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163 Dice, 175 pebbles and sand

Size: 1500 mm x 1630 mm

Collection: Frank Kilgour

Assistant: Martin Boshoff

Druid's Keyboard II

  • Druid’s keyboard I was made in 1997 and consists of 36 ‘pebbles’ shaped from 36 species of wood. This older work makes reference to the 26 letters in the Roman alphabet and the numbers 1 to 10.


    The pebbles in Druid’s keyboard II are real pebbles. They were carefully identified as having special qualities amongst fields of other pebbles I picked up on many walks in different parts of the world. Pebbles are in essence aquifacts, objects formed by water action. They begin as clasts, newly broken stones of angular morphology. Some clasts land in waterways and over millions of years journey to places far from their origin, changing their shapes and textures as they are tumbled and chafed. When I hold a pebble in my hand, I hold a seasoned traveller, its marks and unique shape clearly visible from the journey – a bit like individual persons. We also travel all the time and may land up in places far from where we were born, shaped and formed by circumstance.


    Reasons why pebbles could be considered to be special:

    • Resembling other objects (one pebble in Druid’s keyboard 2, for example, perfectly resembles a small potato)
    • Unusual colouring or texture.
    • Perfect geometrical formation. Most pebbles are somewhat oblong or distorted and to find one that is perfectly round is very rare.
    • An interesting linear configuration. Some pebbles show a graphic component caused by an intrusion of igneous rock between or through existing sedimentary formations.
    • Grooves etched into the surface where softer stone was eroded. It is especially rewarding to find pebbles in desert areas, prehistorically shaped and grooved at the time of pantalassa, the earth’s prehistoric sea. It would be impossible for these pebbles to be formed in modern times because of a lack of water in the area where they occur.
    • Location in unusual places. Johannesburg lies in an area known as the Witwatersrand. This name points at the many hilly ridges where gold was discovered. On the crests of these hills millions of pebbles are embedded in the rocks. One invariably asks the question: “How on earth did the pebbles get there?” Pebbles are supposed to be found in the lower regions of streams and not on top of hills. They were once part of deep, subterranean lakes and water courses, but were pushed to the top through tremendous pressure, causing an upheaval of the landscape.
    • An inexplicable sense that a pebble is ‘speaking’ to one.


    Pebbles played an important role in the development of arithmetic. They were used by the ancients in the earliest abacus to make calculations, especially to work out business deals. Our modern calculator is named after the pebble – a calculus in Latin.


    In ancient Greece pebbles were used to cast the vote. In Greek a pebble is a psephos and in modern times the subject of political science at universities has a study unit called psephology. This word literally means ‘the study of the pebble’ but in fact is the study of the voting process, the correct determination of the democratic will of the people, the secrecy of the ballot, the demarcation of electoral districts and so on.


    Special pebbles are used by druids, sangomas and seers to facilitate a form of divination known as psephomancy. This practice is dependent on the coincidental effect obtained when pebbles are cast on the ground – a kind of divination by casting the lot. The more general sense of casting the lot in which beans, bones, straws, balls or objects that, because of their shape or markings, provide different divining options, is called cleromancy or sortilege. The use of dice is one of the major means of allowing such coincidental appearances to impact on our thinking processes, to promote creative, intuitive cogitation.


    Willem Boshoff

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