Colin Gibson Commemorative 2017
We are pleased to launch to-day our 2017 stamp issue. It was a great discovery to find that one of my favourite writers “Colin Gibson” had visited Rona in 1933/34 as part of an expedition exploring the flora and fauna of South Rona, Raasay, Scalpay and Longay. His articles in the “Dundee Courier, People’s Friend and The Scots Magazine”and his distinctive black and white sketches drew my attention wherever they turned up in print, his writing was an inspiration to observe more when out in nature.
His daughter Gillian Zealand came to Rona several years ago and from there the idea was born to produce a set of ‘Colin Gibson’ stamps. Gillian kindly supplied copies of colour sketches and we have now three stamps issued to-day.
The presentation set features three sketches of Dry Harbour, Church Cave and the cliffs seen in rough weather from Dry Harbour. The colour of the Lewisian Gneiss captured as it is to-day.
Or there is a plain set just of the three stamps. A first day cover has also been produced and awaits return from Staffin Post office where the only hand frank left on Skye is still in use.
One of the sketches kindly supplied by Gillian Zealand was a black and white clearly sketched from Meal Acarseid (Our highest hill) looking East along the cliffs from Dry Harbour. This sketch has been used on the first day cover.
During our research into Colin Gibson’s time on Rona we came across many articles and publications, we have re-produced our favourites.
From the booklet published by David Winter and Sons Ltd, A Dundee Art Galleries and Museums Exhibition.
On contacting D C Thomson Newspapers in Dundee as I was sure Colin Gibson’s articles appeared in the Sunday Post, I had a reply from Norman Watson DCT Company Historian (below). I was mistaken and it now turns out it was the articles in the Dundee Courier I used to follow.
DCT Company Historian.
COLIN GIBSON began Nature Diary in October 1954 after he was asked to try a “few” nature articles. He later recalled, “I was told, ‘We’ll run them for six Saturdays and see how they go’.” By popular demand, Nature Diary became a weekly fixture.Colin filled the space about 2500 times for us-accurately, charmingly, interestingly, informatively-becoming a much-loved part of our paper, as well as a household name across much of Scotland. His death aged 90 in April 1998 sadly allows us now to paint a picture of a man who used to chortle, eyes twinkling, when we asked him if he would like to be remembered as an artist, writer, naturalist or historian. “Me?” he’d reply. . .”I’m just a man who has enjoyed the world around me.”
Colin Gibson was born in Arbroath in 1907 and attended Keptie School and Arbroath High School before taking up the palette and mixing the hues of his future life at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen.
He later recalled that his first drawing of a galloping horse so impressed his teacher at Keptie School that it was taken before “Grumph,” the headmaster, while his first article, The Woodcock, went to the Arbroath Guide when he was still a teenager and “must have been very near a Nature Diary!”
At Gray’s he won the Founder’s Prize (1926), the Barker Legacy Prize (1927), a Byrne Scholarship for post-diploma study (1928), the Robert Gordon’s Colleges travelling scholarship and the Brough Memorial Scholarship (1929). To help student expenses he sold football cartoons, interviewing and drawing the players “on the spot.”
In 1930 he took up two scholarships to study in Madrid, Toledo, Venice and Florence. On his return to Scotland he took the first teaching job offered, at a school in a coal-mining town in Northumberland, but returned north a year later to the art department at Dundee High School, where he spent 12 years as assistant art master.
In 1943 Colin’s gift for portraiture was recognised when he won the Royal Scottish Academy’s Guthrie Award for the best work by a young Scottish artist for a picture of his wife Lisbeth, whom he married in 1938. The award was shared with Alberto Morrocco, the Dundee artist and RSA academician who passed away in 1999.
Colin gave up teaching in 1945 to become a freelance artist and writer. For a number of years he wrote and illustrated articles for the People’s Friend. Then, on October 2, 1954 came the first Nature Diary for The Courier, a tale about the roaring of stags. No one involved then could have foreseen how popular and long-lived the column would be.
Meanwhile, Colin published the first of several books, The New Furrow, and illustrated a volume of children’s verse by Perth’s bed-ridden poet William Soutar. Eventually he published work in other titles, including The Scots Magazine, the Arbroath Herald annuals and the Carnoustie Guide and Gazette, and classic stories, such as Treasure Island and Lorna Doone, for Oxford University Press.
In 1979 he received an honorary Master of Science degree from the University of Dundee, his testimonial concluding. . . “for all he has done for art and nature in Dundee and Scotland.”
In the later stages of his life, visitors to his home of 50 years in Monifieth enjoyed a couthy chat, a huffy look from his cat Blackie and a sweetie from a dish on the dresser. Talking art, nature or life generally with this grand old man of the Scottish countryside was an unforgettable experience.
After Colin passed away in 1998 his daughter Gillian Zealand responded to public demand by producing the long-awaited collection of her father’s work. Titled Colin Gibson’s Nature Diary, Gillian collated words and pictures to form a showcase not only for her father’s unique work, but also of the landscapes and wildlife that inspired him.
“A collection of his pieces in book form was something people often asked him about. And, after he died, they began asking me!” she explained earlier this week.
“The number of people who bought the book was very encouraging. I did a book signing in Dundee, for example, and many of his old friends turned up to reminisce about the column and my father. Everyone had a story! At the Angus Jubilee celebrations at Glamis this summer one elderly chap kept me busy with his recollections for about half an hour!
“I would love to do another book, but the first one involved a great deal of hard work and quite a lot of expense.”
Colin’s love of his subjects appealed to several generations of nature lovers. But his depth of knowledge was evident just as much in every word written as the lines drawn.
“He put a lot of effort into his writing,” recalled Gillian. “He knew the length of Nature Diary off pat, but honed and honed it. I remember he always wanted to round it off with a sentence which would link to the start of the article.”
Similarly, Colin often regarded his drawings as working pieces and went back to them again and again. In 1988, however, the familiar scraperboard images were allowed to shine in the artistic firmament when Dundee District Council staged a hugely-popular exhibition of his artwork in Barrack Street Museum.
With such a large body of her father’s original work still in her family’s possession, Gillian staged a successful Nature Diary selling exhibition of nearly 100 works at Eduardo Alessandro Studios in May 2000. She has been encouraged to stage another exhibition, perhaps at the same Broughty Ferry venue.
“I would be quite keen, and when I mentioned to Sandro Paladini that it will be the 50th anniversary of Nature Diary in 2004, he was quite enthusiastic, too! But we’ll have to look at that possibility. In the meantime, Joyce McGlone at the Queen’s Gallery in Dundee has expressed an interest in some of Dad’s life drawings. He did quite a lot of other work, including many life drawings and landscapes.”
Gillian is also delighted that the McManus Galleries in Dundee has secured a number of his pictures from her for the city’s permanent collection. “It is lovely to think that the city’s principal art gallery will have a representative selection of his work,” she says.
She first became aware of Nature Diary as her father’s constant companion as a wee girl on jaunts to the Arbroath cliffs, the Sidlaws, and so many other places. In fact, their Sunday outing often became the basis of the following Saturday’s column! So no one knows better than Gillian how Colin would have viewed today’s passing of the Saturday appointment which has made him a friend to generations of Courier readers.
“Well, he would have been delighted by this attention. He would have loved it! But Dad was fairly philosophical. He accepted the need for change, even though he didn’t like it himself!
“But I have also lived with it for a long time. I was 50 earlier this year, and Nature Diary started when I was two. I have seen it in The Courier every Saturday through my conscious life. It’s quite a thought that it won’t be there any more.”