San Antonio and the Chinese city of Wuxi became sister cities in 2012, and now their relationship is reinforced with 6.5 tons of limestone.
After a truck ride from Wuxi to Shanghai, a month-long ocean voyage to Houston and another truck ride to San Antonio, a 12-foot tall, 6-foot wide limestone rock arrived at the campus of the San Antonio Museum of Art. On May 31, a crane unloaded the “Taihu rock” into storage at SAMA.
Taihu rocks come from the shore of Lake Taihu, near Wuxi. These limestone rocks are filled with holes caused by thousands of years of tide-powered erosion. Shawn Yuan, assistant curator of Asian Art at SAMA, said the Chinese elite have treasured the rocks for centuries.
“They use the large Taihu rock in the gardens next to a body of water — for example, a pond or a stream — because the rock kind of symbolizes, like, a miniature mountain,” Yuan said. “So in the Chinese garden you have this river or pond, which because the water is constantly flowing it is soft, it is formless, next to this rock which is hard with beautiful fixed forms, so it symbolizes this yin and yang dichotomy in Chinese philosophy.”
Inspired by this centuries-old Taoist tradition, SAMA will place the Taihu rock on the back of its campus, adjacent to the San Antonio River. There it will be visible to anyone walking along the Riverwalk near the museum.
Limestone is present on both shores of Lake Taihu near Wuxi and in San Antonio’s own Edwards Aquifer. Katie Luber, the executive director at SAMA, said she hopes that connection won’t go unnoticed.
“The very material of this rock is something that’s similar to the very material of our world here. What better way of connecting our peoples than something like that,” said Luber.
Luber made the request for a Taihu rock in May, 2018, when a Wuxi delegation was in San Antonio for the city’s tricentennial celebration. In December, Liu Xia, the vice mayor of Wuxi, met with Luber and other SAMA curators in Wuxi to help them handpick a Taihu rock.
“I hope that the people of San Antonio can get to know more about Wuxi, and we also welcome you to come to Wuxi. May our friendship last forever,” said Xia through an interpreter.
A delegation from Wuxi will return to San Antonio in November for the unveiling of the rock. Emily Sano, an Asian art advisor at SAMA, said the museum is considering what to send to Wuxi in return.
“An exchange means that there should be an exchange, and we will have to consult our city colleagues to see what the city would like to [send],” said Sano. “We have not made any plans specifically ourselves, but we are very eager to participate in any discussion about that. [We] wonder what would be appropriate from a western Texas town to send to China.”
SAMA’s Taihu rock and an exhibition of “scholar’s objects” — small stones, jade objects, calligraphy tables and other pieces traditionally used in the Chinese scholar’s studio — will be unveiled on November 6.
The exhibition of scholar’s objects will be in San Antonio until February 9th, 2020, when they will be returned to the Wuxi Museum.
Dominic Anthony can be reached at email@example.com.