Rock Crystal

On display in the archeological department at Museums Sheffield, Weston Park there is a small spherical object, about 40mm wide, made from quartz, supported by a vertical armature.  It was found in a burial plot beside the skeletal remains of a woman and child and research has determined this orb was once treasured for its apotropaic properties.  

The rock crystal amulet was found at Wigber Low. Other examples are usually suspended, using a silver chain. This example has no sign of any suspension. However, there is a V-shaped hole in one surface with traces of chipping around its rim. This may be all that now remains of the suspension. Wigber Low was excavated between 1975-6 by John Collis from the University of Sheffield. These excavations were started after spearheads were found during a survey of the area. Further excavation at the site in 1987 uncovered a small cairn containing a child burial and an Anglo-Saxon burial of a young woman. Grave goods from this burial included the fittings from a wooden box, an iron knife, spear, and this rock crystal orb. (Museums Sheffield website)

An artist friend and I made a visit to Wigber Low and wandered over what we believed to be the area the rock crystal was discovered.  We received helpful directions from a farmer living and working close to the ancient plot.  We disturbed him while he and his family were making preparations for his daughter’s wedding, erecting a large marquee in a distant field.  Despite this, he made time for us and showed us two framed maps hung on his farmhouse wall.  (See images below.). He was able to direct us to the site and recalled the frenzy that surrounded the discovery of the uncovered hoard.  He described country lanes gridlocked with amateur detectorists trying to find hidden treasures.  They were made aware of the discoveries when local news broke the story.  Police had to disperse those hunting for treasures since the plot was now a site of importance.  The urgency to safeguard the many significant objects found on Wigber Low meant today there is very little remaining.  Unlike Arbor Low, Wigber Low is an insignificant mound and I doubt people visit it.


The following information was found in Audrey L. Meaney’s book ‘Anglo-Saxon Amulets and Curing Stones‘ 

W. D. Hildburgh defined an amulet as:  ‘… a material object through whose retention there is sought the averting of some result displeasing, or the obtaining of some outcome pleasing, to the possessor of that object, and in a way which seems to be beyond natural laws as proclaimed by persons best qualified to understand them.  Primarily it is the retention* of the object, for the sake of its presumed apotropaic, which marks it as an amulet…’

Amulets are closely associated with curing stones.  These belonged to cunning men or women and were used in curing rituals. Dipping the amulet into water before drinking was believed to revive patients.  Though most of us today wouldn’t trust the amulet’s properties today it’s believed all levels of society would have used curing stones: Amulets are so common among people’s of all stages of savagery and civilisation – not excepting the most highly educated sections of modern society – that it would be surprising if the Anglo-Saxon did not also have them.

Use of crystal balls for ‘scrying’ appears to have gained currency only in the Renaissance, as far as Western Europe is concerned 

The crystal orb might have had practical as well as supernatural properties, lighting sacrificial fires by focusing the sun’s rays through the lens of the orb would have been an extremely useful and portable tool.

‘… but the magic nature of rock-crystals is most highly concentrated in the balls. I suggest that we should see these as symbolic as well as amuletic: representing women as guardians of the hearth and of her family’s health, just as the spindle whorl and weaving batten represented her skill with cloth… most domestic healing was in the hands of women in Anglo-Saxon period, as it is today’

I’m interested in the varied practical and supernatural applications of the rock crystal.  I’m also interested to know more about the people that possessed and used the orbs and I’ll read further about how their position in society changed through the ages.  I wonder if at a later stage there’s a crossover with the persecution of people believed to be witches and wizards?

I will add more as the project develops… 

* Retention of an object, albeit a limited gathering of things, suggests an early collection.

Other theories:

The true origin of the rock crystal is unknown however rock crystal found in other sites in the UK might have been Germanic / Hungary from the 1st century AD.

Romans were said to carry balls of crystal in order to cool their hands, perhaps because they believed that crystal was formed by the intense freezing of snow

In Sweden, Carinthia, Portugal and Switzerland crystal and quartz were also known as thunderstone which were thought to have fallen from the sky during a storm.


Sidney & Matilda Gallery

31.05.19 – 16.06.19


Pronoun:  A large number or amount; a great deal.  Adverb:  A great deal; much.  Noun:  A particular group or set of people or things.  An item or set of items for sale at an auction.   The making of a decision by random selection, especially by a method involving the choice of one from a number of pieces of folded paper, one of which has a concealed mark.  A person’s luck, situation, or destiny in life.  A plot of land assigned for sale or for a particular use.

L O T unites a series of new works by artist David Orme: Like abstruse cabinets of curiosity, Orme’s large-scale collages and framed fragments exhibit an assortment of quirky forms which stimulate interpretation.  These cohesive arrangements lay bare a system of making, a methodology that echoes the practice of collecting and curating.  

Orme paints acrylic washes onto large sheets of cotton twill before cutting and drawing onto them, continuing this intuitive process of cutting and redrawing until a new shape reveals itself.   This innate process of creating, making value judgements and nurturing an enigmatic dialogue between fragments is evident in the collages. 

The titles of the works on display are inspired by a short story by Virginia Woolf titled: ‘Solid Objects’.  In the short story the protagonist named John discovers a mysterious object buried in the sand on the beach.  The strange object, made from what appears to be glass, incites an obsession to seek and collect similar objects, estranged from function.  Parallels can be drawn between John’s pursuit for new objects and Orme’s studio practice; the liminal spaces in which John finds (himself and) the abstract objects, is akin to the studio space, a realm in which transformative actions occur and new forms and structures emerge.

Besides being drawn to the discovery and invention of new, esoteric forms Orme is also inspired by the utility and potency of objects such as sentimental keepsakes, artefacts from folklore, apotropaic charms, religious relics, travel souvenirs, grave goods and votive offerings.

Apotropaic Objects

I recently completed a small series of objects in glazed ceramic.  Only about 20cm tall, they resemble upturned tools, having a ‘handle’ and a ‘head’.  The forms echo the tactile process and malleability of clay from which they instinctively emerged… (which might go some way to explaining the organic, scatalogical (!) shape and colour of the objects).  

Dead Leaves

The current exhibition at 36 Lime Street by artist David Orme takes its inspiration from a passage in Thomas Mann’s novel, Magic Mountain. In the novel the protagonist Hans Castorp visits a relative staying at a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, however the intended short visit extends to a lengthy stay of several years. In one particular chapter, Excurses on the Sense of Time the protagonist ponders his visit to the sanatorium, “I shall never cease to find it strange that the time seems to go so slowly in a new place…”. [1] In the digression Mann remarks upon the abstraction of time perception when encountering unfamiliar surroundings, expanding upon the interrelationship between novelty and slowness, monotony and swiftness: 

‘Our first days in a new place time has a youthful, that is to say, a broad and sweeping, flow, persisting for some six or eight days.  Then, as one “gets used to the place” a gradual shrinkage makes itself felt.  He who clings or, better expressed, wishes to cling to life will shudder to see how the days grow light and lighter, how they scurry by like dead leaves, until the last week, or some four, perhaps, is uncannily fugitive and fleet”. [2]

The exhibition installation, a continuum of the creative process, will allow for spatial and temporal exploration.  During the installation period Orme will utilise the newness of the gallery space; making use of the liminal interval; he will concede to the gallery’s formation and allow idiosyncratic compositions to form, nurturing their transitoriness.  The creative process  and the sense of time described in Mann’s novel  can both be identified as being liminal: 

In anthropology, liminality […] is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete’. [3]

Working predominantly from a reserve of painted and cut fabric shapes, the body of work on display at 36 Lime Street is in continual flux.  Orme’s practise examines the disparate ways in which we (individually and collectively) experience liminality; notions of liminality are alluded to by employing specific processes and materials.  His fabric collages are loosely draped or pinned directly to the gallery wall in singular or multiple arrangements, existing as peripatetic assemblages, which emerge from a process of continual revision.

[1] [2] Thomas Mann; Magic Mountain; Penguin Modern Classic reprinted 1971; Translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter

[3] Wikipedia: