Many people in Govanhill may be familiar with Alan Tanner, but may not be familiar with his stories. In the third and final part of this short series for Govanhill Voice we’ve mapped out a few more of Alan’s amazing adventures in art, and in life. So the next time you see Alan you can ask him about his madcap adventures in person!
“I was amazed to hear there was a famous Scottish sculptor called Greenshields, because that was my mother’s maiden name.” ALAN TANNER
“I’ve tried my hand at most forms of art: drawing, etching, painting, photography; but I think sculpting—the three dimensions—is the best there is.
Alan Tanner: Self-portrait
“I sculpted this bust of myself in ciment fondue, and when a lot of people see it, especially small children, they say: ‘Is it God?’ That always makes me chuckle. ‘God?’ Lovely!
“Originally the headphones were shoved onto my head as a lark, but over the years I began to feel they were part of the sculpture, and now it just wouldn’t look the same without them!
“Having been born in England, I was amazed to hear there was a famous Scottish sculptor called Greenshields, because that was my mother’s maiden name. It turns out the Greenshields are a clan from Lanarkshire, and in the 19th century a farmer’s son called John Greenshields designed and sculpted some of the best-known statues in Scotland. You’ve probably seen his memorial to the late Sir Walter Scott on top of the column in George Square? And he also did ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ at Glenfinnan…
John Greenshields sculpted an 8-foot tall statue of ‘Prince Charles Stuart’
“As we neared the spot where Greenshields’ cottage once stood, a Land Rover appeared on the path behind us.” ALAN TANNER
“Recently I found out Greenshields lived near Carluke in a little cottage on the banks of the Clyde. Its location was hard to find, because the cottage isn’t there any more. But this was where Sir Walter Scott had first met Greenshields and was greatly impressed by his work. I discovered the cottage was at a place called Willans, which is now part of a farm. So having managed to locate the exact spot, I decided to go and see it for myself…
Milton-Lockhart Bridge near Willans on the Clyde. Greenshields’ cottage stood in the field on the other side of the river
“The owners of the farm gave us permission to walk along a narrow wheel-worn path towards the back of a field where the cottage once stood. It was a gloriously serene, sunny day and no one else was around. Little white butterflies fluttered across vast carpets of green crops on either side…
Milton-Lockhart Bridge lower left. The wheel-worn path to the former site of the cottage is lower right
“As we neared the spot where Greenshields’ cottage once stood, a Land Rover appeared on the path behind us. A man leaned out of the window and said: ‘I believe you’ve come to see the Willans?’ When we said we had, he picked up a wooden board and said: ‘You’ll want to see this then…’
‘Willow Lands’ — named for its many willow trees — was shortened to ‘Willands’, then later to just ‘Willans’
“On the board was a map showing exactly where the Greenshields farm had stood almost two hundred and fifty years ago. It consisted of a main cottage and a couple of outbuildings. A narrow footpath led beyond the cottage to the riverbank. This was the exact spot where Sir Walter Scott had stepped ashore from a small boat rowed across the Clyde by Betty—the sculptor’s mother!
“On the map there was a tiny red box at the left-hand side of the main path. I realised this was probably the “thatch-covered shed” where Greenshields toiled with mallet and chisel over his colossal statues. The shed had to be close to the path because the heavy stone figures were loaded onto a cart pulled by several Clydesdale horses…
The wooden shed where Greenshields sculpted was probably at the end of the wheel-worn path behind me
“The man driving the Land Rover was William Young, the farmer, and as we examined the map he told us some marvellous stories about his life spent living on this land. As a boy he’d been awestruck when the owner of the Milton-Lockhart mansion (top centre of old map above) had given him chocolates, the first he’d ever seen in fancy wrappers. The River Clyde, he said, used to flow past the northeast side of the mansion, but the owners excavated the riverbed and changed its course to create a view of it curving elegantly past the windows of the southeast wing. In 1988 a famous Japanese film actor had the mansion taken apart brick by brick and sent to Japan, where it was rebuilt in an amusement park a hundred miles northwest of Tokyo.
“Although the sculptor’s cottage is long gone, I felt a deep connection to Greenshields and to Willans. And the unexpected kindness of William Young, showing us the old map and telling us his stories, turned this into a day I will never forget.
“Greenshields wasn’t keen on the tartan pantaloons, but I think I’d look pretty dashing in a pair, don’t you?’” ALAN TANNER
“Years ago I went to Glenfinnan in Lochaber to see Greenshields’ statue of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. It’s an 8-foot tall, kilted highlander standing on a column on the shores of Loch Shiel. However it’s said the statue isn’t Charles Edward Stuart at all, but Young George Lockhart, of Carnwath, who was a friend and follower of the Prince. There is an old story about how this came about.
“Greenshields wanted to study a likeness of his subject before starting the work. He heard there was a painting of the Prince at Lee Castle a few miles southeast of Willans, and arranged to view it. But when he called, the owners were away and the housekeeper knew nothing about the painting. There were two portraits of young men hanging side by side, with nothing to tell which was which. Greenshields chose the one of Young George Lockhart and made his model from it. When a friend pointed out his mistake, he said: ‘Well be as it may, I shall stand by that model. It is a thousand times more fit than the Prince in tartan pantaloons!’
“So, as it turns out, Greenshields wasn’t very keen on the tartan pantaloons, but I think I’d look pretty dashing in a pair, don’t you?”
ALAN TANNER was born in London on 22nd March 1937. He grew up in Birchington-on-Sea, a small resort on Kent’s northeast coast, and attended Thanet School of Art (Margate) and Canterbury College of Art, before serving in the British parachute regiment fighting EOKA guerrillas in Cyprus. In the early seventies his surreal, dream-like imagery featured on a number of album covers for bands in London’s flourishing underground rock scene, including Procol Harum, The Groundhogs, Hawkwind, and many other legends of British counterculture. He spent a decade in London as a graphic artist, first working for the notorious OZ magazine and then the entertainment guide Time Out. After bailing out of ‘the London rat race’ he found himself trudging through snowdrifts in the Scottish Highlands, only to come across a remote cottage where he began a whole new life—as a freelance artist, and a family man. He never left Scotland.
Alan Tanner’s Contact Info –
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