Sunday, 22 May 2011

Canterbury Tales and the East Neuk at the Waid Academy

The Waid Academy in the coastal town of Anstruther in Fife was originally built in 1886. Having become a state secondary school with pupils drawn not only from Anstruther, but also from across the East Neuk and its burghs of Crail, Pittenweem, St Monans and Elie, the Waid was extended several times in the twentieth century, not least in 1909, 1930 and 1955. Following the last extension the new Principal Teacher of Art at the Waid, James Selbie (1920-84), directed the creation of a ceramic tile mural of the Canterbury Tales (an interpretation of William Blake's 1800 painting, held by Glasgow Museums) in Room 15, the classroom of Alastair Leslie, teacher of English. The work was completed c. 1961. Guided by both Selbie and Leslie several senior school students helped with the work, with Margaret Thomson (née Anderson) largely responsible for the figures. Selbie graduated from Gray's School of Art, Aberdeen, in 1947 and received a post-diploma in painting from Gray's in 1948. This suggests he would have been influenced/taught by Gray's head of painting, Robert Sivell, whose major work of mid-century was a remarkable set of murals for Aberdeen University student union. After graduation Selbie had taught art at Elgin Academy and become a puppeteer.
While still at the Waid, Selbie, together with his new colleague Frances Wilson and several schoolchildren, created the tile and mosaic mural of the Five Burghs (of the East Neuk) in the school hall (completed 1967). It would seem that he was also responsible for the now severely damaged St Christopher mosaic mural on the 'boys'' staircase as well. In addition, he inspired Frances Wilson to continue the school mural tradition, she engaging several children in the seventies on the creation of an abstract, linear ceramic marinescape which she intended for an external wall of the school (but which was instead placed on a gable wall of the new Ladywalk care home in Anstruther).

Selbie moved to Inverness Royal Academy c. 1968. Portraits by Selbie are in the Fisheries Museums in Anstruther and Lossiemouth, as well as Inverness Art Gallery. Further information on him and his work would be very gratefully received! Selbie's murals at the Waid complement John Rhind's fine 'Passage through the Pillars of Hercules' relief (1886) in the tympanum above the main entrance.

1 comment:

Harry D. Watson said...

As I've said to Jeremy already in a private email, I stumbled across this blog more or less by accident and was interested to read about my old teachers Jimmy Selbie and Alistair Leslie.

I was a pupil at Waid Academy from 1958 to 1964, so I was there when the mural was completed and sat in front of it in Mr. Leslie's English class. I seem to remember that Friday morning in my 6th year started with a double period in that room.

My reason for thinking about Jimmy Selbie over the last few days, and my motivation for Googling his name, which led me to the blog, is that I have just been reading a new book about St. Monans, the East Neuk of Fife village that lies about three miles to the west of my native Cellardyke, and the cover picture of the book is taken from an oil painting of St. Monans harbour executed by Mr. Selbie circa 1959-60. The painting was commissioned by Willie Miller, owner of Miller's boatbuilding yard in St. Monans, and father of the author of the book, Jenny MacDonald, née Miller.

Waid Academy is a small school in a former fishing village, so we were lucky in the 50s and 60s to have such talented people on the teaching staff. Apart from Jimmy Selbie, there was his deputy Stewart Lees, who made a stained-glass window for the school incorporating the school coat-of-arms before taking up a lectureship in stained glass at Nottingham College of Art. And Mr. Leslie's deputy in the English department, Alistair Mackie, was a published poet and translator in both English and Scots.

After living in Edinburgh for the last twenty-something years, I am currently better informed about artworks in Edinburgh schools and have forwarded some relevant details to Jeremy.

Harry D. Watson