Spiral of Stones is an arrangement of 76 circular pebbles, carefully positioned by the creator of Kettle’s Yard Jim Ede. This demonstrates the importance of found and natural objects at Kettle’s Yard, which can be found in varying arrangements throughout the house.

Where is it in the house?

The spiral of stones is located in Jim’s bedroom, on the ground floor of the cottages. They are positioned on a low, circular table alongside a green glass float, shells, fresh flowers and a small sculpture by artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska called Torpedo Fish (Toy) (1914 – posthumous cast, 1968).

Image courtesy of Paul Allitt

Why did Jim decide to put these pebbles in his bedroom?

Image courtesy of Paul Allitt

Jim carefully selected and positioned objects in his home to create a sense of balance, often by echoing the relationship between colours and shapes in the house’s architecture. The tabletop arrangement in Jim’s bedroom is a good example of this. Can you see how the glass float and the spiral of stones complement the patterns of the table and emphasise its circular shape?

This spiral shape is repeated in other spaces in the cottages, close to Jim’s bedroom:

Jim has used a cider screw as a tall stand for two glass bottles underneath artist Joan Miró’s painting Tic Tic (1927). This cider screw was bought for one pound in a yard sale in Tangier, where Jim and his wife Helen lived from 1945 to 1952.

The spiral staircase came from a stately home in Cambridge. Jim recycled it in the cottages, enabling people to move upstairs in a spiral.

Image courtesy of Paul Allitt

Jim was fascinated by the way light could transform rooms in the house at Kettle’s Yard. He deliberately placed objects so that they interacted with the changing patterns of light falling into the house, creating unique light and shadow patterns throughout the day.

Watch the time-lapse video below to see how light floods through the blinds of the large bay window in Jim’s bedroom and creates patterns across the spiral of stones.

Have a closer look around Jim’s bedroom on our virtual tour.

Where did he collect the stones from?

Jim collected the stones from Cley next the Sea, a small village located on the north Norfolk coast where Jim often stayed in a cottage owned by his good friend Barry Till who worked at Jesus College, Cambridge. Jim wrote to the American museum director Perry Rathbone in September 1958, describing the pebbles on the beaches:

‘In our quiet life there is little to report, save that we are now in a little cottage half a mile from the Norfolk sea – a shore full of and overfull of pebbles – I can’t resist bringing back a load each day – we are to be here 2 weeks and expect it will do us both oceans of good.’

Listen to Jim describing the experience of finding the pebbles in the sound clip below.

Read transcript

Does the shape mean something?

An accident?

Jim writes in A Way of Life that he never intended to create the spiral of stones, stating that the shape arrived by chance. He writes; ‘as I placed them it occurred to me to grade them in size, and in doing so I started with the biggest […] surrounding it with smaller and smaller ones, and thus the spiral came into being.’

A Mandala?

Image courtesy of Paul Allitt

The spiral of stones has a close resemblance to a mandala, a spiritual symbol stemming from Hinduism and Buddhism where a pattern is formed from a circular shape in the centre. Mandalas represent the universe and are frequently used in meditation. The rich, complex patterns that make up a mandala are meant to bring tranquillity and enlightenment.

This wider meaning of spirituality and growth is very much in line with Jim’s own interests in spiritualism. Over the years, Jim explored religious ideas from Catholicism and philosophies including Buddhism and Hinduism.

Jim hoped that Kettle’s Yard would be a place where people could find inner peace and tranquillity, and often referred to the house as a work of devotion or a house of prayer.

Listen to Nicola Skipper, the Learning Officer from the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences discussing what the shape of the stones means in geological terms

Read transcript

Is it easy to look after?

Jim particularly enjoyed the daily routine of keeping Kettle’s Yard clean and tidy. He wrote in A Way of Life that the best way to keep the spiral of pebbles clean was to ‘blow the dust away instead of a proper clean’.

To make sure that the house is clean and tidy we now do a bit more than this – below are the tools we use to clean the pebbles today.

This air-blower blows dust away with a powerful blow of air. It has a valve to prevent it from breathing dust in.
This museum vac has controllable suction and a mesh covered hose to stock pieces being sucked into the machine.
We use this badger-hair brush to remove dust from objects.

Is it a work of art?

By mixing natural and found objects and artworks at Kettle’s Yard, Jim attempted to challenge and change the traditional ideas of what art is and could be.

Cupboard in Henry Moore's Bourne Maquette Studio at Perry Green, housing found objects and a wide range of works from small experimental pieces to maquettes for monumental sculpture.
Michael Phipps, The Henry Moore Foundation archive.
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015 / www.henry-moore.org
Flint stones from Henry Moore's collection of natural objects.
© The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015 / www.henry-moore.org

This idea was shared by many of his artist friends, including Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, who were also collectors of found and natural objects. See some examples of Henry Moore’s collection of natural objects above.

In 1928 Barbara Hepworth wrote, ‘objects that we place near each other, in their different aspects and relationships create new experiences.’ This suggests that by displaying natural and man made works of art next to each other we are able to see new characteristics and properties in both. We can see similarities between the arrangement of natural objects and artworks in the images from Barbara Hepworth’s studio and Kettle’s Yard below.

By placing found objects (shells, pebbles) next to valuable works of art, Ede also suggested that they are equally important in his eyes, with both offering visual enjoyment and a richness of associations. When Kettle’s Yard opened in 1957 this was a surprising proposition to encounter, even taking into account Jim’s domestic and personal approach to the interior. The many pebbles are as much a part of what make Kettle’s Yard special as the works of art in the collection.

Mantelpiece at Barbara Hepworth's studio. Photograph © The de Laszlo Foundation
Ben Nicholson paintings:
Bottom left - 1933 (composition), oil and pencil on board
Bottom right - 1933, (vertical painting), oil on panel
Other works unknown
All Ben Nicholson artwork © Angela Verren Taunt 2015. All rights reserved, DACS
Mantelpiece at Kettle's Yard
Image courtesy of Paul Allitt

The collections of natural objects were often inspiration for the artists’ sculptures, or they were carved into directly to make new works of art. For example, Henry Moore’s Head, (1928), is carved from Shakespeare Cliff chalk from Dover. The surface of Head is textured with dots, grains and white chalky lines of the natural material.

Henry Moore, Head, 1928. © The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015 / www.henry-moore.org

Why did Jim collect stones?

In notes found in Kettle’s Yard’s archive, Jim writes about his fascination with found and natural objects. He felt that our contact with a pebble was contact with something miraculous, an example of the divine beauty of nature.

‘Stones are strange expressions of miracles’

Jim was also interested in the journey and history that the shape of a pebble can tell us about, writing that ‘the shape of the pebble is the story or subject of a work of art – we trace in it the history and action of time – this is part of our pleasure.’ Throughout his life he collected shells, pebbles, bones and other natural objects; friends from all over the world also sent some to him.

Listen to Nicola Skipper, the Learning Officer from the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, talk us through some of the journeys the pebbles in the house have been on.

Read transcript

Why is it special?

Jim felt that we make personal connections to the colour, shape or pattern of pebbles or stones that we pick up.He was fascinated by our individual choice about what makes a perfect pebble, writing;

‘I will discard 10,000 in my search for one whose outward shape exactly balance my idea of what a pebble is … you may search a wide seashore or the reaches of many rivers and never find one, and then suddenly it lies before you – an ordered unit, shaped of this order from the countless vicissitudes of nature’s course… We find a perfect pebble once in a generation and once in a continent perhaps.’