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An unsung hero

A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions - Confucius
By Rob Allanson
The Scotch whisky industry is blessed with so many high-profile and larger-than-life characters that it is all too easy to overlook the important contributions made in various areas of the business by the quiet men of whisky, who do not seek the limelight or boast of their accomplishments.

One such man was Jim Drysdale, a multi-talented artist whose work across a wide range of brands will be recognised by everyone who reads this magazine, but whose name will be known to very few. Jim died in June, aged 73, having worked for East Kilbride-based Glencairn Crystal Studio Ltd since its inception in 1981, resolutely refusing to retire or even cut back on his workload until a few months before his death.

Born in 1939 and raised in the Govanhill area of Glasgow, Jim Drysdale attended Glasgow School of Art, before finding employment with Glasgow box manufacturer John Horn. Ultimately, he became the head of their art department before set-ting up as a freelance artist.

Raymond Davidson, founder and managing director of Glencairn Crystal recalls: “By the time I decided to open my first factory almost all of Jim’s com-missions were for me and Glencairn Crystal, so Jim joined me as my sole employee on my first day in 1981.

“He was an outstanding artist, capable of any task from oil paintings of still life, portraits, land-scapes; all manner of design work including labels and car-tons for the whisky industry. He could create fabulous mock-up samples, including foil emboss-ing and full technical drawings.

“Jim was also the most admirable man one could hope to meet, always self-effacing and never boastful of his great talent. In 30 years I never had a cross word with him.

“He would work through the night when we had rushed orders, such as the time we had to supply 5,000 crystal ship’s decanters for the QE2. He even brought his wife Jeanette in to help. He had a great wit, too, and as an excellent satirist and cartoonist he has left us with hundreds of memories of events captured with a wicked strap line.”

Although never a man to seek the limelight, away from his drawing board Jim Drysdale was a passionate supporter of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and worked hard and influentially behind the scenes on the organisation’s behalf.

One project with which Jim Drysdale was closely involved was the book Goodness Nose, writ-ten by Whyte & Mackay master blender Richard Paterson and Gavin Smith. Richard came up with the idea of having Jim produce a pencil drawing to open each chapter, and their apparently effortless and beautifully observed details set a great visual tone for the words to follow.

Paterson recalls: “Jim was a magnificent cartoonist and once secured a job with the Disney Corporation in the USA. Two days before he was supposed to fly out, he met a girl, Jeanette, at a farewell party in his honour and decided to remain in Scotland and marry her.

“Despite having designed hundreds of labels, cartons, decanters and trophies for the Scotch whisky industry, Jim was never fully recognised for his true artistry and dedication. He always remained in the back-ground, yet his contribution to the Scotch whisky industry was immense.”
Raymond Davidson’s son Scott, Director of Glencairn Crystal, adds that “Jim played a significant role in the 1990s with Scottish Leader developments, both with bottle decoration and packaging design.

“There are hundreds of pieces that bear testimony to Jim’s creative skills and talents.”

Raymond himself concludes that “Jim Drysdale was an ‘unsung hero’ of the whisky world who will be greatly missed, but thankfully his many designs will forever be with us.”