Conker by Gillian Forbes

Conker by Gillian Forbes


This carving, in black slate by Gillian Forbes, celebrates the word ‘Conker’, and was created as part of our exhibition ‘The Lost Words - Forget-me-not.’ For this exhibition artists have created a permanent record of the natural words removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. Size:  23 x 22cm. Brass fixings on reverse countersunk, glued & screwed 


The hard, shiny dark brown nut-like seed of the horse chestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum

Origin: Mid 19th century (a dialect word denoting a snail shell, with which the game, or a form of it, was originally played): perhaps from conch, but associated with (and frequently spelled) conquer in the 19th and early 20th centuries: an alternative name was conquerors. 

I was so pleased to be able to snap up CONKER for my piece – that iconic element of an autumn’s day walking and kicking leaves under canopies of trees. Discovering those gems hidden in prickly shells or strewn across the ground all shiny and precious. Then gathering them up and keeping them safe. During the First World War, there was a campaign to get everyone (including children) to collect horse-chestnuts and donate them to the government. They were used as a source of starch in the production of cordite, which was then a component of military armaments. But conkers were found to be a poor source, and I prefer to think of them being used in children’s games or gleaming on my kitchen window-sill.

I wanted to celebrate the conker in my black slate piece by creating a panel which emphasises the hand-like shapes of the leaves holding the much-prized seed. Even if children are not playing the game of conkers so often today, we can all still cherish the spiky-covered nut.

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