We are delighted to share an amazing story on the Steven Campbell Trust website, from the highly respected Mr Anthony Jones (Tony), former Glasgow School of Art Director, 1980-1986.
This has come to us from our good friend and previous Steven Campbell Trust New York Residency recipient, Claire Paterson, who contacted us at the beginning of this year sharing this wonderful anecdote about Steven and the Bram Stoker Medal, (originally this story was sent by Tony to Claire’s friend (and Tony’s) Elizabeth Kay).
We’ve chosen today, 8th November, to share this marvellous post as it also marks the anniversary of Bram Stoker’s birth.
As many of you who follow Steven’s work will know, the work of Bram Stoker, particularly the character Van Helsing, was explored within his paintings, in works such as, ‘In The Mist Van Helsing Gesturing as Hume’ (2) and ‘Flapping Like An Aspin’ (3). These are discussed amongst other works in The Paintings of Steven Campbell – The Story So Far by Duncan Macmillan (4).
We are delighted that the inspiration for these works can be traced back to the Bram Stoker medal, awarded in the early stages of Steven’s artistic career. We would like to extend our warmest thanks to Tony for allowing us to publish his delightful story on our website and hope that you will enjoy this as much as we have!
Note (from correspondence with TJ: “There is yet another tangential string to all this: the story of the Glasgow artist “who painted Dracula’s mother” … for another time (and, believe me, it’s quite a tale )“. With Tony’s approval we will follow up with this post very soon.
Steven Campbell Trust
Steven Campbell and Dracula
While I was Director of the Glasgow School of Art, in my office was a cupboard, filled with a grid of cubby-holes, in which letters could be filed. Somehow, over the years, it had been filled with trinkets, inkwells, little boxes of nibs, and the usual generic ‘stuff’. One day I cleared it out, hoping to find some long-lost treasure. Which I did. I found gold! In a small black velvet pouch with silk draw-strings was what seemed to be a large and dirty coin, over 2 inches across, with engraving and letters. The dull gleam of the surface hinted at precious metal … and a quick cleaning revealed that gold it was – but better than that was what the letters said:
“This medal is presented for The Most Imaginative Work of the Year, by Bram Stoker, 1900”. What? That Bram Stoker, author of ‘Dracula’? ( well, how many Bram Stokers could there be? ) – but why and how ? It took time and effort to piece the story together.
The revelatory tipping point was my interviewing Mary Newbery Sturrock, the daughter of the legendary Director of the Glasgow School of Art in the late 19thC, Francis ‘Fra’ Newbery, the man who commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design a new building for the Art School. Mary was well into her nineties when I talked to her, but had a perfect and accurate recall of those days and people – she’d known Margaret and Charles Rennie Mackintosh from her childhood to their deaths. It was Mary who carried a white silk cushion up the front steps of the School of Art in 1897, on which reposed the key to the School’s front door, on the day of its Opening Ceremony. She met everyone who came to the Art School to visit her father, or came to meet the Mackintoshes, and go the Tearooms – Josef Hoffman from Vienna, Hermann Muthesius from Berlin etc etc. And as a bright and inquisitive child she remembered them all, in vivid detail. During our chat I told her that I had found a gold medal – the ‘Bram Stoker Medal’ – and she almost dropped her tea-cup. “I have until this moment forgotten him, and his wife, what an incredible thing that you found this … but now I remember it all – let me tell you how the School of Art has this medal”.
Mary recalled going to the theatre in Glasgow with her father and her redoubtable mother, Jessie Newbery ( who was a fine textile designer in he own right ) in 1896. The play was ‘The Bells’, a Victorian melodrama starring the greatest actor of his generation, Sir Henry Irving. The Newberys were seated, awaiting the start of the play when ( said Mary ) “a huge hand came from the row of people behind us, and landed on Daddy’s shoulder, and a deep Irish voice said “Good evening, Mr. Newbery” – which gave Father a jolt !”. Newbery turned around, then stood up, and warmly greeted the man – who he called ‘my dear Bram’, and his wife, and who he then introduced to Jessie and wee Mary. Newbery, it transpired, had known this ‘Bram’ ( whose name was actually Abraham Stoker ) from his London years. When the play was over the Newberys sought out the Stokers, and also the Mackintoshes, and invited them all to come back to the nearby Glasgow School of Art for a nightcap in the new building, in the Director’s Office. So in that room that evening were Newbery and his wife, both great cultural leaders of the city, the genius designers Margaret and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Bram Stoker and his vivacious wife Florence Balcombe. Florence, by the way, was famous for the relationship she had before she met Bram Stoker – she was engaged to Oscar Wilde …
Stoker himself was tall and broad, an Irish boxing champion, who was the agent of Sir Henry Irving – he arranged all the acting engagements, and generally managed the life of the most successful actor of the day, and his London theatre and stage company. What could they have talked about, those extraordinary people, in that dramatic and avant-garde Director’s Office?
Well, Mary didn’t know all of it, but she did know one part of the conversation – Bram told Newbery that when he had any spare time he was writing a fantastical and lurid novel about ‘vampires’, set in the Carpathian mountains, to be called “The Un-dead”. Bram was struggling to have the extended time to settle down and write it. Newbery told him that he and Jessie had a cottage on the east coast of Scotland where they went to breathe the sea air, walk the shore, and paint – a place called Cruden Bay. An ancient landscape, filled with spooky ruins like Slains Castle … The Newberys said the cottage was available as they were about to depart for a painting expedition to the Transylvanian alps of Romania – would the Stokers like to use it as a place of calm, to sit and write … ? They would; they did. Stoker finished the novel, but changed the title to the name of the creature who ruled the story – “Dracula”. It was published a year later and became a huge literary sensation, making Stoker a wealthy man – and his subsequent frightening novels ( “The Lair of the White Worm” etc. ) added more riches. And so, for three years, Stoker repaid Newbery for his kindness in loaning the Cruden Bay cottage ( which became the local pub ), by endowing three “Bram Stoker Medals” at the Glasgow School of Art. It seems lost in time who received two of the medals, but the one I found was awarded to a David Broadfoot Carter (5) – who seems never to have collected it, which is why it had lain buried in its little velvet pouch in my office for over 80 years.
The idea that the most ‘imaginative writer’ of his times should have awarded a medal to the ‘most imaginative’ visual art student at the GSA was fascinating. So I decided to revive it , and in 1982 I went through the whole of the graduation exhibition, and the ‘most imaginative’ artist whose work stood out was, of course, Steven Campbell. So I commissioned a calligrapher to create an elegantly-handwritten parchment, with a reproduction of the medal ( our budget did not stretch to actual gold ), that told a shortened version of the Stoker Medal story, and awarded it to Steven. He came along one afternoon and I told him the whole story in detail, based on what Mary Newbery had told me, and what I had subsequently found out, and Steven was clearly bemused (and amused ). Years later he told me that he’d immediately read “Dracula”, and that in due course, in several paintings, a ‘tragic hiker’ appears ( paraphrasing Stoker’s poor lost soul Jonathan Harker, a victim of Dracula ), as does the fearless vampire-slayer Van Helsing.
Mysterious, how these unlikely connections and reverberations echo down the decades !
Professor Tony Jones CBE
Director, Glasgow School of Art 1980-86
1. Photo of Mr Tony Jones, Director, Glasgow School of Art
Accession number: PGP 723.7
Gallery: Scottish National Portrait Gallery (Print Room)
Object type: Photograph
Date created: Unknown
Credit line: Provenance unknown
2. In The Mist Van Helsing Gesturing as Hume
Oil on Canvas,
264.2 x 274.3 cm
© The Steven Campbell Trust
3. Flapping Like An Aspin
Oil on Canvas
297.2 x233.7 cm
© The Steven Campbell Trust
4. The Paintings of Steven Campbell – The Story So Far
ISBN 1 85158 546 X
Van Helsing first appeared soon after this Hunt’s Fall sequence. Hope, for instance, painted in 1983, showed Van Helsing, lying in a crypt, the crypt of Dracula’s castle perhaps, with a beautifully painted stained glass window above him. Flapping Like an Aspin (Pl.10) also shows him in a gothic crypt with stained glass behind him. As an investigator, he was a more positive figure than Hunt though he sometimes doubles up as Hunt’s successor, the Lost Hiker as in The Poisoning and Subsequent Paralysis of Abraham van Helsing. He was engaged in the the pursuit of the bizarre, seeking to pin it down with a stake through its heart, like the artist pursuing the elusive and mysterious goals of his painting. Indeed there is something of Van Helsing’s quest in the programme Campbell had set himself, confronting the ‘undead’, the meretricious cliches of the history of painting that rise up to haunt an unwary painter, to seduce him, to sap his strength and eventually to hold him in thrall.
Certainly, when he appears in these pictures, the Van Helsing character has something of Campbell’s own appearance. A goatee beard is his distinguishing feature and Campbell still wears such a beard. When Glasgow School of Art presented him with the Bram Stoker Prize, called after Van Helsing’s inventor, it is not entirely clear that it was not created to suit its recipient.
5. Note: D Broadfoot Carter, mentioned in Tony’s story has since been identified! See here: