Dr Mary Black is a public health doctor and a trustee of Paintings in Hospitals. Mary joins our 60 Years, 60 Voices blog series to share a personal perspective of our connection with objects...

A two-inch-high sculpture of a hare, cream with flints of amber for eyes, small enough to hide in the palm of my hand. As I press my face against the hardness of the glass, I imagine the smooth pebble-like hardness of it. It is a netsuke, a carved toggle that once secured the cord of a sagemono, a container that held the owners’ personal belongings, to the sash of a Japanese kimono. The hare lives in a display cabinet on the top floor of Vienna’s Jewish Museum, in a room crammed with memorabilia of the dispersed, destroyed Jewish families who once lived here. It has been donated by acclaimed potter Edmund de Waal. Edmund, a Patron of Paintings in Hospitals, talks about the existential hum of objects. Through this hare, he tells the story of his family, the Ephrussi dynasty, a tale of loss and diaspora, and the survival of objects.

The Hare with Amber Eyes. Netsuke. Masatoshi, Osaka, c.1880. Shown at a special exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The Hare with Amber Eyes. Netsuke. Masatoshi, Osaka, c.1880. Shown at a special exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

As a doctor, I am attuned to the reverberation of a hospital. As a patient and a carer, I know the rhythm of illness and feel a connection, not just to art in a hospital, but to objects. One of the many strange experiences you will have on admission to hospital is having your belongings safely ‘bagged up’. If your loved one dies, you will be handed their personal objects back in a plastic bag. You can only keep so much with you, and so you must decide what is important, and what you cannot afford to be without, or to lose.

Edmund de Waal at work in his studio

Edmund de Waal at work in his studio

As a trustee of Painting in Hospitals, I like that Edmund challenges us to think beyond art hung on walls. His world is the convexity of sculpture. When we are ill, we live on moments and memories. We navigate this odd world in our own particular ways. Shapes and forms speak to us, smoothness soothes us, touch heals. Art can connect us to deeper feelings. So we should pepper our temples of healing with nourishment for the soul, with art in the broadest sense.

When my mother lay dying on a trolley in Accident and Emergency, I held her hand until the blood stopped pulsing. As coolness settled in, her fingers stiffened and when all breath had stopped, she became a sculpture of herself. At times when the mortality of those I love, and my own, gets closer, I think of the Hare with Amber Eyes. I find, in this object, comfort.

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Dr Mary E Black is a public health doctor, entrepreneur, non-exec for the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, and a trustee of Paintings in Hospitals. You can find her on Twitter: @DrMaryBlack.