Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Peter Thomson, Baker, and the 'Curling: made in Scotland' Exhibition

The curling history exhibition, 'Curling: made in Scotland', opened today (February 20, 2019) at Hampden Park, Glasgow. The Scottish Football Museum has an additional space for temporary exhibitions, and the curling exhibition will be held here until June 16.

The exhibition relies heavily on the David B Smith bequest to the Scottish Curling Trust. David died in 2015 and his huge collection of curling memorabilia has been in store in Stirling since then. David's brother, daughter and son, and their partners, were present for the opening. Also on display are treasures acquired by the Royal Caledonian Curling Club over the years, and also more recent acquisitions by the Scottish Curling Trust.

Do visit if you possibly can. Curling's history is very special. Scottish Curling's CEO, Bruce Crawford, challenged us all to pick our 'favourite' item on show. I knew what mine would be! It's this painting:

The exhibition has been almost a year in the planning. For me, one of the highlights has been the discovery of an oil painting which David had in his collection. That's it above. David's notes about this had been lost, and the Scottish Curling Trust's John Burnett, who has been heading up the team that's made the exhibition happen, asked if I knew anything about it. It shows a curler standing on the ice, with stones in the foreground, with a broom cowe under one arm. In his left hand he is carrying a pair of curling stone handles and bolts.

It turned out that, without initially realising the connection, I did know rather a lot about the painting, and especially the artist. David had got there before me of course, and he had described his purchase of the painting in an article in the Scottish Curler, back in April 1993, long before my association with the magazine.

David wrote that he had purchased the painting from a friend in Somerset, and that it had come from at auction in Stoke-on-Trent. He reflected on seeing the painting, "The picture was indeed dirty; and its frame was dirty and damaged, but oil paintings of curling and curlers are not so common that one can turn up one's nose. And so I bought it." David did not record how much he paid for it.

The painting is not signed, but after some research, David figured out the identity of the curler in the painting. He is Peter Thomson, an Airdrie baker, who was one of those taking part in the game depicted in the huge 'The Curlers at Rawyards' painting (see here), which dates from 1857, and that the artist was John Levack. 'The Curlers at Rawyards' hangs at the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life at Coatbridge. David describes his painting as a 'spin off' from this big composite portrait, and that the artist had perhaps prepared for the large work by first sketching how each person would appear in his finished work. He wrote, "Sometimes the artist later worked up these sketches into individual portraits." There's no proof that this is the case, but it is a likely scenario to explain the origins of David's painting.

Here is a closeup of Peter Thomson from the large painting. Compare it with David's painting at the top of this article. There is absolutely no doubt that both depict the same person. That it is Peter Thomson relies on the accuracy of the little name plates that adorn the frame of the larger painting. If these are correctly positioned, and are accurate, then the curler depicted is indeed Peter Thomson.

David concluded his article by noting that he knew of one other individual portrait by John Levack, of Provost Rankin, and wrote, "Perhaps this article may bring others to light, and perhaps also some more information about the artist who immortalised those Airdrie curlers of 136 years ago." By coincidence, I was to be the one to provide more information! 

Moving forward to 2016, I did not know about David's painting when I wrote about 'The Curlers at Rawyards', and its artist, in an article here. The story of John Levack is a sad one. He committed suicide, after, it should be said, having been jailed for beating up his wife. I wondered if she had survived, and what had happened to her. Some months after I published the article, I received an email from a descendant, and we began to correspond. Leslie Porter is Levack's great great granddaughter. Agnes, Levack's wife, did recover from her injuries, successfully supporting her family of five children as a seamstress for a theatrical company. Leslie is descended from the oldest of these, also called John, the artist's son, born before he and Agnes were married. John's daughter Catherine emigrated to Canada with her husband in 1927. They were Leslie's grandparents. Leslie was emailing me from St Catherines, Ontario, Canada. The Internet can be a wonderful thing!

Leslie sent me this photo of John Levack, artist, from the family archive. It may well be the only recorded image of him. He died in 1874, aged 46. He had married Agnes Laughlan in 1867.

Concentrating though on the curling connection, Leslie has an auction catalogue which describes the sale of other John Levack paintings. This was undated, but I was able to find out that it referred to a sale by Muir and Dalziel, an auction house in Glasgow, on Wednesday, February 23, 1910. Intriguingly, one of the paintings in the sale was described as 'The New Monkland Curlers'. One can only speculate that there is another John Levack painting 'out there', and what it depicted. Could it have been a preliminary sketch or smaller version of the huge 1857 painting? I wonder if it still exists.

A postscript to this article is that I've also been contacted by a descendant of Gavin Black, the local landowner on whose land at Rawyards the curlers were depicted. But that's another story!

The painting of Peter Thomson hangs in the rear of Case 1 at the exhibition. Over the next couple of months I hope I will be able to highlight some of the other treasures on show. And if you attend in person you will be amazed by the variety and quality of the items that are in the exhibition.

Thanks to Leslie Porter for sharing her family history with me, and for sending me the photo of her great great grandfather. Also to helpful staff at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, and at the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life. The large image is from the Art UK website. The others were taken by me. The painting of Peter Thomson which belonged to David Smith is now is in the care of the Scottish Curling Trust.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The curling stones at the bottom of the ocean

On the evening of September 3, 1939, the SS Athenia was torpedoed by a German U-boat, the first UK ship to be sunk in such a way in WW2. The Donaldson line ship was bound for Montreal via Belfast and Liverpool, and when she encountered U-30 she was carrying 1,103 passengers, and 315 crew. One hundred and seventeen passengers and crew died as a result of U-30's action.

The Wikipedia entry about the SS Athenia is here. I was interested to read that 'Wartime German authorities denied that one of their vessels had sunk the ship'. 'Fake News' is not a recent phenomenon.

In the holds of the Athenia was a consignment of curling stones, bound for Canadian curling clubs. I had heard rumours of this, but I had not got around to researching the subject. However, a fellow curling historian was on the case, and last year David M Sgriccia, aka Angus McTavish, of the Detroit Curling Club, posted an article on his blog, see here.

I'll let David tell the story in his own words. I commend his article to you, and I know the hours he must have spent on research before he could write it. There's a lot in newspapers of the time about the loss of the Athenia, and even about the fact that it was carrying curling stones being sent to Canada by Andrew Kay and Co. But David, with help from Andrew Wyllie of Kays Curling, has unearthed the facts and figures, and we now know just how many curling stones lie at the bottom of the ocean, and to which clubs these had been sent.

I do want to quote just some words from his article, as it reflects how I feel about the story too. "It was a big loss for curlers to lose 278 curling stones, but we should never forget the 117 people who died that day from the sinking of the SS Athenia or the millions that died during the war years that followed."

The top image is courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.

Friday, February 01, 2019

The Curling Image Project: Midterm Report

The Curling Image Project is taking a bit of a break, as I contemplate a house move over the next few months. The image above is a good place to start when considering the success, or otherwise, of the project.

But first a bit of history! It all began when in 2015 I learned about Sports Heritage Scotland, see here, and was intrigued by the posibilities of the various reminiscence projects that were being discussed, all to help patients with memory problems and dementia. Curling was one of the sports signed up to the Sports Heritage Scotland, with both the Royal Caledonian Curling Club and the Scottish Curling Trust among the original partners. I provided a number of old photographs to a fledgling Curling Memories Project, against the day that perhaps these might be useful.

Sorting through old photographs made me realise that perhaps I could myself provide a database of curling images for future use. I thought the best way to do this would be to post an image each day, building up a weekly collection of seven images in a Curling History Blog post, which could be viewed on a tablet or computer, or printed out. There are twenty-two weeks' worth of images now online, see here. Any individual week can be highlighted by clicking on the title of the post, and then printed.

The project needed a name, and so 'The Curling Image Project' was coined, somewhat grandly, but better than 'Bob's Old Photos'.

The positive on having these photos now on the blog is that they are there to use, in a permanent form, and I have been heartened by the comments that I have received. The photos themselves are varied in their content, and this is deliberate, given the underlying use to which they might be put.

I am sure that we all will know someone with Alzheimers, be it family or friend. It is just a horrible condition. It is especially bad for those who remember the sufferer when they were fully fit.

The photo above shows (L-R) John McFadzean, John Hutchison, Janet McMillan, John Wilson and Eric Johnston in 1971. The team had won the final of the 'big holiday competition' (now known of course as the Dalrymple Cup) where the winners of fourteen weekend competitions played off at the end of the season, with a Mediterranean Holiday to be won. Although the competition was to become a mixed event, in the early years it was open, explaining why in 1971 it was won by the team in the photograph.

Our team of young curlers from Glasgow were always very well received on our first forays to Stranraer's new rink. In 1971, I met Johnny McFadzean, playing lead for Hutch, and we hit it off from the start. I have the happiest memories of Johnny, May, and the children, at their farm (Airylick). In the mid 1970s, we curled together with our wives, and enjoyed holidays in Ibiza and Tenerife (thanks Hammy!). We hillwalked and we bothied. In the 1980s we walked the West Highland Way together, and then in 1983 hiked across Nepal to the Everest Base Camp area. We shared a love of the outdoors, of books, and of gardening.

Sadly, the Johnny I knew then is no more, a victim of that disease which causes sufferers to completely lose memory. I fortunately still have wonderful memories of Johnny and his family, and the adventures we had together. I wish he had too.

I trust I'll be able to return to The Curling Image Project in some months time.

(8x6 inch photo, by FH McCarlie, Stranraer. My email address is in the sidebar if you want to contact me.)

The Curling Image Project (Week 22)

CIP-148. Winners of the 'British Open' at Falkirk in 1972. L-R: Bill Carruthers (second), Willie Young (lead and skip), Jim Steele (fourth), Harry Ewing (MP for Stirling and Falkirk, presenting), and Willie Kerr (third). This was Willie Young's seventh win of this major competition. His team beat Graham Findlay and his Dunfermline team in the 1972 final. (6x8in print, Falkirk Herald.)

CIP-149. This is a group shot of visiting curlers at Crossmyloof, with their hosts. I haven't as yet been able to work out which tourists they are. Can anyone tell me? David Duncan is on the right, so that suggests the 1970s or early 1980s. The reproduction is really too small to be identifying other individuals, but I like the photo as it shows the extent of the seven-sheet curling rink at Crossmyloof, which holds fond memories for me, as that's where my curling career began! (9x7in print, photographer not stated.)

CIP-150. This is a promotional shot for the CBC Championship Curling event in Toronto in  December 1969. L-R: Ron Northcott (Canada), Bud Somerville (USA), Bill Muirhead (Scotland) and Christer Wessel (Sweden). These were four of the skips of teams that had played in the Air Canada Silver Broom at Perth earlier that year. Wessel had skipped and played lead for Sweden in 1969. His fourth player was Kjell Oscarius. This eight rink competition was 'videotaped' to produce a ten-week series of hour-long programmes for television in Canada. The event was won by Saskatoon's Merv Mann, who beat Somerville's team in the final. (8.5x6.5in print, CBC photo.)

CIP-151. The third 'Arctic Winter Games' were held in Anchorage, Alaska, in 1974. The photo is of the Alaska Junior Girls who won gold in the curling competition. L-R: Jodi George (3rd), Theresa Gryder (skip), Lisa Baucher (2nd) and Donna Gryder (lead). Next to the podium, in the sheepskin jacket, is three times Canadian and World Champion skip Ron Northcott who presented the medals. On the right is Lt Col Roy Fisk, the 'Chief Referee', as he is described in the article in the April, 1974, Scottish Curler. The multi-sport competition is still held every two years, see here.  (7x5in print, photographer not known.)

CIP-152. Winners of the Scottish Mixed Curling Championship 1991. L-R: Rhona Martin, Bobby Wilson, Mrs Rose Anderson (presenting), Robin Gray (skip), Joan Wilson, and RCCC President, Dr Derek Anderson. (8x5in print, Ron Vavasour, Photographer.)

CIP-153. Jim Law at a coaching weekend at Gogar Park in 1989. L-R: Karen Clark, Suzie Law, Gillian Gray, Fiona Sinclair, Fiona Barrowman, Clare Anderson, Julia Monteith. (10x8in print, photographer not stated.)

CIP-154. Here are the winners of the First Event at the Milwaukee TriScore Bonspiel sometime in the 1950s. The names are HT Ferguson (skip), Ralph E Welton, Dr Graham Fee and Alfred J Hudson, but not sure if it is a L-R. (7x5in print, Erwin F Nell, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.)

Photographers are credited when they are known. Check the archive (on the right) for previous Curling Image Project posts.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Curling Image Project (Week 21)

CIP-141. In 1970, the incoming Canadian tourists lost the Strathcona Cup but 'won all hearts' during their four-week programme. Here, at the Haymarket rink, are some of the visitors surrounding George Crabbie (Captain of the Midlothian Province team). L-R: Bob Arseneau, Ron Collette, Bill Thompson, Doc Campbell (the Canadian Tour Captain), John Eccles, Ken McKenzie, Bill Meyer, Collie Campbell, Bob Galloway, Randy Shedd and Frank Hastings. (8x6in print, Scotsman Publications.)

CIP-142. A moment from the final of the 1982 European Curling Championships at Kirkcaldy.
Scotland (Mike Hay, David Hay, David Smith, Russell Keiller) v Germany (Keith Wendorf, Hans Dieter Kiesel, Sven Saile, Heiner Martin). David Hay sweeps a German stone out of the house, encouraged by his skip, Mike Hay, as the German team watches on. Scotland won the game 6-5, to take the championship. (8x6in print, by William Hill, Press Photographer, Pittenweem, Fife.)

CIP-143. Everyone who has ever won a 'cup' is under pressure to fill it. Here's evidence of that actually happening. L-R: Anita Duncan, Jack Brown (skip), Mabel Christie and Kathy Kerr of the Fochabers CC had won the Christie Cup, a club competition, and were no doubt about to pass the trophy around! (8x6in print, photographer unknown.)

CIP-144. It's a scene, I think, from the World Junior Curling Championships at Portage la Prairie in 1990. The photographer has caught three of the Scottish women's team in what can best be described as a 'caption competition'. Laura Scott, on the right, has turned away and is thinking, "I've absolutely no idea what Kirsty (Addison) and Joanna (Pegg) are talking about, and I'm certainly not going to ask." Other captions are available. (8x5in print, photographer not stated, but probably Michael Burns.)

CIP-145. Significant this one. The Inverness rink was the first to host a weekend invitation for Scotland's competitive women curlers in 1981. Previously there had been nothing to compete in if you worked or studied during the week. The Sylko Supreme Ladies Invitation Curling Competition was won for the first time by the Beth Lindsay team. Back L-R: Graham Bradley, Chairman of Sylko, Helen Burton, Beth Lindsay, Kathleen Clark, presenting the Kathleen Clark trophy, George Crawford, Scottish sales manager for Sylko. Front: Carolyn Hibberd and Alison Brown. (6x7in print, photographer not stated.)

CIP-146. L-R: Hammy McMillan, Norman Brown, Mike Hay and Roger McIntyre, having won the Bull Trophy at Grindelwald, in 1995. The winning team did not have to take the animal home, and someone, I'm sure, will be able to explain what happened to the winners' prize! (6x4in print, by Ernst Schudel.)

CIP-147. Mrs T Donaldson, perhaps of Drummond Castle CC, throws the first stone of a new season at the Central Scotland Ice Rink, Perth, in September, 1956. Note the skating on the end ice, behind. She is playing off a hack, set in front of the crampit, and is adhering to the rules of the time which stated that the stone had to be released from the hand before it crossed the tee. Note that the house is not painted, and, assuming the outermost circle is indeed at six foot radius, the inner circles seem to be marked at one foot, three foot and five foot! (8x6in print, Star Photos, Perth.)

Photos are credited where the photographer is known. Check the archive (on the right) for previous Curling Image Project posts.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Curling Image Project (Week 20)

CIP-134. More photos the Hexagon World Curling Championship in Vancouver in 1987. This was taken during the seventh or eighth end of the final game, between Germany and Canada, with the score tied at 4-4. Rodger Schmidt delivers, with sweepers Johnny Jahr, and Hans-Joachim Burba. (35mm transparency, photographer unknown.)

CIP-135. Canada's Russ Howard watches behind as the German team plays a runback in the final of the Hexagon World Championship at Vancouver in 1987. (35mm transparency, photographer unknown.)

CIP-136. Russ Howard is already shouting as he delivers in the final game of the Hexagon World Championship in Vancouver in 1987. The sweepers are Kent Carstairs and Tim Belcourt. Note that one sweeper has a hair brush, the other, a pad. (35mm transparency, photographer unknown.)

CIP-137. The Perth Masters remains one of the most important of Scotland's competitive events. But this is the presentation group from 1996, when the competition had Stakis as sponsor. L-R: Provost Jean McCormack, Peter Loudon (3rd), Bob Kelly (2nd), Gordon Muirhead (skip), Russell Keiller (lead), Mark Foster (Manager, Stakis City Mills Hotel). (7x5in colour print, Louis Flood Photographer.)

CIP-138. L-R: James Allison (2nd), James Sanderson (3rd), Jim Moffat (skip) and Alex Allison (lead), winners of the TB Murray Trophy, for curlers of 25 years and under, in 1965. They beat the Robert Smellie team 17-2 in the final. (6x4.5in print, Scottish Studios and Engravers Ltd.)

CIP-139. Tateshina is a town in Nagano Prefecture, Japan. A curling demonstration and a bonspiel was organised there in 1983 by the Tokyo Curling Club. Can anyone add additional information? Note that play appears to have been on outside ice. (4.5x3.25in colour print, photographer not stated.)

CIP-140. It's not a very clear photo, but it is a very significant one! This is the youngest team ever to win the Royal Caledonian Curling Club's Rink Championship, which was held in 1971 at the Border Ice Rink, Kelso. L-R: John Brown, Ian Webster, Ken Horton, Graeme Adam (skip). Such was the unusual nature of a young rink winning a major competition against older and more experienced opposition, that Robin Welsh, the Editor of the Scottish Curler magazine, wrote, "Graeme Adam and his ridiculously young rink of Glasgow schoolboys beat Tom McGregor's Lesmahagow rink to win the Royal Club Rink Championship at the Border Ice Rink in Kelso." I don't know quite what to make of his words 'ridiculously young'. John was 16, Ian was 15, Graeme was 17, and Ken, 14. We would not think much of that today, but in the 1960s, and even into the 1970s, the few young curlers in Scotland (of which I was one) were looked on as something of a curiosity by many, as undesirable by some, but actively encouraged by a few, to whom I will always be grateful. (3x3in colour print, by Leslie Ingram-Brown.)

Photos are as credited where the photographer is known. Check the archive (on the right) for previous Curling Image Project posts.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Curling Image Project (Week 19)

CIP-127. Brian Alderman directs, and the Davie Porteous team also watches the progress of the shot from skip Graeme Adam, at the Lockerbie Invitation competition in 1978. In the photo from front to back behind Brian are Leslie Robertson, Willie Halliday, Davie Porteous and Bob Carruthers. It's not a posed photograph, but newcomers to the sport should note that such enthusiasm to see what is happening is no longer approved! Great image though. #fancypants. (7x5in print, perhaps by Sandy Smith.)

CIP-128. The John Fyfe East of Scotland Ladies Open Curling Championship was held March 5-9, 1990, at Gogar Park. John Hume, the Managing Director of John Fyfe Ltd, presents the Low Road Champions. L-R: Margaret Mauchline, Glenda Barrowman, Johan Steele and Irene Hird. This photo is another in the series 'interesting prizes'. These were silver grey Kemnay granite clocks! The Kemnay quarry was opened by John Fife in 1830. (9.25x6.5in print, photographer not stated.)

CIP-129. Leslie Ingram-Brown, the RCCC President, with the winners of the Scottish Mixed Curling Championship at Aberdeen in 1996. L-R: Brian Binnie (skip), Claire Milne, Duncan Bertram and Alison Binnie. Brian's team beat Neil Wilson, Lorna Rettig, Brian Smith and Sandra Hynd in the final. (8x6in print, photographer not recorded.)

CIP-130. A wonderful photo of play on outside ice! I suspect this is a bonspiel on Stormont Loch in February 1969, but I have no further details. I've seen this photo in print somewhere, but cannot find the reference. (8x6in print, D Wilson Laing and Co, Blairgowrie.)

CIP-131. This looks like a simple 'presentation' photo. But I was intrigued when I found that it was published in the September 1961 Scottish Curler with the caption, "This picture was taken at Interlaken, Switzerland, on 1st August. The curlers played on Poly-ice, a new kind of artificial ice. Interlaken is the only centre in Switzerland to use this new type of ice. L-R: Mr Bettoli, Mr Hess, Henry Balmer, Mr Bollman (skip), Mr Urfen, two ladies from Flims CC, Mrs Buhler and the Icemaster Mr Argarter." So I think the first question has to be, what was 'Poly-ice'? It is likely to have been an early form of synthetic ice, see here. I'm wondering if these are regular stones, or have been modified in some way. Further research is definitely required. (7x5in print, by H Heiniger.)

CIP-132. Lockhart Steele and Graeme Adam both appear to be 'thoughtful' in this photo from the 1982 Edinburgh International at the Murrayfield rink. Other captions are welcome! (6.5x8.5in print, by Norman Wilson.)

CIP-133. A Hutchesons' Grammar School team won the Scottish Schools Championship which was held at Dundee in 1974. L-R: Charles Wighton, Bank of Scotland, Willie Jamieson, Keith Douglas, Sir Alastair Blair, Director of the Bank of Scotland, Ken Horton (skip) and Graham Govan. (10x8in print, by Ron Gazzard.)

All photographers are credited when they are known. Check the archive (on the right) for previous Curling Image Project posts.