Jessie M. King

Jessie M King was born on March 20th 1875 in New Kilpatrick, now Bearsden, a growing suburb of Glasgow, where her father, the Rev. James King was minister. Jessie was the youngest of four daughters, her sisters were Evangeline, Adah and Margaret, and she had a younger brother, James Graham. The children were looked after by a nursemaid, Mary McNab or Maime as she was called, who remained as a second mother to Jessie for the rest of her life.

As a child Jessie showed a natural talent for drawing; her myopic eyesight allowing her to work in fine detail. Her parents were against her following art as a career, but eventually gave way and in 1892, at the age of 17, she enrolled as a student at the Glasgow School of Art. The course had a practical emphasis and required students to acquire and demonstrate a broad range of skills in both fine and applied art. 

The Director, Francis or 'Fra' Newbery, who remained a life long friend of Jessie M King, revitalised the School and it became the centre of a new distinctly Scottish form of the 'Art Nouveau' movement - which became known across Europe as 'the Glasgow style', most popularly recognised today in the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. 

In this lively and creative atmosphere, Jessie completed her course in 1899. Newbery encouraged her remarkably original and imaginative talent in illustration and commissioned design work from her for the School itself. In 1898 her 'Light of Asia' drawings won the silver medal in the prestigious South Kensington annual competition, and prompted the first of many enthusiastic reviews and articles on her work in 'The Studio' - an influential London art magazine. Whilst teaching part-time at the School, her career as an illustrator took off with a series of book cover commissions from German publishers. By the time of the first international exhibition of decorative art held at Turin in August 1902, (where she was awarded a gold medal), she was regarded as the pre-eminent book illustrator in the Glasgow movement. After this commissions flowed in from publishers for designs and illustrations, and several galleries exhibited her work. At this time she also designed jewellery and fabrics for Liberty's of London. 

From 1899, Jessie and her friend from the Art School, Helen Paxton Brown or Nell Brown for short, lived in adjacent flats at 101, St Vincent Street, Glasgow. Jessie's fiancée, Ernest A Taylor subsequently rented another flat in the building. He was a furniture designer for the Glasgow firm of Wylie and Lockhead, and a talented artist. But with no formal art training, he attended the Art School as an evening student. From 1903 he became a part-time lecturer in furniture design at the School, combining this with a new job, as chief designer for a furniture manufacturer in Salford, Manchester. School. It was around this time that Jessie first visited Kirkcudbright. The town was already known for its community of artists, centred around the 'Glasgow Boy' painter E A Hornel. On his advice, Jessie purchased an eighteenth century house on the High Street, which she later called 'Greengate'. In a letter to her sister Adah she wrote: 

'I have bought a house in Kirkcudbright - don't faint! It is situated in the high street there - five houses along from Hornel's. …at the back of the said house there is a long row of six cottages "all in one" which brings a yearly rental of £27-10 - 0 a year - these you pass to go to your garden which slopes away to a field. ..on the opposite side of the little cobble-stoned lane which divides the tenants' row of cottages from it is a 2 room and kitchen house attached to the washing house, stable and coach house these latter I am going to convert into a studio and when completed I'll have this for summer quarters and let the big house for which I could get £18 ..isn't it a rare idea - a kind of permanent nest whenever I wish it! 

In that same year, 1908, Ernest Taylor chose to settle permanently in Salford, the couple were married, and in August the following year their only child, Merle was born. Mary McNab came down to act as housekeeper and look after the child, allowing Jessie to continue her career. However, a year later Ernest accepted an invitation to take a teaching post at a new art school in Paris, which he combined with acting as the Paris correspondent of "The Studio" art magazine . The Taylors, with Mary McNab, moved to the Montparnasse artists' quarter of the city in 1910. After a year, the Taylors opened there own art school, which they called 'The Sheiling Atelier', in rented studios in the courtyard of their apartment at 16, Rue de la Grande Chaumiere. 

Here students from around the world were taught fine and applied art by the Taylors in the winter months. With the students' fees, Jessie's commissions (including illustrations for a book on Paris bridges) and Ernest's pieces for 'The Studio', the Taylors made a good living, and they supplemented this further by running an annual Summer School in painting and drawing on the island of Arran. So successful was this that the house in Kirkcudbright was used as a second base, with the cottages along Greengate Close providing accommodation for the students. 

When War was declared in August 1914, the Taylors were unable to continue teaching in Paris. Returning to Kirkcudbright in August 1915, they carried on with the Summer Schools, but other ways of making a living had to be found. Ernest was able to earn a little from lecturing and speaking engagements; Jessie had an interest in designing toys, and her book 'The Little White Town of Never Weary' published in 1917 was a children's design book for building a cardboard model town, based on Kirkcudbright. In the copy she gave to her friend, Hornel, she wrote 

'I think it was a very happy wind which blew me into Kirkcudbright some eleven years ago…since 1915 the fates seem to have decided that we should stay here for a longer time, and it was during this enforced stay that the charm of this quaint old-world town took real hold of me, wrapping its mystic web more closely round and going far to inspire the making of my Little White Town' 

The Taylor's interests in drama and costume design were harnessed to charitable fund-raising in Kirkcudbright during the First War. These included a Red Cross pageant in which Ernest played the part of St.Cuthbert, and their friend Sam Peploe, the Scottish colourist, was the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. 

After the war, The Taylors decided against re-starting their art school in Paris, but the apartment was kept on for Ernest's visits for 'The Studio'. Back in Kirkcudbright, Jessie's commission work began to revive, but she moved into two new areas of applied art. An American student of the theirs, Frank Zimmerer, had had introduced Jessie to the Javanese art of textile painting or 'batik'. Working with silk, she interested Liberty's in the fabric and it soon became commercially popular. In 1924 she wrote and illustrated a book about the technique, called 'How Cinderella was able to go the Ball'. 

Ceramic decoration was another new line of work. Using blank forms, supplied by commercial potteries, such as Methven's in Fife, Jessie painted on floral designs and sometimes illustrated themes, taken from nursery rhymes. She had several selling exhibitions in Glasgow, and worked to commission. A specially decorated ceramic was often presented as a gift to a friend, perhaps to commemorate a marriage or birth. Her main outlet for pottery in Kirkcudbright was the Paul Jones Tea Room. In 1932, as a favour to the owner, Jessie had re-modelled the interior and exterior on a pirate theme - even designing the waitresses' costumes. It was around this time that she wrote and illustrated a booklet about the town - 'Kirkcudbright - A Royal Burgh' - in the same style as booklets she had previously illustrated on Culross, Edinburgh and Glasgow. 

The Taylors had become key members of Kirkcudbright's artistic community. Their wide connections throughout the art world brought many artists to visit, and some to stay. Robert Burns, head of painting at Edinburgh College of Art , said at this time that no students training was complete without a spell with the Taylors. 

From the later 1920s, Jessie and Ernest worked together on a series of decorative murals in Lanarkshire schools; their last work of this type was a local commission for the Dalbeattie Youth Centre in 1944. Both commission work and teaching was interrupted by the Second World War, and Jessie's last commission for a cover design came in 1949, and was for a book titled 'The Parish of New Kilpatrick' - the same Bearsden parish where she had grown up. At the end of July of that year, she suffered a heart attack, and on August 3rd she died. Her ashes were scattered over the grave of Mary McNab at Minard on the west side of Loch Fyne. 

Her death was reported in the Scottish Press, but she was noted as the wife of the well-known artist E A Taylor. Her work was not forgotten however. An exhibition organised by the Scottish Arts Council in 1971 demonstrated the range and depth of her uniquely imaginative creativity to a new generation, and her work is now appreciated world wide. 

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