Plaque unveiled for genius Christie

The family of  Shetland sculptor and “native genius” Adam Christie unveiled a special memorial plaque in Cunningsburgh  yesterday in tribute to his life and art.

A large crowd gathered for the ceremony including relatives, Shetland Islands Council convener Malcolm Bell, depute political leader Billy Fox, and members of the Cunningsburgh History Group.

In November, the former crofter from Aith was chosen as one of 12 Scottish figures to be celebrated with a commemorative plaque by Historic Scotland.

Christie joins the likes of John Logie Baird, inventor of the television, and steam engine visionary James Watt.

Various speeches were given in tribute of the cherished artist, who suffering from depression, went to Sunnyside psychiatric hospital in Montrose in 1901, aged 32.

There, Christie painted and carved all his life, and specialised in head sculptures, using makeshift tools such as a six-inch nail, a file and a worn down piece of glass.

During his time at the asylum, Christie carved stone heads which he distributed around the asylum grounds and gave as gifts to the people of Montrose.

Sunnyside consultant psychiatrist Dr Ken Keddie took a great amount of interest in Christie and his work.

Much of what is known about Christie is from Dr Keddie’s research of him in his 1984 book The Gentle Shetlander.

Christie’s stone heads have also been exhibited in museums in Montrose and Glasgow.

Christie created paintings using old tins of paint and old flour bags for canvasses. A lover of music and verse, he wrote poetry, music and made fiddles out of old tea chests.

His fiddle tune Aith Rant was performed yesterday by Alison Moar and Sophie Moar- crowned this year’s Shetland Young Fiddler of the year.

Christie remained in Sunnyside asylum until his death in 1950, and was buried in a pauper’s grave.

In May, a commemorative plaque was unveiled in Sleepyhillock Cemetery in Montrose  – where Christie was buried.

This was part of Historic Scotland’s commemorative plaque scheme. The second Historic Scotland plaque now takes pride of place outside of the Cunningsbugh History Group building, next to Cunningsburgh Hall.

Christie’s grand nephew, Peter Christie, has also built a cairn for the plaque, using stone from Adam Christie’s old house in Aith.

While looking for stones to construct the stand, he came across a stone with Christie’s name carved into it – this showed Christie had started carving prior to leaving the isles in 1901.

“We just found it by accident in a pile of stones,” said Peter.

“It was a total surprise that one.”

Also included in the cairn is a stone sculpture by Peter – showing the family skill has continued down the generations.

Below the plaque read the words “Adam never returned to Shetland, but his homeland never left his heart.”

Arbroath musician Dave Ramsay also gave a speech at the opening.

He has been working hard to have Christie’s work recognised and paid tribute to the man with a few lines of Christie’s poetry.

A very successful exhibition of Adam Christie’s work was held in Montrose last year, organised by Mr Ramsay, who also nominated Christie for the commemorative plaque.

Peter’s wife, Pat Christie, attended the event and is secretary of secretary of the Cunninbgsburgh History Group.

She said: “The family is just delighted that he has this recognition. It’s quite something to to be one of those 12 significant characters.”

The group is looking to have an Adam Christie garden in future, and there is more information that the history group is wanting to share, said Pat.

A collection for mental health charity Mind Your Head was also held at the event.

Leona Grains, Christie’s great grand niece, said it was “hugely important” for the family to know more about their family history and mental health issues – comparing the stigma that was attached to mental health then to stigmas attached now.


Add Your Comment
  • Rosa Steppanova

    • September 2nd, 2014 13:37

    At long last this wonderful man and talented artist gets the recognition he deserves. I’m only familiar with one of his sculptures, displayed in the foyer of the old museum. What happened to it? Where is it now? Can anybody enlighten me?
    It would be great to see an exhibition of his work in Shetland. Perhaps Shetland Arts/Shetland Museum could arrange this?


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