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Ian Gordon Scott MBE DA FSAScot

14th January 2021 | Categories:

Born 24 April 1926; Died 2 November 2020

Photo of Ian Scott

Ian Scott MBE FSAScot

For over 60 years Ian G Scott made a unique contribution to the cultural life of Scotland through his outstanding work recording the nation’s Early Medieval sculptured stones (including Pictish symbol stones, Iona’s High Crosses, grave-markers, cross-slabs, and numerous other types of monument). His magnificent drawings have ensured for posterity an accurate record of these vulnerable artefacts, but more than this, they have brought out the true sophistication of these, our national treasures and one of Scotland’s great contributions to Western Art, and advanced our understanding and knowledge of them. He made their intellectual and cultural significance apparent to non-experts and made them accessible to a wide audience.

Following military service as an Intelligence Officer in the Royal Signals from 1944-48, Ian trained as a teacher at Moray House College, Edinburgh before embarking on a career as an art teacher in Stirling in 1953. He was already developing an interest in archaeology and had a drawing of Wharram Percy published in 1959 just as his he took up his appointment as Illustrator in the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS).

During his distinguished professional career, retiring from the RCAHMS in March 1991 after 32 years of service, he set new standards for the recording of carved stones. He was the first professionally trained illustrator in the RCAHMS at a time when specialist archaeological illustration as a profession was still in its infancy and developed a highly accurate and detailed standard of survey which made Scotland’s ancient monuments understandable to professionals and interested public alike. But Ian’s particular specialism was in recording Scotland’s incredibly rich and varied collection of carved stones in a sensitive and sympathetic way, developing a stippled modelling technique to accurately capture the nuances and details of the sculptured surface, and he perfected the art of suggestion where the carving of a stone is too worn to be sure. He in effect set the standard to which others aspire in their illustrative work, and indeed it is his illustrations against which modern techniques such as 3D laser scanning are routinely compared.  To achieve this, Ian developed a highly specialised understanding of how these sometimes complex designs were put together and his drawings conveyed this deep knowledge to the reader in RCAHMS publications such as Iona (1982) or Early Medieval Sculpture in the West Highlands and Islands (2001).

In his retirement Ian set himself the personal goal of filling the gaps in the visual record of Scotland’s Early Medieval Sculpture, a task he pursued with remarkable focus and energy right up to his death, taking him from Shetland to the Borders and from St Andrews to the Western Isles.  He worked with specialists and enthusiastic individuals to raise awareness and increase understanding of these important relics, and contributed to definitive publications such as The St Andrews Sarcophagus: a Pictish masterpiece and its international connections (2008) and The Art of the Picts. Sculpture and metalwork in Early Medieval Scotland (2004); in A Fragmented Masterpiece (2008) his drawings aid the reconstruction of the Hilton of Cadboll stone; and Pictish and Viking Age Carvings in Shetland (2010).

With characteristic selflessness and generosity, Ian undertook detailed drawings of carved stones, always ensuring that these were deposited in the collections of RCAHMS (now Historic Environment Scotland) to ensure their long-term preservation and importantly, their availability to the public, effectively gifting them to the nation. Ian G Scott had an unprecedented knowledge and unique understanding of Scotland’s Early Medieval sculptured stones. The scholarly community continues to benefit from his expertise, disseminated through research collaborations, through his participation at conferences, and through his 15 years of voluntary service on the National Committee for Carved Stones in Scotland.

Ian was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1959 having been nominated by Dr Kenneth A Steer CBE. He was awarded MBE in 2014 for his services to Archaeology in Scotland. He died peacefully at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, aged 94, leaving behind his wife of 66 years, five children, nine grandchildren and a great-grandson.

He wrote about his approach to drawing carved stones in:

Scott, Ian G (1996) ‘Archaeological Illustration: Personal Experience and the Drawing of Carved Stones for Publication’, Graphic Archaeology Journal of the Association of Archaeological Illustrators & Surveyors
Scott, I G (1997) ‘Illustrating Early Medieval carved stones’, in Henry, D (ed) The worm, the germ and the thorn: Pictish and related studies presented to Isabel Henderson, Balgavies, Angus: The Pinkfoot Press, 129-32
Scott, Ian G (2005) ‘The bulls of Burghead and Allen’s technique of illustration’, in ‘Able minds and practised hands’: Scotland’s early medieval sculpture in the 21st century, (ed.) Sally Foster, Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph series, Oxford, Oxbow, 215-220
Ritchie, A, Scott, I G & Gray, T E (2006) People of Early Scotland from contemporary images, Brechin: The Pinkfoot Press, 24
James, H F, Henderson, I, Foster, S M & Jones, S (2008) ‘A fragmented masterpiece: recovering the biography of the Hilton of Cadboll Pictish cross-slab, Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 77
Scott, I G & Ritchie, A (2009) Pictish and Viking-age carvings from Shetland, Edinburgh: RCAHMS, 11
Hunter, F (2002) ‘The Roman sculpture from Birrens revisited’ Trans Dumfriesshire Galloway Natur Hist Antiq Soc, 76, 79-90
Hall, M (2005) ‘The early medieval sculptures from Murthly, Perth and Kinross: an interdisciplinary look at people, politics and monumental art’ Soc Medieval Archaeol Monogr Ser, 23, 293-314.
Scott, I (2005) ‘Carved stone slabs from Scotland’ CBA Pract Handbks Archaeol, 18, 86-89
Scott, I (1996) ‘The St Andrews sarcophagus’ Pictish Arts Society Journal, 10
Scott, I (1998) ‘Is the Bestiary represented on the front of the Canna Cross?’ Pictish Arts Society Journal, 13, 2-3
Scott, I (2005) ‘The bulls of Burghead and Allen’s technique of illustration’ Soc Medieval Archaeol Monogr Ser, 23, 215-219

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