A Pilgrim’s Journey Through the World of Inkstones

Jade mountain-shaped brush rest (left), Duan inkstone with 6 dragons (right)
Porcelain toad-shaped inkstone in Ge ware glaze
Duan inkstone featuring the rising sun over wavering seawater
Agate water dripper in the shape of a “bi-xi (mythical creature)”
Crystal brush rest in the shape of “Chi (dragon)”
Table screen with auspicious animal decoration in celadon glaze (background), Gourd box with Oblong Songhau Inkstone
Inkstone with turtle-shaped finial
Inkstone with turtle-shaped finial (detail)
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A Symphony of Time Beneath Ancient Roofs

Stepping into the hallowed halls of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, one senses a subtle melody hum beneath the centuries-old roof. Time itself hums here, woven into the fabric of the building, whispering tales of emperors and scholars, their echoes clinging to the polished floors and dusty artefacts. Yet, amidst this tapestry of history, lies a different kind of magic: the exhibition Inkstones, through the Eyes of an Aficionado. It’s more than a display of quaint tools; it’s a pilgrimage to the wellspring of Chinese culture, where history, artistry, and passion converge in the unassuming form of a stone.

Silent Companions: Vessels of Stories and Dreams

For me, an inkstone aficionado, these unassuming objects transcend mere historical artefacts. They are vessels of stories, silent companions to generations of dreamers and thinkers. On the smooth curve of an inkwell, in each intricate engraving, lies a universe waiting to be explored. I close my eyes and imagine scholars of old hunched over these companions, brushes dripping with black dreams and poems whispered onto silk and paper. Their passion lives on, not just in the inkstones themselves, but in the shared gaze of our diverse group – students, artists, historians, simply those touched by the beauty and history before us.

The Thrill of the Hunt: Unearthing Treasures and Whispers of Dynasties

This journey, however, extends beyond the hushed reverence of the museum. It begins in the dusty corners of antique shops, where the thrill of the hunt sparks as your fingers brush against cold stone, the promise of a forgotten treasure hidden beneath layers of grime. Imagine unearthing a Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) tripod inkstone, it’s jade surface whispering of forgotten dynasties and whispered poems. Or stumbling upon a Qing dynasty (1644-1911) crystal brush rest, its sinuous Chi dragon frozen in mid-step, a testament to forgotten elegance. The exhilaration of such a discovery, the intoxicating knowledge that you hold a piece of history, fuels a fire within, an insatiable curiosity that propels you deeper into the world of inkstones.

A Shared Legacy: Beyond Walls and Generations

But this passion doesn’t bloom in solitude. Within the walls of the museum, a kindred spirit emerges. We, the inkstone aficionados, gather not as collectors but as pilgrims to a wellspring of creativity. We marvel at the shared legacy etched upon these stones; the whispers of scholars echoed in the hushed conversations of artists, historians and simply those touched by the beauty before us. This community transcends generations and walls, united by a language of appreciation, a spark ignited by the timeless expression of human artistry.

Ink-Stained Threads: A History Woven into Everyday Life

Our shared history goes beyond the museum walls. Emperors wielded inkstones in their halls of power, their decrees imprinted with the same ink that graced poets’ verses. Painters dipped their brushes into inky depths, giving life to dreamscape landscapes and portraits of emperors gone by. Even women, in quiet corners of their chambers, wrote delicate poems or taught children with inkstones, their inseparable companions. Like the ubiquitous phone of today, these stones were once woven into the tapestry of everyday life, their ink flowing like blood through the veins of a vibrant culture.

Whispers of Beauty, Beckons of Creation

As you stand amidst these silent muses – the story of inkstones isn’t confined to their polished surfaces. It lives in the shared gaze of a museum’s gathering, in the thrill of discovery, in the spark ignited by history and beauty. It beckons you to dive deep, to trace the threads of culture and artistry woven into these stones, to let your own light shine in the ever-expanding constellation of human creativity.

From Appreciation to Creation: A Canvas of Ink and Dreams

But the journey doesn’t end with appreciation. Inkstones are not merely objects to be gazed upon; they are invitations to create. Each smooth surface whispers of possibilities, beckoning fingers to grasp a brush and dance with ink, to bring forth the whispers of your own soul onto blank paper. Look closer at the jade mountain-shaped brush rest, its slopes a canvas waiting for life. Imagine your own brushstrokes carving stories of dragons and dreams, echoing the artistry of ancient masters.

Beyond Stones and Time: A Symphony of Human Expression

The world of inkstones is a portal, not just to the past, but to the boundless possibilities of human expression. It’s a journey that begins with a whisper, a spark ignited by a seemingly simple stone. It’s a community that welcomes you with open arms, a shared language that transcends words. It’s a call to create, to connect, to find your own voice in the symphony of history. So, whether you stand amidst the echoes of the National Palace Museum or wander through the labyrinthine lanes of an antique shop, remember – the magic of inkstones lies not just in their beauty, but in the stories they whisper, the connections they forge, and the whispers of creativity they ignite within each of us.

Text & photos Martin Wray