Wednesday, February 20, 2019
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:
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.
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!
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!
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 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 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
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.
(8x6 inch photo, by FH McCarlie, Stranraer. My email address is in the sidebar if you want to contact me.)
see here. (7x5in print, photographer not known.)
Photographers are credited when they are known. Check the archive (on the right) for previous Curling Image Project posts.