'Wooden Horse' by Hilary Gregory

My glossy netsuke horse, no bigger than my little finger, sits in the palm of my hand waiting to take me back in time. Its maker breathed gentleness, sensitivity and strength into its fine lines and stretched the boxwood into life over a hundred years ago in Japan, when the world was different. When it was fashionable for gentlemen to tie their kimonos or draw the strings of their pouches together with elaborately carved toggles. My horse would have done the job well. But it spoke the language of everyday beauty and was transformed into Art and sold to Germany, where it passed through dealers, into the hands of a young girl who loved horses.

Elizabeth had her own horse and she trotted happily along Unter den Linden on Naseweiß, feeling the immortality of the young. But her horse was taken along with her family, her house, her car and her belief in the permanence of things. During the confiscations and the violence of war-torn Europe, she’d slipped the small wooden horse into her pocket and it travelled with her to Hampstead Garden Suburb, where she and her family sought refuge. There she built a small shelf in her bedroom for the horse and created a new life for everyone, learning how to cook, clean and do shorthand typing to keep a roof over everyone’s heads.

One day she took down the carved horse, wrapped it in tissue paper and placed it in a gold box tied up with ribbons and gave it to me. I opened it when the wind swept thousands of petals into the air and church bells chimed. ‘I have always wanted you to have this. It’s yours,’ she said.  And now I hold the horse in my hand, the exotic East, a carver’s genius, a connoisseur’s purchase, and my grandmother’s love - when all the rest has changed and vanished into memories.




Photograph 'Wooden Horse' by Hilary Gregory © Hilary Gregory 2011