Ann Henderson RSA 1921-1976
Elected ARSA: 20 March 1968
Elected RSA: 14 February 1973
In her studio Ann Henderson left many new sculptures—mostly unfinished. Perhaps two years’ work in which she was unmis- takably establishing a new vein. The signs are of a changed direction, each piece showing typical sureness—yet sadly left well short of finality.
We have lost a sculptor of maturity, energy and influence, an artist whose reticent authority and breadth of vision was above question and a friend whose loyalty could be relied upon—a member the Academy can ill-afford to spare. Ann Henderson, the third daughter of a family of three brothers and six sisters, was born at Ormlie farm on the outskirts of Thurso on llth October 1921.
It was there that her father, George Henderson, farmed until 1941 when he moved to Culrain Mains, Ardgay, where he and his family continue with their work. Ann had completed her school education at Miller Academy, Thurso, and begun her course at Edinburgh College of Art in 1940. Though she never returned to live in Caithness, her great love for it remained; it was perhaps some influence from this landscape, in which rock and stone are so apparent, in the buildings and those unique stone slab walls, that directed Ann to follow the course of sculpture.
In 1972 she was there again with a party of students to explore the landscape, the rocky cliffs and those spectacular headlands which support great, impossible castles such as Gurnikoe. Ann gained her Diploma in 1945. During her post-graduate year she studied under Eric Schilsky, who at that time had been appointed Head of School. For her work assessed ‘Highly Commended” she was awarded a major Travelling Scholarship. But before taking this up, a year intervened which enabled her to become a part-time assistant in the School of Sculpture.
Her Scholarship took her to Paris in 1947-48, where she studied in the Atelier Gimond of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. This experience, enlarging her outlook, was of great value to her aesthetic development. In 1948 she returned to the Edinburgh College to teach. By 1950 she became Junior Assistant in her Department, being promoted to Lecturer in 1963 and Senior Lecturer the following year.
Her immediate involvement with her new responsibilities was typical; early in her teaching Ann was directly concerned in estab- lishing new courses which were then experimental. Never failing to be well-disposed to new ideas and materials, she showed inven- tion and initiative. Unsparing of herself to make her classes a success, her teaching was thorough and no nonsense, her “‘credo”’ being to help her students to see and to realize forms in the most powerful way.
In passing on the enjoyment of materials and techniques, in an indirect way she also transmitted to her students something of her own interests in the manifestations of nature as seen in landscape, rocks, animals and sea. Ann, like all artists, was sensitive to the works and movement of others, the overriding influence was nature and, in particular, the country environment.
The “Composition” which won for her the R.S.A. Guthrie Award in 1954 is a prime example—two figures looking at a cow. It is of no consequence whether they are either in a field or in a market. What is important is that the three are in contact with each other.
One of the figures no more than touches the animal with one finger to create a stillness and formality which, setting it above incident, allows the onlooker to savour the drawing and modelling. But realism soon gave way to sculptures, still in the main of figures and animals—as in the “Hen Woman’’, an over-life size figure in plaster—which were expressed in more cubist terms.
In the subsequent development, a merging of forma appeared, leading to simple elements alone in nature—bird flight, plant growth or sea forms. Of these more abstracted works, some were carved in stone while others, of a freer kind, were cast into polyester resins and fibreglass, Ann having been among the first sculptors to use this material in an extensive way in Scotland.
Exhibiting regularly in the 8.S.A. and the R.S.A., latterly her work was also seen in the Royal Academy in London. She showed in various group shows, one being an Arts Council Festival Exhibi- tion in 1964 which she shared with Henderson Blyth, David Donaldson and Alberto Morrocco.
Of her many commissioned works, some are on a large scale. These include a relief representing “Agriculture” on the gable of the Agriculture Department of the University of Edinburgh: a screen relief in polyester resin and fibreglass for the music pavilion of George Watson’s School; a large carving in stone, ““Man and Sheep’, in Galashiels and a carving for Reay School in Caithness.
Perhaps the most successful of her commissioned works is a carving within the refectory of Nunraw Monastery near Haddington. The stone used is pinkish, a kind of trachyte, from Rattlebags Quarry, East Lothian, which, being unpredictable in character, demands skill and perseverance in handling. The subject appropriate to its setting “They knew him in the breaking of bread’’, presents Christ breaking bread surrounded by the hands of the Apostles.
Ann was involved in a number of enterprises, among the most important being the organization of an International Open Air Exhibition of Sculpture at Pittencrieff Glen in Dunfermline in 1969, one of the first in Scotland. In 1972, in the same venue, she or- ganized “Eight Edinburgh Sculptors’.
For some time she was a member of the Panel of the Scottish Arts Council concerned chiefly with awards to young artists. While her studio remained the dominant interest, this was balanced by involvement in a croft.
About ten years ago Ann became a partner in a croft at Balinoe, near Culrain, where as much time as possible was spent—during college term she would leave Edinburgh on Friday to return from Easter Ross for Monday morning. With Highland ponies giving her most pleasure, she and her partner were successful with horses at various agriculture shows, including the Royal Highland, where several prizes were won.
In make-shift surroundings she also worked on her sculpture while on the croft, until last summer when she completed the recon- struction of an outbuilding into a splendid studio—in preparation for retirement.
This apparently quiet, thoughtful artist concealed within herself flashes of humour, wit and fun. In her College environment she enjoyed to the full the social events, playing a prominent part whenever opportunity occurred.
She is recalled appearing as a most successful Queen Victoria and on film as a most lively ship’s figure head. Hers was a constitution that rarely knew sickness; being primarily a private individual, when illness finally struck, she preferred not to see visitors. In spite of a spirit so indomitable that those around her thought that early recovery would mean no more than a short hospital stay, this was sadly not to be the case. Ann Henderson, with uncomplaining fortitude, faced the reality of the grave illness which led to the lamentably early end of a full, rich life on 13th March 1976.
Transcribed from the 1976 RSA Annual Report