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Muscarelle lecture to present Chinese stone relics


The College of William and Mary's Muscarelle Museum of Art will hold a lecture on scholars' stones Thursday.

The smooth, twisting, porous rocks have long been revered in Chinese culture as an interaction between man and nature, according to the museum. Ranging in size from mere inches tall to towering boulders, scholars' stones have held a prominent interest among Chinese scholars since the Song dynasty.

Ying Liu of William and Mary's Confucius Institute said the stones are traditionally displayed in Chinese studies and gardens to help inspire people or turn them towards meditation. She said people as early as the 11th century were writing books on how to properly appreciate the rocks.

William and Mary alumnus Robert Turvene is lending the stones from his personal collection. He helped coordinate the cooperation between the Muscarelle, the Confucius Institute and lecturer Kemin Hu, who contributed part of her own collection for the exhibit.

Hu has written five books on the subject and has an expansive selection of scholars' stones, some inherited from her father, who was also an avid collector of Chinese relics. She will present on the different types of scholars' stones, how to appreciate them and how the West has approached the natural sculptures.

"Kemin Hu and Robert Turvene — they work very closely together — they worked to collect some of the more rare types of stones," said Muscarelle associate registrar Laura Fogarty.

Liu said when representatives from the Confucius Institute were invited to Turvene's apartment last year, they were amazed at the breadth of his collection. Fogarty said more of Turvene's rocks will come to the museum for display in the future.

"He's been a really big supporter of the Confucius Institute and also us," Fogarty said, "and he was really committed to making sure that the students of William and Mary and the community become familiar with the beautiful works that are in Asia."

Fogarty said she hopes people will come learn about this Chinese tradition so few in the area have ever experienced.

"I had never encountered these before, and now they're one of my favorite things," said Fogarty of the stones, "and that's after I moved them."

Elizabeth Dowker, one of the museum's student curators, said the structures were formed when erosion differentiated chunks of limestone. Dowker said people sometimes would take these rocks and submerge them in a stream for anywhere up to 50 years, to smooth out their rough edges.

Liu said their unique appearances were befitting of a museum exhibit, and although they were steeped in Chinese tradition, people would be able to appreciate their designs even without context.

"I think the audience might also connect these stones with some modern art, because these are very abstract," Liu said.

The exhibit will be open until Aug. 13. Museum curators invite the community to come meditate over the selected stones.

Want to go?

Event: Lecture by expert Kemin Hu

Time: 6 p.m.

Date: July 13

Location: Sheridan Gallery in the Muscarelle Museum, 603 Jamestown Road

Cost: free

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