Stone Hearts

This morning, walking my dogs on the beach on front of my home in Portishead, I found a large heart shaped stone. I added it to my collection which I have been making for over 10 years. In all this time I have found about 60 stones, but not all from this beach. I walk here every day, it is just a narrow strip of stony land at the edge of a salt marsh on the banks of the Bristol Channel, where the Severn estuary joins the river Avon. In old maps this area is called The Severn Sea.

the salt marsh underneath the sea wall at Portishead, our house is the first on the left

I have collected heart stones from some other beaches and people often bring me them to me as well,  everyone loves the search when walking the dogs; but when they find any  better stones than I have in my collection, they usually take them home with them – I prefer to think that they take them away as a reminder of a good time……

back of sandstone heart with tiny black gravel heart which is 1cm in length.

There are rules to what can be accepted as a heart stone, they have to be held to the sky and seen in silhouette, back and front – often the backs don’t have the same shape, they also have to have a top and a base and the cleft has to be indented. However some stones in unusual colours or ones that come from other beaches are admitted….and some days I just have to find a stone before I leave the beach – over time they have become talismans for me.

I started to collect the stones as a memorial to my oldest friend, Sue Marshall, known to everyone else by her married name of Sue Bernstein. She died in 1998 at 50 years of age, from breast cancer, and on my last visit to her I promised that I make some work in her memory; we had had a conversation where we both agreed that her cancer was the result of a heart broken too often. From this time I have used the broken and mended heart as an ongoing inspiration for my work. A smooth stone has to be  broken before it can become a heart stone.

For many years I just collected the stones knowing I would do some work from them some time, I kept them in strict rows on top of a plan chest outside my studio, waiting for an idea to develop. Meanwhile I took some of the largest hearts and placed them as a memorial in the area of the garden we use for our dog’s graves. It is planted with flowers that are in keeping with the area, below a Dicentra Spectabilis, bleeding heart arches over the heart stones memorial.

Dog's graves with hearts stones memorial, the angels wear the dogs' collars.

Eventually I made a collection of badges for an exhibition for ETC, an applied arts group of researchers at UWE Bristol, (click on to ETC on blogroll to see more badges). I drew round the smaller stones, both back and front and then cut these out of copper and enamelled them using sand and grit from the beach mixed with the enamel, they were then stoned down to take off the shiny enamel finish

the collection of 50 enamel badges made from the shapes of the beach stones laid out above them

I also made a larger piece for an embroidery exhibition where I made 5 Icons and Icon covers for a series of enamelled hearts.  I was playing with the idea that the stones themselves are worth nothing, the only value invested in them is by the viewer, the maker – in this case the collector. The surround or cover is made from heavy silver braids and watered silk pinned with all kinds of metal and glass beads. the hearts hang loosely, recessed within the cover which acts as a protective and glorifying surface. This particular embroidery was sold in a Valentine’s day exhibition at the Twenty Twenty Gallery in Much Wenlock.

Embroidered icon cover for enamelled "stone" hearts, pinned with glass and metal beads and sequins

I continued to make the broken hearts but slowly they started to get themselves mended…

broken and mended stones hearts: copper, enamel, mica and silk

4 thoughts on “Stone Hearts

  1. Hi, I am an old friend of Irene’s and she gave me this address. Love your stuff. I have an old postcard of your work that Irene gave me a few years ago.
    I have a friend in Kathmandu who also collects heart shaped stones. She has also been doing it for years. Such serendipity.

  2. Hi Susie,
    good to hear from you, we have met before at a Textile Forum South West conference last year – I am chair of the steering committee. You spoke about your embroidered portraits and the textiles project with Nepal and Indian villages

    I remember you well as you wore an acid green silk velvet coat, which I coveted. glad you like this work, there is a lot more to come – specially broken and mended hearts

  3. Hi Janet,
    am back looking at your blog, regularly check your stuff. Have just seen the fantastic enamel garden, marvellous stuff.

    I thought that I had met you before. That coat is still going.

  4. I am a stone heart collector. I began finding them soon after my nephew’s suicide. I know they’ve always been there right in front of me. I think of him often each time I discover one it truly touches my soul. Your collection and story is beautiful. Thank YOU

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