The Man Behind the Pictures
Tom Curr (1887-1958) is a name largely unknown to the general public, but as one of Scotland’s most successful commercial artists and cartoonists, his work – most famously the original Scott's Porage Oats shot putter - has been seen by millions of people. Born in Edinburgh in 1887, he started his apprenticeship as a lithographic artist with the Edinburgh printers McLagan & Cumming in 1903. Required to attend classes and sit exams at the School of Art (later the Edinburgh College of Art), he proved himself a gifted student achieving first class in almost all of his exams, and by winning a King's Prize, two scholarships and an appointment as assistant (part time) teacher in Anatomical Setting.
Commissioned into the 3/9th Battalion of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders in September 1915, Tom spent many months at Ripon Training Camp, being posted to France in 1916. He fought on the front line at Passchendaele in July 1917, after which he was seconded to the Royal Engineers' 2nd Field Survey Company, playing a vital role in their map-printing operations. Subsequently sent to Padua, Italy in December 1917 to take charge of the printing team of the newly established 6th Field Survey Company, he was promoted to Captain when he returned to GHQ Montreuil, France in July 1918, where he was in charge of the Printing Company for the duration of the war. His painting of the Highland Soldier, displayed in the National Museum of Scotland, is testimony to his continued remembrance of fallen comrades.
After demobilisation in February 1919, Tom began work at the prestigious Carlton Studio in London, returning to McLagan & Cumming as Art Manager in April 1920. He contributed sporting cartoons for the Edinburgh Evening News for over thirty years, designed posters for the Cunard White Star shipping line, and for Scottish regiments, he illustrated advertisements for PESCO (Peter Scott Co. of Hawick) underwear, Thornton's sports equipment, Halton's toffees, Younger's beer, shortbread biscuits and Chamber's book jackets, among many other Scottish brands. In later life, his paintings of Clydesdale horses at work in Alyth, Strathmore and Ruthven, were exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy, many of which are now held in both private and public collections.
Tom was from a generation for whom faith was expressed through deeds as much as words; a generation whose survival of the slaughter of the Great War contributed to a personal commitment to use that life for the betterment of their fellow human beings. Public service was central to his philosophy and he served his city in many roles, including town councillor, Bailie, magistrate, and organiser of the messenger cyclists during WW2, (for which he was awarded an MBE). He was a member of many organisations and committees, including the original Lady Haig Poppy Factory, the Rotary Club, and the YMCA. He was a founding member of the Scottish Advisory Council of the BBC, as well as a radio and television broadcaster. But it is for his work for the youth of Edinburgh, specifically his leadership of the 46th Company of the Edinburgh Battalion of the Boys’ Brigade that he would have wished to be remembered.
Edinburgh Rock is shaped as much by the pictures Tom left behind, as it is by his documented life history. Consequently, some chapters depart from the usual linear narrative associated with biographies, this is to facilitate the inclusion of as many photographs and illustrations of his work as possible.
Just as Tom's life encompassed so much, the book will appeal to a wide audience, including those with an interest in the histories of advertising, art, the Boys' Brigade, cartoons, the ARP in Edinburgh during WW2, the Edinburgh printing industry, Scottish sport, Scottish brands, Sunday school pictures in the UK and USA, and the development of map making in WW1. But more generally it provides a cultural history of how one man's life in the first half of the last century touched – and was touched by – so many others. To that end, it is informed by interviews with people who knew Tom well, including his close friend, the actor and broadcaster, the late Tom Fleming CVO, MBE, FRSAMD.
About the Author:
Sandy Brewer is a Research Associate of the Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History at Oxford Brookes University, and an internationally published researcher. Her work focuses on the material and visual culture of religion in the UK and the USA, specifically printed pictures produced for children.
Prior to her many years of teaching undergraduates at the University of East London, she worked as a craftswoman making patchwork quilts, and also banners for a variety of organisations ranging from football club supporters to environmental groups.
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