Raymond Chou is unlike many other exhibitors.
He is not charging visitors to view his collection of 32 Shoushan stones at the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto, and instead is taking money out of his own pocket to make it happen.
“In Hong Kong and New York, I had a room before to show people — that’s why sometimes I save all the money from traveling to pay the rent,” he says. “People usually make money, but I lost money for it.”
All is worth it, however, as long as he can share it with others.
“In North America, not many people have it. So I like to put it outside to show everybody the culture,” he says. “There are so many different kinds of culture, but stone culture is very special.
“Some people want to give me a lot of money to buy it from me, I say no, because if I give them, they take it home and they’re the only ones who enjoy it, but if I put it here, everybody can enjoy it.”
Chou has been an avid collector of Shoushan stones for over 25 years and over that time he has collected over 100 of them from such diverse places as auction centres and others from yard sales.
The ones on display at the cultural centre were specifically chosen to give the audience an idea of all the different types of Shoushan stones there are.
Shoushan stones are from Fujian Province in China and Chou says there are about 200 different types, of which only 50 to 60 can still be found today.
And the price has grown exponentially within the last 10 years, says Chou.
“It’s expensive right now, but before, nobody cared,” he says. “You find it on the streets, but now, everybody needs some culture in their life, so everybody collects it
“The stone is almost finished from the mountain I think. Everybody keeps taking, now they don’t have anymore.”
But there are times when you do get lucky and get the stone at a cheap price. Chou says he has gotten some stones for about $20 or for free sometimes because people have no place to store them or have no experience or knowledge in the field.
“Some people who are selling the stone, they don’t know the stone. That’s the problem,” he says.
But besides the price of the stone itself, the artist who carves it is what makes up a large portion of the price.
“The artist’s name is very important. After they carve, they sign their name. That name is very important, worth almost half the price of the stone,” Chou says.
Chou’s knowledge on Shoushan stones is all self-taught. And now he is sharing both his collection and information with his exhibition and seminars he is holding at the cultural centre.
Denise Yan, event organizer of the Chinese Cultural Centre, says they have rented the space out to Chou for a year.
“He’s the expert and that’s why I would like him to conduct talks to share with people who are interested to know how to appreciate these kinds of stones,” she says. “I think it’s good that we have this kind of exhibition here to promote Chinese culture.”