Mythic heroes of the Irish – December exhibition in the Art and Design Library

The December exhibition in the Art and Design Library is a tribute to some of the people who inspire the Irish according to Scottish-based Irish artist, Greag Mac a’ tSaoir. “Mythic Heroes of the Irish” is a series of 14 oil-painted portraits of such luminaries as Elvis, John F. Kennedy and Sinead O’Connor. Greag’s pantheon is a broad church, and the subjects might raise some eye-brows! 

Here is how Greag himself describes the exhibition:

“The starting point for these paintings was a previous body of work that dealt with memory and loss. I looked at a lot of photographs of Irish homes in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and noticed that these often featured pictures of cultural icons. That got me thinking about how people choose their heroes because many of the icons weren’t straightforwardly heroic. They were often flawed characters, and even failures. For me a hero, at least in the Irish sense, is someone who has succeeded against the odds, or failed. It’s the journey, not the destination.  This group of 14 paintings is an extract from a continuing project.”

Here is a little taster of the works, with the artist’s own descriptions:

Edna O’Brien

Edna O’Brien wrote unabashedly from a young woman’s perspective at a time when Ireland was still in the chokehold of conservative political forces and the Catholic church. She was banned in her own country, the ultimate accolade to the prophet she undoubtedly was. She held her nerve and kept writing stunning works which still have a rare emotive force. A visionary and a hero.

Edna O’Brien by Greag Mac a’ tSaoir

George Best

George Best was good looking, stylish and a supremely talented footballer but he blew it all, drinking his way through two liver transplants and fizzling out before he got old. Deep down, quietly and in secret many of us probably acknowledge that we would have done exactly the same. He has an airport in Belfast named after him though.

George Best by Greag Mac a’ tSaoir

Samuel Beckett

If the possibility of failure is central to the notion of heroism, then Samuel Beckett is John the Baptist preaching its gospel in the wilderness. ‘Fail again, fail better’ is the mantra of the existentialist hero. That craggy demeanour and ineffable cool make him a perfect subject too.

Samuel Beckett by Greag Mac a’ tSaoir

The exhibition runs throughout December, in the Art and Design Library, finishing on New Year’s Eve. We hope to see you there!

Mary Webster retold

In 2019, Tales of One City posted a blog about an amateur artist named Mary Webster and a collection of her lovely pencil drawings and watercolours of Scottish landscape scenes which we hold.

Kelso Abbey [Jedburgh Abbey]

At that time and after a fair bit of research trying to find out more about the artist, we had come up with little. Mary Webster had became a mystery woman.

Jump forward to 2021, and out of the blue we received an email from Christine McCracken who had come upon our blog and who happened to be a relative of Mary’s.

Christine was emailing from Australia and had grown up hearing about Mary who was her Mother’s grandmother’s aunt. Mary was described as a woman who was talented, travelled widely, wrote and painted en plein air.

Thanks to Christine we have been able to learn a lot more about Mary. Firstly, that she was in fact born in Scotland and one of 11 children. Her father was minister of the Parish Church of Inverarity. When her father died in 1807 the family moved to Carmyllie in Angus to stay with her grandparents.

We passed the email on to our volunteer John who had previously spent a long and fruitless search trying to track down Mary. Christine’s information reignited his determination to piece the puzzle together. He was then able to trace Mary in the census from Scotland to London and back again, and draft the birth and death dates of her siblings.

In our original blog we wondered if the seventeen year break in the paintings we had in our collection from 1830-1847 had been due to perhaps bringing up a family or if there were more paintings out there somewhere. We now know that Mary never married and there are paintings that cover the ‘missing years’. When Christine visited relations here in Edinburgh, she was shown Mary’s desk which was covered in small paintings and her sketchbooks of 1839, 1841 and 1842 completed while Mary travelled through England.

After Christine initially contacted us, she emailed back to say that her brother and herself had been inspired to do more research and a family member in Edinburgh had had a rummage and had found a photograph of Mary. We do not know how old Mary was when this photo was taken, but we now even know what Mary looked like!

Studio portrait of Mary Webster

Mary died on 5 April 1883 at 9 Queen Street , St Andrews where she lived with her sister Elizabeth.

Follow Mary’s Webster’s travels through 19th century Scotland in her watercolour paintings.

David T. Rose’s pictures of Edinburgh

Our latest Capital Collections exhibition showcases the beautiful watercolour paintings by Scottish artist David Thomas Rose held by Central Library.

Cockburn Street, c1942

David T. Rose was born, grew up and studied in Scotland but his working life as a civil engineer took him further afield including to Malta, Yorkshire, Wales and London. However, he regularly returned for family holidays visiting his sister in Edinburgh and other relatives in Fife. It’s believed the watercolours of Edinburgh and environs in this collection were painted on these trips. The exhibition features scenes of city life encompassing diverse areas including the Old Town and Craigmillar, Joppa and Leith.

Calton Hill, looking west, c1942

To view the complete set of 70 artworks, visit the wonderful David T. Rose’s pictures of Edinburgh exhibition on Capital Collections.

Craigmillar Castle, c1942

Art Library exhibition for May 2018

A new exhibition of paintings opens today by the blind Edinburgh-based artist Alan McIntyre, entitled ‘Moments in time’.

Shown together for the first time, Alan’s paintings are based on remembered cinema moments in time. They aim to capture moments of isolated individuals or fleeting gestures between the interactions of couples as frozen shadows and blurred images.

Alan has had a lifelong passion for art. He was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition and is now registered blind. He maintains his passion to produce art despite being both constrained and liberated by his altered experience of the world.

All paintings exhibited are for sale and a percentage of sales will go towards the recording of an audiobook from Calibre Audio Library. Calibre Audio Library produce audio books for people with sight problems, dyslexia and other disabilities.

The Moments in Time exhibition runs until 30 May in the Art and Design Library.

Visit Alan’s website for more information.

Art Library exhibition for October

October’s exhibition in the Art Library is ‘Heaven and Earth’, paintings by Huang Li of Mystery Ink Studio with calligraphy by Han Qi.


‘The art work, although simple, may also imply unpredicted mysteries; imply romance and integrity; imply cultural meaning and human spirit. These implications are the charm of the art; it endows people with enlightenment greater than that in the artworks themselves,’ so writes Huang Li, in her book of paintings and calligraphic works ‘Mysterious Ink’,  gifted to the Art & Design library last year.

Huang Li lives in Bejing and works at the Mystery Ink studio, and her work, alongside calligraphic works by Han Qi will show from 3rd – 29th October in the Art & Design Library.

Drawings and Paintings: exhibition by Morag Donkin

September’s exhibition in the Art Library at Central Library is by Morag Donkin, a final year painting student at Edinburgh College of Art. The exhibition entitled, ‘Drawings and Paintings’, brings together a large selection of her most recent pieces, which make reference to the familiar and the surreal. Morag was selected for the 2011 RSA Open Exhibition and won the Keith Prize for best work by a student.
The exhibition runs until 29th September.

“a diary” by Ola Rek

A collection of selected musings accumulated over the past few years, taking the form of paintings, monoprints, small ceramic pieces, as well as excerpts from sketchbooks.

Ola Rek is a Polish artist living in Edinburgh, working in a variety of media. She gained MFA at Academy of Fine Arts in Wroclaw, studied sculpture at Universidade du Porto, and has exhibited in Poland, Germany and the UK.

Art Library, 4 – 30 April 2012, free

Exhibition of paintings by Alan Kinloch Mackay


An exhibition of acrylic and watercolour paintings  inspired by Edinburgh and Scotland at Newington Library Sunday 27th February – Friday 25th March.