The Mrs Jay and W. Gordon Smith art collection is the unique culmination of two lifetimes’ work in Scotland. The challenge was to create and publish a high-quality book highlighting their achievements and collection, which would enable individuals to acquire, in the book, their own piece of art, and a window onto Scottish art and artists of the last six decades. It accompanied a memorial exhibition held in January 2021 in Edinburgh. To honour the collectors’ long-standing support of the arts, the proceeds of the exhibition and publication will be directed towards artist programmes and bursaries in Edinburgh.
W. Gordon Smith was an art critic, author, dramatist, photographer and filmmaker well-known for his iconic BBC arts programmes (Scope and Spectrum). Through his TV programmes and sympathetic, insightful exhibition reviews, as well as through the couple’s long-term project to seek out and acquire Scottish art, the pair gave invaluable support to Scottish artists, both known and obscure. The collection was started in the 1960s by W.Gordon Smith, enthusiastically supported by Jay and continued by her after his death, until she herself passed away in 2019. Their criteria for purchasing art, apart from a genuine appreciation of the work, was for the price not to exceed £1,000, no matter how tempted they were. Artists were frequently invited to view the growing collection in the Smiths’ home, leading to many close and fruitful relationships. Today, the collection includes around 170 artists and 300 artworks.
Sigrid Schmeisser (Gridworks) was briefed by the late Jay Smith to design the publication.
The goal of the publication was to focus on the artists and reproduce their works, which led Schmeisser to conceive the distinctive format of a reference book, titled A–L/M–Z, such as one could have found on the collectors’ own bookshelves. In the role of designer and editor, she commissioned artist biographies, and researched and selected W. Gordon Smith’s typewritten exhibition reviews, which appear in the book alongside the artworks themselves. By including archival material as well as the purchasing details with the artworks and biographies, the relationship between the collectors and the artists is revealed, and the book becomes a time capsule representing the arts and cultural scene of the time. In sum, A–L/M–Z turned into collector’s item itself.
Mimicking an art reference book, the catalogue features index-cutting, special yellow paper for the table of contents and high-quality Lessebo Design paper for the biographies and artwork pages. Inspired by W. Gordon Smith’s typewritten exhibition reviews, the typeface family Founders Grotesk Mono has been applied in a carefully maintained typographic hierarchy throughout the book to convey the genuine look and feel of a reference book with a modern twist. Great care has been taken in the lithography process to accurately reproduce the eclectic artwork collection spanning a great variety of media.
The luxurious yellow Brillianta bookcloth cover is label-embossed and has been screen-printed on the spine and back. Further, the back cover features an excerpt from W. Gordon Smith’s piece on “why one should collect art”.
Within the 400-page book are some 160 short artist biographies, compiled and written by Siobhan McLaughlin. Helen Bleck, provided copyediting and proofing. A biography about their lives has been written by Alexander Moffat and support has been provided by Moffat and Thomas Wilson, both W. Gordon Smith Award trustees.