My book on Joan Eardley has generated a remarkable number of talks and book signings. People come up after the talks saying their great aunt bought two Eardley paintings when they could still be afforded or that they have inherited a small pastel that they would never part with. One Glaswegian told me how as a small boy one winter night in a pea-souper of a fog, the Glasgow buses and trams stopped running and so he had to walk to his violin lesson through Townhead. This was the slum area in which Joan had one of her studios. He remembers being terrified of this dark, threatening area. That Joan Eardley worked in Townhead says much about her courage and determination.
After one talk, a lady introduced herself as Vivien Devlin who, in 1983, compiled a radio broadcast about Eardley. It was broadcast, she said, quite a number of times. I hadn’t managed to track her down to put her in my book; but now she has sent me a tape of the broadcast – and clearly she must be added to the bibliography in the Second Edition!
An Irish film director, Aisling Walsh (a recent recipient of a BAFTA), wanted a signed copy of the book and then told me she had long been planning a film based on Joan’s life. We have met since to discuss her project and will keep in touch.
Before another talk, a man told me his great uncle owned the farm next to Catterline, the fishing village Joan spent years immortalising in paint – the North sea, the summer meadows, the sunsets. The great uncle didn’t apparently think much of Joan’s paintings (he preferred chocolate-box images). He was even more scornful, however, of her attempts at digging potatoes: she was no “tattie howker,” he said. My informant had heard this story from his father. To make sure I quoted it accurately he phoned his Dad who denied all knowledge – thus scuppering another nice potential myth about Eardley. On the other hand, my informant’s mother does vividly remember seeing Eardley in Aberdeen one day. The artist was busy sucking an orange at the time.
Joan’s artist friend Angus Neil, according to another artist who knew him (Douglas McKechnie by name), seems to have rescued a batch of letters to Joan left in one of her cottages in Catterline when she died. Douglas came up to me after one talk. He remembered Angus saying he’d put the letters in a tin and then proceeded to bury them “at the foot of a tree in Hamilton.” The question is: should I hire a metal detector and go detecting? If these letters were ever discovered, they seem likely to have been to Joan from various friends, including perhaps her mother. The only surviving letters that are known so far are letters from Joan to various friends and her mother. Obviously letters to her would be of great interest…. But how many million trees are there in Hamilton?