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Many beautiful small glass beads which date to this period have also been found in northern Scotland, particularly in Aberdeenshire and Moray. Among them is a series of colourful, exquisitely decorated glass beads which are peculiar for their intricate spiral patterns. Not only are they stunningly beautiful and made from a variety of different, deeply coloured glasses, but the complexity of their decoration, consisting of yellow and white spirals, shows that their makers had amazing skills that equal Roman and Egyptian glass-making of this period.

The beads are unique to the region, but while there is good evidence for metalworking, no evidence has been found for glass working, as most beads have been stray finds without a clear archaeological context.

The special features, advanced sophisticated technique and their local concentration make these beads one of the most puzzling mysteries of Scotland’s past. They date to a time of great change as local tribes were faced with the impact of the Roman Empire and started to coalesce into larger groups that would become the Pictish nation.

It has been speculated that the glass beads were imported from elsewhere in Europe, but the styles and colours of the beads from the North-East are not known elsewhere. They may have been imported, but especially made to suit local tastes, or they may have been made locally. The latter possibility would shed a new light on the technical advancement of Iron Age Scotland: glass making and glass working requires highly skilled people, and above all the mastering of hot furnaces with controlled conditions. Were they made by re-working Roman glass, or were they making their own glass?

Gray's was founded in 1885 as Gray's School of Science and Art, in recognition of the generosity of its founding father, John Gray (1811–1891), a local businessman and philanthropist.  He began as a carpenter but rose through the ranks to become a partner in William McKinnon & Co., a firm of Engineers and Iron Founders in Aberdeen. In 1859 he was appointed director of the Aberdeen Mechanics Institution, one of the City institutions which would eventually develop into Robert Gordon’s University.

ABBO, a group of four artists: Eric Auld, Bill Baxter, Donny Buyers and Bill Ord were all born in Aberdeen between 1929 and 1931 and have spent their lives in that city.  Eric Auld and Bill Baxter attended Robert Gordon's College; Donny Buyers and Bill Ord the Grammar School however, they all met at Gray's School of Art.  Between 1957 and 1967 ABBO exhibited all over Britain and even in Holland. In 1965 Aberdeen Art Gallery recognised the importance of their work with an exhibition.  A book chronicles the artist's efforts to have their work exhibited and records their lives and output with many drawings and colour reproductions of their paintings. ABBO, though not always recognised in art circles were undeniably at the forefront of Scottish painting during the last half of the twentieth century.  Rosemary A. Johnson the author was born in Shetland in 1933 . At the age of 17 she had her first success as a writer when the BBC accepted a short story for broadcasting. She met her future husband, Bill Baxter in 1956, the year after graduating from Aberdeen University.  She writes of ABBO and the Aberdeen of the second half of the 20th century as an eyewitness.

Students from 1948 to 1953 at Gray’s School of Art had good companions in Bill Baxter, Donnie Buyers, Dennie Lee, Ronnie Craig, Meg Duncan and many others that made it a pleasure to be at the School. The lecturers also played their part in making it work - the likes of Alberto Morrocco, Hugh Adam Crawford and Bob Sivell were key in maturing students into a painters. They provided the discipline of good drawing and painting which held prime  importance.

At this time that a forward-thinking Cinema Manager, Mr Miller, made use of a large well lit room on the front of the 1st floor at the Gaumont Cinema as the Gaumont Gallery. The first independent gallery in the City had arrived and one-man shows of  students work were displayed.

Eric Auld was educated at Robert Gordon's College - studied at Gray's School of Art - Post Diploma Award, Gold Medal and Travelling Scholarship - Scottish Arts Council Award - ABBO Group Exhibitions - over 40 One-man Exhibitions - Professional member Aberdeen Artists Society - Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts - Burgess of the Guild of the City of Aberdeen - Original work is in public and private collections throughout the world.

Dod Dow

The Citadel

Full time Artist Dod Dow, lives and works in his home city of Aberdeen. A graduate of Grays School of Art, his various subjects as a painter include portraiture, local landscape, townscape, castles, harbours and golf courses. Watercolour remains his favourite medium but he is also happy working in oil and acrylic, latterly concentrating on figurative pictures. Dod would prefer to be known as a realist painter although his recent work has become more painterly and impressionistic in style. His eye for detail, however, has won him many commissions. Dod has also become well known for his sports portraiture after being commissioned by Aberdeen Football Club to produce a painting to commemorate their Centenary in 2003 - ‘AFC Legends of the first 100 years’. Since then he has produced a group portrait depicting 37 British Open Golf Champions - ‘The Claret Jug Winners’ and in 2006 he was commissioned to paint ‘The Goal’ - a celebration of Scottish footballing legend, Archie Gemmill’s wonder goal scored against Holland in the 1978 World Cup. Dod completed another Dons portrait project in 2008.  ‘The Gothenburg Greats’ commemorated the 25th anniversary of their European Cup Winners’ Cup success in 1983. In 2010 Dod painted 'Centenary Silver'  which was commissioned by the Arab Trust to celebrate Dundee United winning the Scottish Cup in that year. His Artist Exchange visit to Clermont-Ferrand, France in 2007 has also opened up new creative avenues for him to pursue. Dod was invited to show an exhibition of paintings in Clermont-Ferrand in the summer of 2008 to celebrate 25 years of the twinning between the French city and Aberdeen. This proved to be very successful and Dod hopes to exhibit in France again soon. In a complete change of direction in 2009, Dod started work on a cartoon strip - ‘Joe Baxi the Abermean Taxi’ to finally record some of the experiences he suffered and enjoyed as a taxi driver back in the eighties and early nineties. The Evening Express published the strip online and the weekly storylines became very topical - tracking all the various goings on in Aberdeen throughout 2009.  Dod then gathered all his material into a book - ‘The Long Hard Road to Easy Street’ at the end of the  year. His first love however remains painting and he continues to work on a steady stream of commissions and exhibits regularly in Aberdeen and the North East. His images have been reproduced in prints, postcards, Christmas cards and calendars; so his work is now familiar to many worldwide.   

“Wherever I go and whatever I do becomes the source of painting ideas for me, the process is continuous.” “My painting develops as time goes by, I look forward to more challenges and opportunities to grow as an Artist.” 

Dod Dow Website

James William Giles 1801-1870
Giles was born in Aberdeen on January 4, 1801, the son of a designer at the local calico printing factory at Woodside, an artist of some repute; his early death threw his son at an early age upon his own resources. At 13 he maintained himself , his mother and sister by painting the lids of wooden snuff boxes, and before he was 20  was a professional drawing master teaching private classes in Aberdeen.  Shortly afterwards he made a tour through Scotland.  In 1823 he went to London and then to France and Italy, returning to Aberdeen in 1826 he was introduced to the Earl of Aberdeen, with whom he became very intimate.  He is best known for his watercolours of Aberdeenshire Castles but he was also a landscape gardener who advised Prince Albert on the gardens at Balmoral Giles’ spiritual home was Italy, where he spent 3 years from 1823 to 1826. There he followed the well-trodden pathways of the 18th century Grand Tour to the many points of historic interest. The bright Italian light fascinated Giles and all of his sketches are enlivened with an impression of this Mediterranean atmosphere. The sights that he saw and recorded in Italy were to remain with him for the rest of his life. The watercolour sketches often served as an aid for the oils he would paint and exhibit on his return to Scotland.

James Cowie 1886-1956

FirefighterArtist and Head of Painting at Gray's School of Art 
Born on a farm in Aberdeenshire, Cowie progressed from local school to become art master at Fraserburgh Academy in 1909 before enrolling at Glasgow School of Art in 1912. After graduating, he taught for 20 years at Belshill Academy near Glasgow and it was here that during the 1930s he painted haunting portraits of his pupils. He made careful preparatory sketches in pencil or watercolour for these oil portraits and this drawing ‘The Firefighter’ may have been created for a larger portrait. Cowie was interested in the technique of painting, studying the methods of the Quattrocento artists as well as later innovators like French artist, Degas. He experimented with many media – oil, watercolour, pastel and gouache – sometimes combining all in one work. 

He had an extraordinary ability to draw, grasping the essentials of a portrait or a landscape, and some of his portraits represent an aspect of British art rarely found in Scotland. At other times he moves towards a Surrealist approach, especially in his still life, which combine objects with art historical references. He has favourite objects – Tangara figurines, windows within windows, reflections. The visionary quality of his landscapes reflects his interest in the work of Paul Nash. He disliked the free Expressionism of fellow artist William Gillies and his followers, preferring a constructive, literary approach.

After a short period as Head of Painting at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen, he moved to Hospitalfield at Arbroath, the postgraduate art school, where he painted and taught in the summer months. As a teacher he influenced a whole generation including Joan Eardley. He died aged 70.

James McBey - 1883 - 1959

Artist, noted for his etchings and dry point engravings. Born in Newburgh (Aberdeenshire), McBey and taught himself etching. At the age of 15 joined the North of Scotland Bank but was also able to attend evening classes at Gray's School of Art, drawing scenes in and around Aberdeen. The bank transferred him to Edinburgh for a time and was able to sketch several of that city's landmarks.  He left the bank in 1909 and travelled to the Netherlands, Spain and Morocco, creating memorable etchings of these localities. Noted for his economy of line and dramatic use of space, he was hailed as the new master of British etching after his first London exhibition in 1911.  McBey enlisted in 1916 and was soon appointed a War Artist by the British Government and sent to France. He witnessed the slaughter on the Somme, here created 2 of his most notable works; Spring 1917 and Francais Inconnus which delivered a poignant statement on the futility of trench-warfare, illustrated through a devastated landscape and the exhaustion of the surviving soldiers. Later in 1917 McBey was sent to join the Egypt Expeditionary Force in the Sinai Desert, an army of British and Egyptian troops, later re-inforced by Australians, Indians and New Zealanders, intent on repelling Turkish advances in Palestine. The sand-filled landscapes engendered a different, more poetic art in McBey's work and he completed some 300 watercolours during this period. He also painted portraits of King Faisal and T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia)

 - the subject 'represents a ship of the Spanish Armada - the Santa Caterina - going on the rocks at Collieston.  

A ship from the Spanish Armada, the Santa Caterina, carrying arms for the Earl of Erroll is said to have sunk just off the rocky point of St Catherines Dub in 1594. In retaliation for the Earl's involvement in the Catholic plot against him, James Vl blew up the Earl's castle which stood on the cliffs, a mile north of Collieston. The Earl went on to rebuild Slains Castle, 6 miles further up the coast, in 1597.

McBey visited America in 1929 and met his wife, Marguerite Loeb, in Philadelphia. They married in 1930 and settled in North Africa, with homes in Tangier and Marrakesh. The couple moved to the USA during World War II but returned to Tangier in 1946.  His best work depicts the North African desert, water scenes and cities such as Venice and Rotterdam.  McBey died in Tangier. His widow contributed generously to Aberdeen Art Gallery, which saw the opening of the James McBey Print Room and Art Library in 1961. Later she left the gallery a substantial bequest including a large collection of his work.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013