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The Art of Genealogy

Posted on January 2, 2013 at 8:20 PM

In researching my own McGee family history my Uncle Duncan related a family legend passed down by my grandfather, also John McGee. My grandfather was born in the hamlet of Springside in the parish of Dreghorn in Ayrshire in 1893. My grandfather told Duncan that when he was a wee boy an artist came to Springside and he required an old man and a wee boy to pose for a painting that he had been commissioned to do. My grandfather maintains that he was chosen as the wee boy and the painting was called "Ye Maunna Tramp on the Scotch Thristle Laddie!" (Translation: you must not stand upon the Scottish thistle my good young fellow!) I have tried for years to find a trace of this painting, but to no avail. It was probably commissioned by the Paisley based Thistle soap company Isdale & McCallum Ltd, possibly to hang in their boardroom, or more likely as an advertising poster to promote their soap brand. The image of the old man pulling the thistle from the small boy's foot actually pre-dates my grandfather's birth. In fact, it was the brand image for the Thistle Soap Company and they commissioned a large statue of the man and boy for the 1881 Glasgow Exhibition at Kelvingrove. A few years ago it stood in Eglinton Park, Irvine (co-incidentally, near to my grandfather's birthplace) until it was vandalised. Porcelain models of the statue, which used to be placed in Victorian shop windows, still appear infrequently in auction sales today. However, my search for the missing painting continues to this day. I have decided to commission a local Glasgow artist to do a modern retake on the "Scotch Thristle" painting, which will be completed by this summer. If any eagle-eyed reader comes across the original painting please let me know.

Categories: Genealogy

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Reply chestermac
5:37 AM on April 23, 2013 
There never was a painting of the man and boy. It was a commissioned statue for Isdale and McCallum for the 1888 Glasgow exhibition to launch their new Thistle soap. The boy is my great uncle Alexander Stirling Cross ( 1879 - 1917). It so took the public inaginatiuon that it became the companiy's trademark and numrous models were made, some as adverts and others as ornaments. Maybe your granfather was the model fo the older man - could check the dates of births. My mother saw the statue in a tearoom in Longniddry and enquired and was told the owner was related to the older man. Hope this helps