In the 1990s, after Hennessy, and his wife, son and two daughters had relocated to Seattle, his hometown, he set up a studio where he worked as a sculptor and also began carving rocking horses. “I wanted to show musculature, give a real feel for the power of these animals,” he says. “I wanted to show them full-bodied, but I also wanted to convey their friendliness.” Hennessy’s lifelike horses feature removable bridles and saddles, real tack for children to handle. “Hey, part of the fun of riding is saddling up your horse,” says Hennessy. “I wanted for kids to be able to experience that.”
Almost immediately, Hennessy’s work came to the attention of the famed New York City toy emporium FAO Schwarz. Buyers for the store took one look at photographs of his work and ordered several. Within a few years, they had upped their demand to 30 at a time. Suddenly, says Hennessy, “I was working night and day.” Since 1998, he has produced scores of hand-carved steeds that retail from $2,500 to $12,000, depending on the labor involved. Recently, a custom creation found a home with the 2-year-old nephew of King Abdullah II of Jordan. (Hennessy’s studio also is accessible on the Web at hennessyhorses.com.)
Whatever their country of origin, “there is something magical about rocking horses that’s missing in today’s toys,” says Marc Stevenson. “A rocking horse frees a child’s imagination. A child can jump over the moon and be back in time for supper. He can soar across the Grand Canyon, chase down and capture the bad guys—and always win the race.” The appeal is not confined to children. Marc tells of a woman who ordered a custom-made rocking horse for her sister’s 84th birthday. “We wrapped it up in a white cloth and tied a red ribbon around it. When the woman opened it, I saw the years fall from her face.” Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Murphy are among many celebrities who have ordered Stevenson Brothers rockers.
Marc Stevenson had earned a degree in graphic design, and Tony was a self-taught sculptor when they decided to go into business together in 1982. In retrospect, the partnership seems inevitable. “Carpentry was in our genes,” says Marc. “My dad was a shipwright, and my uncle, James Bosworthick, was a cabinetmaker who had been crafting rocking horses and other wooden toys for 40 years.” When the pair decided to continue the family tradition, Marc recalls, “Uncle James seemed to be the key.”
But when the two young wanna-be entrepreneurs went to see their uncle, he brushed them off. “They had never done anything serious in their lives,” Bosworthick said not long ago over a glass of sherry at Hintlesham Hall, a 16thcentury manor house turned hotel. “I relented only after they had persisted for six weeks. In the end, I finally told them, ‘I’ll train one of you—for $1,500.’”