West face of St Martin's Cross,
THE POST-WAR YEARS - CELTIC ART INDUSTRIES
Four years after the death of Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie in 1941, a company called Celtic Art Industries was founded in 1945 by Hamish Dawson-Bowman, an enthusiast of the Ritchie’s work and also of the ancient and medieval carved stones of Iona. He and his wife had been married in Iona Abbey just prior to the war, and his wife also was very familiar with the island.
Hamish Dawson-Bowman also bought the Island of Erraid in the early 1950s. This tiny island lies off the tip of the west coast of Mull and overlooks Iona. I was very fortunate in my younger days in the 1960s to have as a good friend and mentor an elderly lady called Ella Horsey, who spent seven years living on Erraid as a semi-recluse and writer, from 1952 to 1959. It was she who introduced me at an ealy age to many of the lesser-known and awe-inspiring aspects of Iona, as well as the fine craftwork of Iain MacCormick. She passed on about twenty five years ago, and no doubt is now enjoying views of her beloved Iona from a higher plane! She published a book of her island experiences entitled 'Erraid - Seven Years on a Scottish Islet' (Regency Press, 1967) which can still occasionally be located through specialist book searches.
Celtic Art Industries, abbreviated to C.A.I and sometimes used as a stamp on silver items, was founded with the intention of continuing the production of jewellery in the Iona tradition. Certainly two of the three craftsmen involved in this venture have become well known to enthusiasts of traditional Scottish jewellery. The three were Iain MacCormick, Malachy Gormley, and John Hart. They worked at this time from an old farm building in the Glasgow area, maintaining a strong link with Iona - as Iain MacCormick’s mother managed the crafts shop on the island and also gave the C.A.I some original Ritchie designs which had been left to her.
Occasionally individual early pieces carried a double hallmark to identify individual silversmiths. Below is a picture of marks from a spoon made by Iain MacCormick during the Hamish Dawson-Bowman early period of CAI. It carries both IMC and DB marks. Pieces with such marks are scarce today.
In subsequent years two of these three left the CAI and pursued their own careers. Malachy Gormley however continued working with the CAI, and died in 1975.
Iain MacCormick was passionate about Celtic silverwork and continued to produce much jewellery as well as pursuing a career as a teacher on the mainland. His jewellery has a very distinctive Ritchie flavour, gained from the unique experience of an apprenticeship as a boy with Alexander Ritchie in his workshop at Shuna Cottage on Iona. Much later in his life he published a small book of drawings of all the Ritchie designs known to him. He died in 1997 at the age of 80, and his work is already much sought-after.
John Hart (senior) started his own business in the 1950s after working with the C.A.I, and continued working with Celtic jewellery until his retirement in 1979. His son, also John Hart, continued the craftwork tradition by starting his own business called Hebridean Jewellery on the island of South Uist in 1979. Hebridean Jewellery still produce much fine work on South Uist, which is sold worldwide.
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© 2004 by David James