“I’m trying to find out more about a James ‘Nobby’ Clark, a sculptor working in Edinburgh (ca. 1940-1970). He used to have his studio on the Dean Bridge across Leith Water.”
Such was the brief enquiry which reached the RSA Collections team in April 2021. The exchange of information between the enquirer and Robin Rodger, the Academy’s Documentation Officer, which ensued has helped shed more light on one of the oldest, but less well known of our former Associate Academicians, James Harvey Clark ARSA (1886-1980).
The initial enquiry had come from a private individual based in the Netherlands by the name of Pieter Hildering. As a child Mr Hildering (who subsequently trained at the Gerrit Rietveld Art Academy in Amsterdam, specializing in 3-Dimensional Design and went on to enjoy an academic career as Professor of 3-Dimensional Design at ArtEZ the Academy of Fine Arts, Arnhem) used to visit his grandparents who lived in Edinburgh, where his grandfather ran a fireplace showroom and wrought iron manufactory. On one of these trips, Mr Hildering was taken to visit the man known to his Edinburgh relatives as “Nobby” Clark; “I remember from visiting his studio in Edinburgh (I believe on the Dean Bridge) and sinking my hands in a big box of clay.”
This prompted our enquiring if Mr Hildering could recall anything else about Mr Clark’s studio, which from 1933 until his death nearly 50 years later, was situated at 1 Belford Road. The area of the Dean Village played host to a number of artist’s studios and workshops down the years, including those of Phoebe Anna Traquair HRSA, Phyllis Mary Bone RSA, Elizabeth Strachan Dempster ARSA, David Watson Stevenson RSA, and William Wilson RSA.
Back came Mr Hildering, sending not only his recollection of the space, but also a photograph which he had taken on a later visit in the summer of 1963.
“The location as I remember it, bearing in mind that it is now 58 years ago that I last visited it. I had to bring in Google maps, but as you entered the house from the road, the studio was in the back of the front room, connected by a corridor. I remember coming in there and smelling the fresh modelling clay which was kept in a large trunk directly by the door to the right and I was always allowed to use it. As you might be able to see from the rather shabby photograph I sent you, the room was filled with works, large and small. I believe the portrait on the right of the picture to be a self portrait. There were indeed some rotating pedestals. I can’t recall much about other studio furniture but I do remember the enchanting atmosphere every time I was there. Daylight came in from above.PS The large nude on the left in the photograph was (painted?) green.”
The Academy’s initial reply had included, in addition to a copy of the Obituary to Mr Clark, a list of his exhibited works at the RSA’s Annual Exhibitions. The Academy holds a single example of Mr Clark’s work; a bronze bust of fellow sculptor John Massey Rhind RSA, first exhibited at the Annual Exhibition in 1936, and gifted to the Academy collections by Mr Clark in 1976.
Clark first had a piece selected for inclusion in the 1913 Annual Exhibition, but did not show again until 1922. His Obituary helps to explain the gap;
“On leaving school he started a 6-year apprenticeship with that ‘vintage’ Edinburgh printing firm, McLagan and Cumming as a litho-artist. A scholarship award enabled him to study drawing and modelling ‘all day’ at the Academy School and he was one of the first to be transferred to the new Edinburgh College of Art, where he gained the Academy award—the Stewart [sic – it is the Stuart Prize] Prize—for the best figure composition of the year. After leaving College he worked for two years, to gain practical experience and knowledge of the ‘styles’ in an ornamental sculptor’s studio.Then came the interruption of the 1914-18 War. Having been a territorial in the Lothians and Borders Horse Yeomanry he was at once mobilised. He went to France with them, later being transferred to the Royal Scots. By the end of the War he had become 2nd Lieutenant in the K.O.S.B. After demobilisation in 1918 he started work again and was Sculptor Assistant to several well-known monumental Sculptors including J. Beattie and J. Hayes and Mrs Alice Meredith Williams, notably while she was occupied upon her distinguished work for the shrine of The Scottish National War Memorial. He also played a valuable part in the execution of many other War Memorials, including that at Westminster School and the great bronze group for Paisley.”
“In 1929 he set up on his own and designed and carved a variety of mainly heraldic and monumental works for leading Edinburgh architects. He developed meanwhile his own individual sensitive line of figure-work and well observed portrait busts.”
Into this last category falls the child’s head in Mr Hildering’s family. It is painted plaster and stands about 20cm tall. Although his list of exhibits include many named busts, it has not been possible sadly, to put a name to the sitter of this one.
It bears a passing likeness to the carvings by Clark for a pedimented frieze on the façade of the Commercial Bank of Scotland in Glasgow, which Clark carved in 1941, however, the figures in the frieze appear to be children of toddler age, whereas the bust appears to be the portrait of a specific individual, and younger, whilst still a baby.
“As you can see by the stripes on the right sleeve the athlete is a sergeant. Could the small cross mean a medical unit?………… It seems the badge on the statue’s right shoulder seems to read KADET FORCE. He is 53 cm in height which really makes him a wee man.”
At this point, a potential candidate was identified. At the 1945 RSA Annual Exhibition, one of Clark’s 4 exhibits was a piece (catalogue number 10) titled “Sergeant Jimmy.” Sadly a search of the annual exhibition reviews for that year made no reference at all to Sergeant Jimmy, a piece titled “Forgive Them, Father” by T B Huxley-Jones hogging the headlines on account of its scale and subject matter.
He also said that Sergeant Jimmy (if indeed that is who the athletic soldier is) was purchased by his mother, he believed, and remembered it “turning up one day.”
So, we have more information on James Harvey “Nobby” Clark ARSA’s studio, have been introduced to previously unknown examples of his work, have provisionally identified the correct title for one of these, and have left one enquirer very satisfied with the service he has received.
We are very grateful to Mr Hildering for organising the photography of the works in his family and for granting us permission to use them and extracts from our e-mail exchanges to pull this blog together.