Merlin’s Stone

John —  10 October 2013 — 13 Comments

I’m not really a lithics man and the nearest I get to interesting stones is when hobbling over them on Brighton beach …

StoneHowever, when detectorist Merlin Harker showed me a painted pebble inscribed with a number, curiosity got the better of me. I had to find out more – especially as Merlin said that it was a beach find.  A little research was needed …

I know some people who take pebbles from the beach, but sculptor Pete Codling liked to take new ones and leave them there. For 16 years – and in the name of art – he was hoping to add a million clay pebbles made by him to those fashioned by nature. Alas, his dream was dashed after the funding dried up, leaving him 500,000 pebbles short of his target. He had been making them in a kiln at his home, numbering them and inviting people to decorate them before throwing them into the waves off Southsea beach.


Pete Codling – courtesy of

He called the artwork which has dominated his life One Million Pebbles and estimates it had cost tens of thousands of pounds before funding from the Arts Council, local authorities and sponsors eventually dried up.

In a way Pete Codling has succeeded in what he set out to do. The project has become a great talking point because people like Merlin are finding the painted pebbles.

Even though you may think he’s crackers, people like Pete enrich the fabric of our lives. Even if they do no more than bring smiles to our faces, that is no mean achievement in these troubled times! Our English eccentrics should be celebrated … provided they don’t drain the public purse!


Pebbles on beach


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13 responses to Merlin’s Stone

  1. I’d like to walk on water but Sand will have to do for the time being . . ” Bloody Pebbles ” ” Ouch ” . .

  2. I agree. Thanks for your first comment.

  3. John
    As I am not a guy who appreciates much about the arts especially modern art, to be honest I would rather see the wasteful public money which is spent on useless eyesores and amenities and guys hoying clemmies into the sea go to more needed services, modern art is only appreciated by a few but is funded from the public purse.
    I am also bitterly opposed to foreign aid which never finds its way to the needy which it is supposedly targeted for.
    That’s enough of my moaning.

  4. Randy – your views are similar to those I’ve already heard … and I tend to agree.
    I wonder if someone can convince us otherwise?

  5. So you Brits have nothing better to do with your money than give it to someone who makes numbered stones? What do you pay for numbered bricks?

    Just kidding….interesting story John, as usual.

    • I did say that our English eccentrics should be celebrated … but I’m having second thoughts now, especially when appears to be a waste of public money.

  6. Love it, Oscar Wilde said a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  7. I wonder what the Old Masters would say about so-called ‘modern’ art?
    As for the Turner prize I would think he is turning in his grave at the waste there.

  8. Randy Dee’s views are similar to most in Rural Australia. The City people may think differently. Perhaps the artist should rename his quest ” half a million pebbles”.

  9. Bruce D Campbell 10 October 2013 at 10:42 pm

    I do celebrate eccentrics, however this one seems to have stopped as soon as he was required to use HIS OWN money.

  10. I went to Tate Modern a few years back… Didn’t get as far as the top two floors – I’d had enough of the myriad works of dross by then and walked out in high dudgeon. If you really want to have a laugh and get somewhat enraged at the same time, go along to the Royal Academy Summer Show – it’s on every year. And it’s pitiful, some of it. Well, most of it really… The ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ describes it all very well.
    However, we do happen to have a few talented artists here in the UK – Anthony Gormley for one; Jack Vettriano, whose much-scorned painted studies on social situations are now selling for thousands – and even dear old Grayson Perry can make a fist of some of his work! Just wish he’d stop wearing the dresses…
    One of the funniest ones I ever saw was at the MOMA in Barcelona – a large-screen video of Canadian artist Rodney Graham sitting in a chair, lobbing potatoes at a gong… That was worth every penny of the entry fee!!

  11. Well what a surprise, tens of thousand of hard earned tax payers money spent on the ego of a so called artist! I don’t know about pebbles, the guy and his artistic pursuit already appears to be “stoned!” Perhaps this is just another of the crack pot installations that have become so prevalent in the modern art empire. This reminds me of the rich with their predilection for oysters, truffles and caviar who spend a fortune on food which basically tastes vile! For them it is also an attitude of ego tripping as the majority of us couldn’t afford it even if we wanted too! If we wanted to throw a pebble into the sea, then why not just paint a message or an image on one and hurl that into the sea? That is free and maybe has a more poignant symbolism of individuality and meaning?

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