Obituary: David Fraser Morgan Gulland, glass engraver and artist

David GullandDavid Gulland
David Gulland
Born: 15 March, 1934, in Edinburgh. Died: 27 July, 2013, in Galloway, aged 79

David Gulland was one of Scotland’s leading glass artists and copper wheel glass engravers. His career, which spanned more than 50 years, included teaching on Fair Isle, dev­eloping the engraving depart­ment at Caithness Glass and founding an acclaimed glass engraving business in Dumfries and Galloway.

I met David as a member of the board of the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Association. At first I appreciated his pragmatic and sensible advice, local knowledge and patience in that role, but as I came to know him and to see his work, I realised how fortunate the region was to have an artist of such stature.

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He was a master of the commissioning process, thoughtful, gently questioning, proposing, discussing and then acting on an idea from the commissioner which he felt he could achieve on the chosen piece. David’s perspective on life, as well as art, supported many artists and makers in Scotland; self-effacing and modest, he was a man to heed, as well as to love.

David Gulland was born in Edinburgh in 1934, the son of Mary and Morgan Gulland, investment manager at the Scottish Equitable Life Assurance Society. From his parents he learned an appreciation of art which he shared with his brothers, Derek and Douglas.

He was educated at George Watson’s College, where he dist­inguished himself in both the visual and performing arts. He studied at Edinburgh College of Art from 1951-56, where he specialised, under the direction of Helen Monro Turner, in copper wheel engraving, an art form dating back to ancient Rome.

He proved to be a gifted student, winning two 
post-graduate scholarships, enabling him to travel and work in Europe’s artistic centres.

On his return from Europe, David trained as a teacher at Moray House College and taught art in Edinburgh and Dalbeattie, before taking up the position of teacher and Church of Scotland missionary on the island of Fair Isle in Shetland. For three years he and his wife, Pamela, brought up their family and became an integral part of the community, where Pamela was the district nursing sister.

David continued to produce engraved glass on commission and to commemorate family occasions from a small corner of the house, but in 1970 he took the opportunity to work full time as a copper wheel 
engraver when Caithness Glass approached him to help set up the engraving department at the factory in Wick. For the next ten years he lived and worked in Caithness, where he was active in local drama, church and community organisations. David established his own business in 1979, and he and his family moved back to Dumfries and Galloway to the artists’ town of Kirkcudbright, where he set up his glass engraving studio.

I recall his studio, displaying his wonderful blank glass from all over the world, which he would handle, balance, and ass­ess when talking about a new design; the design, whether family escutcheon or a piece for a wedding or christening, would take shape first as a drawing, lightly pencil sketched, and then transferred to glass.

David’s main work was as a copper-wheel engraver on small glass pieces of hollowware and sculpted blocks, but he also created large scale windows, using a sand-blasting technique for the Scottish Equitable Life Assurance Company in Edinburgh, the Lockerbie Disaster Memorial and the Robert Burns Bicentennial Lamp in Kirkcudbright.

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His windows can be found in churches as far apart as Fair Isle and Udimore in Sussex.

These windows reflect both his artistic vision and his religious commitment, spanning the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church. His broader spirituality can be found in the windows in the Svalbard building at Roucan Loch Crematorium in Dumfries.

His work also survives in prestigious commissions of glassware for the National Trust for Scotland, the British Medical Association and the T C Farries library awards, which were presented annually at the House of Commons.

These awards, engraved on glass obelisks, demonstrate his skill in finding the most appropriate glass for the occasion and the best way of combining the form and the image.

Particularly notable are the glass sundials which he developed along with his friend, the mathematician and engineer George Higgs.

The idea of sundial windows had originally been considered in 17th century France but it was through their combined mathematical and artistic talents that the 20th century glass sundial was invented.

Most of their sundials are in private ownership, but they are on public view in the Leominster Public Library in Herefordshire and the George Higgs mem­orial window in the Tolbooth Art Centre in Kirkcudbright, an apposite reminder of two quiet, distinguished individuals.

David also provided designs for stonework, collaborating with the stonemason David Little on the Millennium Stone at Irongray Church in 2001, and his final public work: the Robert Burns Rock, commissioned by The People’s Project in Dumfries, a nine-tonne sand stone sculpture unveiled by Princess Anne two weeks before his death.

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In addition to his own work, David played (literally) many roles in the community of Dumfries and Galloway; active churchman, member of operatic and dramatic societies, quiet advocate for craftsmen, and happy family man.

He was on the board of the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Association, the Scottish Arts Council, chairman of the Galloway Guild of Craftsmen and was a member of both the British Sundial Society and the Guild of Glass Engravers. I was privileged to be snowbound at his home in Dumfries this year – a joyful time of seeing his latest design, staying in a house with exquisite masterpieces from his lifetime, and hearing stories of his and Pamela’s lives together.

While he produced many high-profile private and public pieces, David was, above all, a man of the people, and throughout his career his door was open to everyone.

His large-scale commissions remain for many to enjoy in public buildings, but there are thousands of families whose homes are enriched by a special piece that is part of their family story throughout Scotland, the UK and across the world.

David Gulland is survived by his Pamela, his three children Louise, Jacqueline and Charles, eight grand-children and one great-grandson. He had a huge circle of friends and colleagues throughout the world and within the Scottish arts community, who will miss his energy, creativity and integrity.