William Lamb biography seeks to give him recognition

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A new book celebrating the life of well-loved but under appreciated Montrose sculptor William Lamb is being launched today (September 26) at a prestigious event in Edinburgh.

Walk around Montrose and you will see Lamb’s touch on the town, from his ‘The Whisperer’ statue outside the library to his studio on Market Street, which he left as a memorial to the town when he died in 1951.

The Royal Scottish Academy, of which William Lamb was an associate, is hosting the official launch of the book, ‘The People’s Sculptor: The Life and Art of William Lamb (1893 – 1951)’, today, which has been written by John Stansfeld, of Dunninald Castle. It took 10 years to complete.

He said: “I’m very pleased with the book. It is all down to Ray Simm, an elderly lady who lived in the Orkney Islands who was becoming a centenarian, who had a large collection of William Lamb memorabilia, letters and work.

“I had retired and was looking for something to do to keep myself out of mischief, and I heard about Ray. She was a close friend of Lamb from his early days in Paris and was his agent in Edinburgh.”

He added: “Ray wanted to write a biography of Lamb but she didn’t think it would happen at 100 years old, so I said I would try a biography about him.

“She gave me her collection. She had 350 of Lamb’s letters, it was a job to read them all and decide which ones were relevant and which ones were not, but the letters make the book more personal.”

Mr Stansfeld has dedicated the biography to Ray Simm.

He said: “I think Lamb is an artist of world class. I hope that the book will encourage people to go look at his work in his studio, that’s the whole point of it, because not many people do.”

He added: “When I mention Lamb many people say do I mean the Prime Minister? I say, no, I mean the Scottish artist.

“When he was working, there was an emphasis on Scottish artists living and working in Scotland, and Lamb wanted to be a Scottish artist, but by not going to bigger cities like London or Paris it means that he is not known much out of Montrose.”

Lamb trained for seven years as an apprentice with a stone masonry firm, then attended Gray’s School of Art, in Aberdeen, which is now part of Robert Gordon’s University, before he was called to the front line of the First World War, where he was injured three times. The most severe incapacitated his right hand.

The author said: “He came of age at the wrong time, he’d spent seven years training and then had to retrain in Edinburgh using only his left hand after the war. I think he had a terrific irresistible urge to create.”

Many people from the north east of Scotland will be travelling down for the event in Edinburgh, including Provost of Angus Helen Oswald.

Montrose resident John A. Smith, who contributed to the book with historical information and is in the acknowledgements, will be making the journey to the capital city. The bust pictured on the front over of ‘The People’s Sculptor’ is of his uncle Bill Smith.

Mr Smith, of Cairnwell Crescent, said: “I am very proud of him being on the front cover of the book.

Mr Smith’s family home was next to Lamb’s studio down Trades Close, off Market Street. He said: “My grandparents used to give Lamb his supper every night and my father and uncle lifted the plaster casts into his studio for him.”

Bill Smith, whose bust by Lamb has been chosen for the cover was born in 1901 and was an engineer merchant at Patents Mill.

The book has been published by Birlinn and has been supported financially by he Montrose Heritage Trust and the Friends of William Lamb.

Dr Andrew Orr, Montrose Heritage Trust chairman, said: ““There’s a lot of work behind the writing and production of a quality art book like this. We have backed it all the way because we believe that it will help to promote the achievement of one of Montrose’s, and Scotland’s, most talented artists and sculptors. This can only be very good for the Royal Burgh.”

Chairman of Friends of William Kitty Ritchie said: “This is a wonderful opportunity for Montrose and Angus to be seen in the capital city, through the new book and through some examples of Lamb’s work”.”

Mr Stansfeld said he had a lot of help from Dr Orr and Ms Ritchie, which he is thankful for.

‘The People’s Sculptor’ is on sale at Henry Hogg Booksellers, on the High Street. Owner Alistair Hogg, said: “It sold out in the first week and we have had to re-order. The response from the public has been very enthusiastic. People will undoubtedly return to buy more copies for Christmas presents.

“It is a really beautiful book, a quality production with excellent illustrations and a strong narrative story.“

A second more local book launch in Montrose, hosted by Taylor’s Auction Rooms will be on Monday, October 7.