Best of the best

It troubles me when people modify the word unique.  “It is very unique.” Really? Is it? Somehow that phrase instantly makes me doubt the one-of-a-kind-ness of whatever it is the speaker is referencing. We don’t really need to accentuate “uniqueness.” If it is one of a kind, it is one of a kind.

Despite the above image there are not 9 of those rocks. That is 9 shots of one rock. He has a name. He is “The honorable Old Man.”

Liu Don, a major Chinese painter has painted him ten times for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ Fresh Ink Exhibit.

Up until Saturday he was mine.

My father was an artist and an art collector, and I spent my childhood racing through museums, and digging through back rooms of shops on Hong Kong’s hollywood Rd. My dad’s collection (now mine) of scholar’s rocks is world renowned. He brought back the art form from obscurity in the west. His collection  continues to tour internationally, has been written about by Harvard Scholar’s,  and has examples in the finest museums in the world.

Through three decades of collecting, there was never a questions about which rock was the stand out.

We can debate about Sampras v. Federer v. Nadal (v. Djokovic?);  New York v. San Francisco; Ruby v. PHP, Voltaggio v. Voltaggio…but there is no conversation at all about this.

He is the best of the best.

And I let him go.

I think I am a little heartbroken.

In the decade that I took finding him a new home I felt decisive. He never felt like mine. I’m pretty sure that I don’t support landmark works residing in private collections in any case (irony acknowledged), but even if we take that out of the discussion, the old man did his job. He opened doors for my father and his work. He headlined a great rock tour.  He spent a decade on our stair landing in Newton. Greeting me at the beginning of the day and seeing me off at the end. I remember bounding down quickly and seeing a slight bounce in his pedestal. Noting that I needed to be more gentle with him. And noting it again the next time. I remember sitting at his side examining the hard wood shim that had been carefully carved 100 years ago to wedge into his base to help with that very jiggle. Wondering at the artistry of the fix, and the circumstances that brought it about. Was it the imperial family in Beijing? Probably not a daughter in that case, but someone who wanted him more secure. I marveled at his lean-ness. So many of our rocks were more rock- y. His 5 ft 5 ish height (short for a man, tall for a rock) was what I aspired to.

This is complicated stuff. What we are gifted, what we make of it. Its tough even when it doesn’t come together in one piece, with its own provenance, and history. Families divest of things with joy and loss. Pianos, rugs, coin collections. Each item intertwines with your family story. Whatever your motivation for deaccession there is loss along with your gain. I guess we can mourn objects. Particularly honorable ones.

Thank you for spending time in our family, old man.

Thank you for my gift, dad.

I will try to make something great of his legacy.