A–L/M–Z: The Mrs Jay and W. Gordon Smith Art Collection

Client: The Mrs Jay and W. Gordon Smith art collection is a unique culmination of a lifetimes work – a commitment to the arts spanning half a century and more of cultural change and artistic growth in Scotland. To call them collectors would only partly describe the extraordinary lives of Jay and W. Gordon Smith. W. Gordon Smith was also an art critic, author, dramatist, photographer and filmmaker known for his iconic televised arts programme by the BBC in Scotland including Scope and Spectrum. He later extensively wrote exhibition reviews for Scotland on Sunday and Visual Arts Scotland, in which he would strive to see the best in an artist’s work and seek out the intentions before making a judgment. Their art collection built up over a fifty year period, begun by Gordon in the 1960s and continued by Jay until 2019. The decision to purchase artworks were based on one simple principle – they both had to love the work and no matter how tempting, not to spend more than £1,000. All artworks were displayed in their home in Edinburgh and artists were invited to see their own but the work of their contemporaries as well. (Paraphrased biography written by Alexander Moffat, included in the book)


Brief & Concept: In 2018 Jay briefed me, amongst the artworks in her Edinburgh home, to discuss the catalogue accompanying this exhibition. In these conversations it became quite clear, that Jay & W. Gordon Smith’s contributions to the arts couldn’t be reflected by merely reproducing the art collection. Equally it was Jay’s strong view that the focus of the book should not be on themselves only, but on the artists. The agreed book design concept therefor conceived, was that it should appear as if it was Jay’s and W. Gordon’s own artists and artworks reference book – which one could have found on their own bookshelf. All consequent layout and design decisions followed this approach consequently, including detail where artwork had been purchased when that information was available.

The core colour scheme should equally reflect Jay & W. Gordon Smith’s taste, which became a rich yellow for the book cloth also found e.g. in Aitchison Craigie’s »Indian Crucifixion«, hung in their hallway.

In addition to the art collection, Jay retrieved exhibition reviews from the 1990s, typewritten and neatly filed away in two folders labelled A–M and L–Z, a detail we would later use on the book spine as well. Varying in length and size, these carefully selected exhibition reviews and notes not only contextualise and complement the artworks and biographies very well, but also give further insight into their unique relationships with the artist over decades.


Outcome: In addition to creating the book concept, structure and overall design, I reviewed and selected the exhibition reviews for the book and was in charge to commission and edit (jointly with Alexander Moffat) the short artist biographies written by Siobhan McLaughlin.

Noteworthy design details of the 400-page book are the luxurious yellow coloured paper used for the contents at the front (reflecting coloured paper found in W. Gordon Smith’s own notes), the index-cut biography pages (in black) which separate each section alphabetically from each other as well as the scanned exhibition reviews concluding each chapter.

Preview: Download an Excerpt of the book here.

Winner – TDC, TypeDirectorsClub New York, Communication Design, Winner
Bronze Award – European Design Award
Merit Award – ADC, Art Directors Club of New York
Shortlist (end result out of 21 books), Longlist (60) – Best German Book Awards
Shortlisted – D&AD Award
Shortlisted – British Book Design and Production Awards


Credits:  Artist biographies were researched and written by Siobhan McLaughlin (artist, curator and researcher). Helen Bleck was the proofreader and copyeditor. Alexander Moffat and Thomas Wilson (W. Gordon Smith Award trustees) provided further support and advise.

Production: Printed in Germany by Grammlich Lithoprinting. Exhibition reviews were digitalised by UK Archiving.

Thanks: This project was mainly produced during the Covid pandemic and despite the additional barriers we faced, we want to thank all artists, experts and institutions whom we contacted as part of the process. In addition also a thanks to John McArthur and Katie McCormack (Gillespie MacAndrew LLP executor for the Jay Gordonsmith estate).

The memorial exhibition is held in the Open Eye Gallery from 12th – 30th January 2021.