further sequence of twenty-five photographs is devoted to the related art of suiseki, or miniature stone landscapes displayed in the same manner, and often alongside, bonsai.

With his groundbreaking first book, Botanica Magnifica, Jonathan Singer established a new style of botanical photography, characterized by an exceptional clarity of detail and richness of color, as well as a painterly chiaroscuro. These qualities are just as evident in the present volume; Singer photographs each bonsai with an artist’s—one might even say a portraitist’s—eye, capturing its individual character, and in some cases revealing qualities hitherto unsuspected even by those who tended it daily. Fine Bonsai not only documents the masterpieces of an ancient horticultural art, but also is a masterpiece in itself. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Japanese Red Cross Society.

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