“My left hand is my thinking hand. The right is only a motor hand. This holds the hammer. The left hand, the thinking hand, must be relaxed, sensitive. The rhythms of thought pass through the fingers and grip of this hand into the stone. It is also a listening hand. It listens for basic weaknesses of flaws in the stone; for the possibility or imminence of fractures.”
Barbara Hepworth (1961)
Conversations with Magic Stones came about to accompany an exhibition in Orkney in 2017.
Taking in the Stromness Museum, the Orkney Museum and Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, the exhibition mapped the places that prehistoric and ethnographic stone tools have occupied in Orcadian and wider imaginations.
Focused on the biographies of individual artefacts, the book explores the social history of collecting, the interest in stone tools shown by artists such as Barbara Hepworth, and the values that people have worked into stone from prehistory to the present: matters of time, identity and belonging; of skill and aesthetics; of making and memory.
Fully illustrated with stunning colour and monochrome photography, the book was written, designed and edited by Mark Edmonds, with additional contributions from Hugo Anderson-Whymark, Ann Clarke, Antonia Thomas, Neil Firth and Andrew Parkinson.
“He would put them by when he came in from the field. In the house, in the byre, on a ledge .. Not on display, just safe … / found this in a box of spricks that he kept on the bench in the shed …”
“… It’s my father’s collection. He didn’t get around terribly much, so quite a bit came from the 30 acres that he farmed. It’s a mix of different times, right enough … There’s maybe a few from further afield -folk knew he was interested; that’s why he was invited over to dig once they’d found the Brodgar Stone … Father had a good eye, behind the plough, catching the stone glistening on the peat. He must have done to pick up all these chips and scraps along with the arrowheads. And a lot of the flint is the same colour. Maybe he found a big site, somewhere on the farm, that’s waiting to be found again … Not all of it though.
“And then there’s that axe, found on the edge of Stenness loch. So it went off to Edinburgh and they said it was a New Zealand greenstone; how did that come to be at the edge of the loch? He never said, so maybe some things came with visitors … He just kept them in these boxes around the house, as I do now … “