There are times when having read some consider wise word from the past that they strike home and clarify my own present day visions. Such was the case when Simon handed me the short volume “Living Traditions of Scotland” by his father George Scott-Moncrieff a slim booklet published by His Majesty’s stationary office in 1951.
The booklet encompasses all Scottish traditional crafts throughout the ages from the perspective of architecture which was George’s life-long preoccupation. When considering ornamentation he states that simple “functional” objects can be more pleasing for their line and shape than the over ornate. I was reminded of some equally wise words of advice having planted a rambling rose on the front of my studio here in Brittany: A good architectural façade requires no embellishment, use the climber to hide the hideous. George goes on to state that due value is given to an object through the proper use of material and their associated qualities, be it stone or wood or metal, wool or straw or linen. Concerning the traditional Highland “black house” while acknowledging that modern improvements are possible, it is always foolish to assume that any old tradition was pursued merely because our forefathers did not know any better. The ruined remnants of such houses will still be standing long after today’s kit home constructions have blown from their concrete foundation slab.
“In Scotland, as elsewhere, what is remarkable is the quality of design and workmanship shown in very early times, as through man’s innate sense of, and desire for, beauty could inspire him to remarkable heights even against a comparatively slight background from which to draw; a tradition established, maintained, and developed right up to the limitations of its materials and techniques.” We would do well to reflect on that the next time our gaze falls on a selection on key rings or fridge magnets in the local tourist shop. “It is difficult fully to account for the general deterioration of design during the nineteenth century. Certainly much of the blame must lie with the development of the machine, with its divorce between the designer and his materials, and its too great emphasis upon facility of production and cheapness of cost”. He emphasises that machine goods need not be ugly but warns against the tendency to be over-concerned with production and profit to the detriment of design and functional beauty. In looking at the fine things that men and women have made and that they still strive to make we may feel that they stand for the control of mind and hand, for a generosity of labour, for a search for perfection within the bounds imposed by the immediate object. When the work is done with intimate care then the craftsperson impresses their own spirit upon it. “By sympathetic use of the tools in their hands they can interpret their life and build and maintain their tradition”. So the computer generated image stitched onto tweed by an installed program has no soul and without that important human element also has no intrinsic value. Our highly skilled crafts people are being asked to debase their ability in order to produce work that is cheap enough to market for the masses, which in turn only increases the amount of produce that ends up in the rubbish bin. It is bad enough sitting through a slideshow of friends latest holiday without having to say thank you for some ghastly bauble from the Bahamas. I gave up buying gifts many years ago and instead treat myself to something special approximately every five years and this will have absolutely nothing to do with key rings of fridge magnets.
The second half of this 1951 booklet is concerned with advertising where Reid and Taylor Ltd of Langholm Dumfriesshire boast of being makers of the world’s most expensive Twist Cheviot Cloths suitable for town and country. Nicoll Brothers of Bankfoot, Perth makers of sporrans since 1834 emphasise wholesale enquiries only, while Bailey’s Edinburgh branch offer Chateau Moulion Rose Medoc at 8/6 per bottle or a Chateau Mouton-Rothschild at 10/6.