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Dreams in Stone 1


Willi and Gudrun Benz

Landscape painting from south China using a water painting technique which is about 150 years old.

Suiseki are artistic objects made by nature itself from stones which were formed formed by different influences and which have a highly charismatic and suggestive power.  The most important feature of these stones is their ability to evoke emotions in the viewer that are normally felt when watching a sublime scene of nature or an extraordinary piece of art.

This charisma is caused by a fortunate combination of shape, surface and colour and is established by placing the stone e.g. in a pot (suiban), which can express very personal and original human sentiments.

This painting uses a three-level split perspective, where the lower third represents the near area, the middle area represents the middle and the upper third the far distance.

This drawing very consciously uses asymmetry according to the rules of the golden section to avoid a rigid, static picture.


Very shallow pots or trays with a very low wall (between about 6 and 20 mm) and without drainage holes (Japanese: suiban) are very well suited for displaying suiseki.


Suiseki in a bronze suiban filled with white granules. Suiban of this kind are made in Korea. From the collection of  Puspo Adijuwono/ Jakarta.

Usually suiban are filled with sieved granules of uniform grain size, e.g. 2,5 mm or smaller, or with granules and water. Depending on the kind of stone, pots filled with granules symbolize a wide plain or the ocean or even a great crowd of people. A pot filled with water or with water and granules always symbolizes a large water surface.

In order to create the image of a wide plain or a large water surface, it is important that the pot's length is two or three times the length of the stone's base. The stone should be placed asymmetrically so that the visual centre of the stone is placed on the imaginary line created by the golden section. The steep side of the „mountain should point outwards (smaller distance to the pot's wall) while the flatter side points toward the wide plain. If placed like this, the stone in the pot (suiban) creates a harmonic image.

The visual centre of gravity (S) of the stone is located where the pot is divided by the golden section. Suitable granules are e.g. washed quartz gravel of uniform grain size and colour, crushed stone of various kinds of rock, like yellow porphyr, dark basalt, gabbro of uniform grain size and colour, poroton (medium brown), several sorts of birdcage sand, or black vulcanic sand which is found for example at the San Marco bay on Teneriffa.

The colours of stone, pot and granules must be attuned to each other. The pots filled with water or granules are not filled to the brim, but just up to about 80% of the pot’s depth so that 3 or 4 mm are left free at the top. Some suiban have a base glazed with colors. This can be used in the presentation, by not covering the entire base with granules.

Suiban can be made of ceramic or bronze. The bronze containers are very expensive but also very beautiful because of the colour of their naturally developed patina. Bronze suiban usually have an ornamentally decorated rim, while ceramic suiban have plain rims.

A typical ceramic suiban for the display of suiseki (Potter: Peter Krebs, Germany)

Bronze suiban with the typical patina of old bronze, made in Japan.

All suiban have oval or rectangular shapes, very rarely round shapes. When selecting a suiban you should consider that a noble stone needs an equally noble suiban. The value of a suiseki can be substantially increased by carefully selecting a suiban with suitable colour, glaze and texture. If you have the possibility to cooperate with a good potter, a suiban can be custom made for the suiseki. This is the ideal case. Lacking that, you'll have to take your stone to suiban traders and try until you find the ideal combination of stone and pot. In addition to colour, glaze and texture, the shape and size of the pot must be considered as well as the height of the rim and the shape of the pot’s feet. The arrangement of suiban and suiseki must create a harmonic ensemble. Bigger pots tend to get cracks during the production process, depending on the clay. This need not always be fatal. A good goldsmith can fill such a crack with gold.

Suiban with fissure (on the right), which was excellently mended with gold by a goldsmith (Potter: Peter Krebs)

Beside the sealing effect this achieves an artistic effect with a special appeal. It's not cheap but it substantially increases the value of a suiban, especially if the former crack which has been mended can be clearly seen in the display.

This stone from Liguria has great resemblance with the “Grisly Fall”, a well-known waterfall in the Kings Canyon, USA. The stone is placed in a special suiban. A crack in the front that has been provoked deliberately during the drying process has been filled with gold. For nature and mankind, water is as valuable as gold.Measurements: 13,5 x 5 cm x 7,5 cm (Suiban made by Peter Krebs).


This suiban was designed by me and made by Peter Krebs. This display is typically chinese and has the name Happy Dragons. I found the stone in Liguria. Measurements: 15 cm x 13 cm x 19 cm.

Display niche or tokonoma in the bonsai museum of the Crespi family near Milano.

Text and photographs by Willi Benz

Extracts from his books “The Art of Suiseki” and “Asiatische Kunst mit schönen Steinen / The Asian Art of Beautiful Stones” (text in German and English).

The German editions of these books can be obtained from the publisher WILLI BENZ.

Translation: Heike van Gunst

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