Nicola Sturgeon reveals GSA inspired Christmas card

Nicola Sturgeon at the launch of her official Christmas card. Picture: John Devlin
Nicola Sturgeon at the launch of her official Christmas card. Picture: John Devlin
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A VINTAGE Christmas card found in Glasgow School of Art in the wake of this year’s devastating blaze is to be used by Nicola Sturgeon for her first festive greetings from Bute House.

The First Minister revealed she turned to the art school for help after realising she face a race against time to organise a Christmas card in time after being officially appointed less than a month ago.

The image - painted by the wife of a former GSA director - comes from a collection of festive cards which were sent to art school staff in the 1960s and 1970s.

The cards were saved by a former staff member who then donated the fetsive images to the art school’s archives around 10 years ago.

The image of a snow-covered landscape depicts the view from the former home in Derbyshire of Douglas Percy Bliss, who led the art school for 20 years from 1946.

Born in Karachi, India, he was brought up in Edinburgh, studied painting at the Royal College of Art in London and worked as an art critic for The Scotsman for a time. He moved back north after being stationed in Scotland when he joined the RAF during the Second World War.

The image on the Christmas card was painted by his wife, Chester-born Phyllis Dodd, herself a successful artist. It was thought to have been sent as a card to Mr Bliss’s former colleagues at some point in the 1970s, after he had retired, although the exact date is not known.

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The art school said two of Ms Dodd’s portraits were lost in this year’s blaze, which completely destroyed the library in the Mackintosh Building, but the box containing the old Christmas cards survived.

Conrad McKenna, a former art school student who went on to work there, as well as serve in the Second World War, was present at a ceremony inside the new GSA campus building to see Ms Sturgeon unveil her choice of card.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The spirit of Glasgow School of Art, which very quickly came to the fore after the fire, was ‘we aren’t going to be beaten’ and that it was going to be something that would be turned into a positive. I wanted to do something that played into that.

“There were some conversations with the art school about what might be possible. We originally thought of using a student’s work that had been rescued from the fire, but the more I learned about the image - the fact that it was originally a Christmas card, the person who painted it was a celebrated artist in their own right who had been married to a former director, it had been in the archive but survived the fire - it just seemed perfect.

“It survived the fire, it reaches back into the history of the art school, and by reviving this image in the form of a Christmas card it helps to capture that sense of restoration and revival.”

Speaking after a “heartbreaking” visit to the world-famous building, which more than 200 firefighters batted to save after fire ripped through it in May, Ms Sturgeon said she had turned to the art school immediately for something “special, significant and fitting” for her first Christmas card.

She added: “I was one of thousands upon thousands of people, not just in Glasgow, but across the world, who watched that afternoon completely horrified as fire raged through the Mackintosh Building.

“This was the first time I’ve been in since the fire. When you go into the library it is a devastating site, with all the books and incredible architecture completely destroyed. It was a heartbreaking sight to see.

“But overwhelmingly, I felt positive as the place is now full of archaeologists and conservationists, people who are working to restore the place. It is going to rise again out of the ashes and be restored to its former glory.”

Art critic Moira Jeffrey said the image chosen by Ms Sturgeon was in sharp contrast to the “politically symbolic” and “heavy-handed” efforts of previous years, when Peter Howson and Jack Vettriano were among the artists chosen by Alex Salmond for his festive cards.

She added: “What happened to Glasgow School of Art has been the story of the arts year in Scotland in 2014, not just in terms of what happened with the fire, but the goodwill that the art school has gained since then.

“This is a very light and gentle image in comparison to previous years, and it also has a nice background story to it, which reflects the illustrious history of the art school. I also think it’s wonderful that a female artist has been chosen.”

Mr McKenna, 92, whose card collection covered a period of more than 60 years, said: “There was a bit of a closed circle of staff members who used to design their own Christmas cards to send to one another, as opposed to buying commercial ones.

“This particular one was sent to me by Douglas Percy Bliss, who would sometimes design his cards himself, or they would sometimes be done by his wife.

“I kept all of the cards I was sent in a cardbox box, but I got quite worried about what would happen to them when I died. I wanted them to go to a safe home.”

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