Book Week Scotland – 1#

A personal rake through my favourite books for Book Week Scotland

Book 1: The songs of the Ettrick Shepherd / [James Hogg ; illustrations by Jessie M. King]; Edinburgh : T.N. Foulis, [1911]

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I came across Jessie Marion King’s book illustrations and book designs in the Glasgow Mitchell in 2007 while researching for the James Hogg Songs Project. The Mitchell’s edition still has the paper covers over the seven beautifully coloured plates depicting fairies and angels, idealised country scenes, dreamy, misty-eyed women and bonny wee girls. The illustrations are mostly of scenes in ‘Kilmeny’, Hogg’s most well-known and well-loved lyrics from The Queen’s Wake (1813), oft-reprinted. Closer to King’s time, Hamish McCunn composed a cantata titled Bonny Kilmeny (performed in Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall on 13 December 1888).

I like Jessie Marion King (1875-1949) for lots of reasons, not just her delicate watercolours, detailed pastel paintings, her Arts and Crafts book covers or her art nouveau pen and ink drawings. A student of Glasgow School of Art (1899-1907), she won a Queen’s Medal for her design work in 1899. She taught book art design at Glasgow from 1902 and in that year she won a gold medal for a gold-tooled while velum book cover year at the International Exhibition of Decorative Art in Turin.  She married the artist E. A. Taylor and with him set up an art school in Paris. They lived in Manchester and eventually, moved to Kirkcudbright in 1914 to deepest south-west Scotland. She had a daughter, Merle, and they lived in the artists’ colony around Hornel at Kirkcudbright until her death in 1949.

King worked across artistic fields – in ceramics, wallpaper, jewellery, textiles, costume design, as well as illustrating cards, books and book covers. She illustrated the book cover for an edition of R. L. Stevenson’s Memories (Edinburgh: Foulis, 1911) and designed covers and illustrated editions of prominent poets and authors, including, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson, Morris and the Rossettis.

She’s a favourite of mine because she had it all – more than many women manage in the 21st century – wife and mother as well as a commercially successful artist – a free spirit and an independent mind.

There’s an interesting list of her illustrated books (including Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’) on Textualities.net

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