Alison Cornwall Geissler, glass engraver. Born: 13 April, 1907, in Edinburgh. Died: 25 January, 2011, in Edinburgh, aged 103.
Alison Geissler practised the art of glass-engraving with great distinction. She was born in Edinburgh on 13 April, 1907, daughter of Donald Thomson McDonald, shipping clerk, and Catherine Roger McDonald ne Garland.
Educated at the Mary Erskine School for Girls, she entered Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) to study drawing and painting in 1925. William Gillies had been appointed to the staff the previous year and her memories of that time were fascinating. She revealed recently, for instance, that she had not only seen the Ballets Russes on stage in Edinburgh in 1928, but had also seen Diaghilev himself in the college. She must have been the last person still alive who had seen both the famous company perform and its great impresario.
When she graduated in 1930, Geissler was awarded a post-graduate scholarship. The following year she married the painter, William Hastie Geissler, who had been among her teachers at ECA. The couple spent four years in Perth where William was art master at Perth Academy, but in 1935, on his appointment to the art department of Moray House, they moved back to Edinburgh. There they had three children, Paul, Erik and Catherine.
Towards the end of the war and after her children had started school, Geissler sought to return to her art studies. She was keen "to splash about with colour", she said, but she was persuaded to take up glass engraving instead, a subject new to ECA and taught there by Helen Munro Turner.
Geissler was one of only two students, and conditions were primitive. There was only one rather temperamental lathe to work on and the two students had to take it in turn to use it. Nevertheless, she was a fine draughtsman and proved adept at this precise and exacting craft. In 1947 her husband obtained a lathe for her from Germany and from then on she was able to work at home.
Her work is marked by elegant, stylised design balanced with beautifully observed natural detail. The richness and variety of tone that she achieved by the depth and subtlety of her cutting exploits to the full the luminous transparency of her medium and gives her designs great liveliness.
They are often also touched with humour. One decanter, for instance, is decorated with a plump, female faun reclining in a happy stupor against a vine, heavily laden with grapes. On a commemorative bowl made for the V&A, as elegant figures from different historical ages dance around the museum's monogram, a cyclist collides with a pedestrian from another era and the ampersand of "V&A" is replaced by "Blitz" in a cartoon explosion.
Geissler was also noted for her mastery of lettering and so her work was eminently suitable for commemorative and presentation pieces.In 1948 the Scottish Craft Centre opened in Acheson House on the Royal Mile. Her skill was immediately noticed by Jan Tarnowski, its director, and with his help she quickly gained recognition. Thereafter she received many commissions.
For the Coronation in 1953, for instance, a set of seven goblets engraved with the Queen's Beasts was presented to the Queen by the High Constables of Holyrood. Twenty-five years later, to mark the Queen's Silver Jubilee, the Royal Company of Archers commissioned a covered cup engraved with beautifully drawn scenes of the Archers practising in front of Holyrood with Arthur's Seat behind.
Other notable recipients of work commissioned from her have included Prince Charles, King Hussain of Jordan, the King of Sikkim, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Princess Alexandra, the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton, the Earl and Countess of Minto, the Earl of Crawford, Lopold de Rothschild, Sir Ian Noble and Sir James Stormonth Darling.
Several of Geissler's works in the Royal Collection are kept in Holyrood Palace. She is also represented in the collections of the Royal Scottish Museum, Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Corning Glass Museum, New York.
In 1963 the death of her husband was a tremendous blow, but she found solace in her art and her reputation continued to grow.
In 1983 she was given a solo exhibition at Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow and in 1991 she was awarded the MBE for her contribution to glass engraving. She continued engraving until she was 94, when, reluctantly, she recognised that her hands were no longer steady enough to maintain the exacting standards of precision which she had always set herself.
Geissler was a person of great charm who retained till the end of her long life a delight in the world around her and an engaging curiosity about everything in it.
She had a great sense of fun. She met the frailties of old age with great good humour and latterly often laughed at her own sometimes uncertain memory and slowness, but well after her 100th birthday she was still managing the stairs in the house she had lived in for more than 70 years and her conversation never lost its sparkle.
She liked to keep up to date and was until very recently a regular visitor at private views. Tom Wilson at the Open Eye Gallery used to pass the Art Newspaper on to her, but, he says, he had to be sure he had read it carefully first himself as she liked to quiz him on the contents when she too had read it.
It was characteristic of the liveliness of her mind that she took and passed Higher French when she was in her 80s. She travelled widely, visiting China, India, Egypt, Spain and Turkey, and also the US, Iran and France to visit her children and their families, recording some of her travels with delicate line drawings. Her last trip was to Cambridge only four months ago.She continued to the very end of her life to make light-hearted drawings with pen and ink, for Christmas cards, or for April Fool's Day, and also to dress-make. She always remained lucid, outward-looking, curious about the world, interested in others and never complained about herself. She is survived by her three children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.