Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Art donation to StFX’s Father Brewer Celtic Collection

August 22nd, 2017
Pictured, l-r, are John Blackwell, Laurie Stanley-Blackwell, Russell Jackson, Susan Cameron, and Michael Linkletter.

Several new pictures adorn the walls of the Father Brewer Celtic Collection of StFX’s Macdonald Library. On August 16, Dr. Laurie Stanley-Blackwell and John Blackwell donated four works by the Nova Scotia artist, Russell Jackson. 

These works, titled Gaisgeach (Warrior), Tannasg (Ghost), and Crois Naoimh Màrtainn (St. Martin’s Cross)—front and reverse views, feature dramatic images from Iona, an island off the west coast of Scotland. This sacred site of pilgrimage draws visitors from around the world hoping to retrace the steps of St. Columba and explore its history of saints and stones. Here can be found a restored medieval abbey, the ruins of an Augustinian nunnery, as well as St. Oran’s Chapel and Reilig Odhráin, reputed to be the resting place of the ancient kings of Scotland. Many scholars believe that work on the Book of Kells was begun at Iona. 

In 2007, Mr. Jackson was captivated by Iona’s iconic high crosses and stone markers, especially the effigies of knights on grave slabs: “I found Iona to be an inspiring, peaceful place. When I first saw the crosses and grave slabs, I knew that I had to draw them. Time seemed to stand still while studying the sculptures, and I felt a tangible connection to the past.”  

Before moving to Nova Scotia, where he freelanced for the Chronicle Herald, Mr. Jackson studied illustration and printmaking at Dundee University. He later worked as an illustrator in Sweden, as well as Iceland. In 2014, he was the recipient of an Atlantic Journalism Award for his illustration, “The Long Good-By.” In 2015, his Iona works were featured in an exhibit, “Beneath the Stones,” organized by StFX’s Broch Research Collective. 

The four works recently donated to StFX are based on gouache sketches transferred to metal plates as prints.

“After being hidden in a sketchbook for years, I’m thrilled these studies found a new lease on life, and are now part of the Celtic Collection at StFX,” Mr. Jackson says.  

Dr. Stanley-Blackwell, a StFX history professor, and Mr. Blackwell, Research Grants Director at StFX, say they can testify to the island’s magnetic and mystical appeal. They first visited Iona in 2015. It drew them back again in 2016, along with StFX Celtic Studies professor Dr. Michael Linkletter, as part of a SSHRC-funded study of Scottish funerary imagery. Dr. Stanley-Blackwell, recently appointed to the Board of Trustees for the Association for Gravestone Studies, says she considers Iona one of her most memorable research experiences. “We hope that Jackson’s compelling images will impress upon viewers Iona’s historic legacy as a beacon of learning and devotion,” she says.  

Susan Cameron, Special Collections librarian, welcomes this donation. “The subject matter is fitting for the topics pursued in the room. It has been a long time since we had new art work, and it will serve as an inspiration for those who use the room. The artist did a fine job in creating the images which evoke a time, place and culture.”  

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