Junks I Collect No. 1: Stone Seals

In East Asia seals (sometimes called chops) are used to sign official documents and for art. Seals can be carved out of stone, wood, bamboo, and ivory. They may sometimes be made out of metal , porcelain, or plastic. A thick, bright red paste made of crushed cinnabar mixed with castor oil is used to make the impression.

Artists use name seals to sign their work, and will also use “mood “ or “leisure” seals to add a sentiment  to a work of calligraphy or a painting. These might range from poetic words or lines (“Tranquility,” “True Meaning Comes from Within,” “Cloudy Mountain in an Ocean of Mist”) to an expression of satisfaction. My favorite stamp is the first one I got as a present my dad brought me back from Korea when I was a little girl:



It says, “The tiger came and laughed.” When stamped on a painting, a seal such as this one would indicate that the artist is pleased with his/her work. Artists, intellectuals, and literati had “studios” or libraries in which they worked and socialized. Studio seals are added to art as another kind of personal signature, or also as marks of a collector’s appreciation and ownership. A piece of art might acquire multiple studio seals as it passes from one collector to another.

I’ve got most of my seal collection in my own studio  office:


Here they are up close:


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