Elected ARSA: 21 June 1989
Elected RSA: 25 May 2005
The royal Scottish Academy has always boasted a healthy number of printmakers amongst its peer-elected Membership; indeed its ranks in this area have never been stringer. The original quota allowed for the following categories; full Academicians, Associates and Honorary Members.
There was also the rank of Associate Engravers. By their designation such members were stuck forever at Associate level; engravers could never become Academicians.
This remained the status quo for more than 150 years. During that time William Miller and John Horsburgh, the original Associate Engravers, both resigned within months of their election, and William Home Lizars, who filled one of the vacancies which they caused, similarly resigned but was re-admitted as an Honorary Member.
And such eminent printmakers as Sir David Young Cameron, Muirhead Bone, Ernest Stephen Lumsden, William Wilson, Ian Fleming and James McIntosh Patrick joined the ranks but only by virtue of being elected under the category of Painter, in which sphere they also excelled. Not even Frances Walker, Will Maclean or Arthur Watson were elected as printmakers.
It was the Englishman Philip Reeves who in the 1970s began to agitate for a new category of Engraver to be created. The notion was not universally popular, and amongst its most vociferous critics was the Arbroath-based painter William Littlejohn. But as the 1970s and 1980s witnessed the emergence of new printmaking departments within the Scottish Art Colleges, critically now as part of the Fine Art rather than Commercial Art departments, so the prospect of Engravers became more generally acceptable, and finally, thirty years ago in 1989, the Academy held elections for the new category of Printmaker.
Willie Rodger, a 57-year-old secondary school teacher became the first person elected to the new category. He now became an Associate Printmaker but unlike those first Associate Engravers, with the possibility of one day being elevated to Academician Printmaker rank. He felt both very honoured, and also humbled if not slightly bemused.
By his own admission ’not a committee person,’ he nonetheless took his turns on exhibition hanging, purchase, and award panes, and put his skills to use in a number of Academy publications. Above all however, he enjoyed his trips to Edinburgh to attend Assembly and Varnishing Day Lunch and found many friends amongst the Members and Officers of the Academy.
Many of those he had met in group shows mounted by the likes of Edinburgh Printmakers of the Glasgow Group, as well as through Cyril Gerber in Glasgow, David Paton of Edinburgh’s Douglas and Foulis Gallery, Angus Olgivy at the short-lived but influential Stirling Gallery, and Lys Hansen’s Crowsteps Gallery in Blairlogie, near Stirling. Indeed in addition to the President and Secretary, who placed the traditional laurel wreath next to his coffin, Willie’s funeral was attended by Members from each of the Academy’s four disciplines.