Mayor launches Craig Art Exhibition at North Down Museum

I launched the James Humbert Craig exhibition last week at North Down Museum. The exhibition will run from 3 Sep 2013 - 28 Nov 2013 See link for more details about Opening Times. Notes from my speech below outlining biographical history of Craig.

James Humbert Craig or Jimmy, to his friends, was born in Belfast on 12 July 1877. His father Alexander Craig was a tea merchant. However, it was from his mother Marie Sabine that he inherited his artistic flair. Marie Sabine Metzzenen came to Ireland from Switzerland with a school friend whose family were Belfast shipbuilders she met Alexander and they married in 1874.

When James was a child the family decided to move to Bangor where they built a house named 'Craigwelyn' on the Ballyholme Road. Their second home in the town was 'Craigalea' (160 Groomsport Road) which was demolished in 1986.

Jimmy was an incredibly talented man with many hobbies. A friend once said "Jimmy Craig was not only a good painter; he was a good fellow, a good sport, a keen loser and a jubilant winner on the football field". Craig was a founder member of Bangor Rugby Club. He was also an accomplished musician who played on occasion with the Belfast Philharmonic Orchestra. However, it was a love of the sea which he could combine with his passion for art that overtook it all. Jimmy enjoyed sailing, fishing and a daily swim even in winter.

At the age of 14, Jimmy was apprenticed to his father's business which he disliked.  He was often found by his father or members of staff hidden away among tea chests painting.

He first exhibited at the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1915. His early work reflected his time in County Down with depictions of places such as Bangor, Groomsport and Clandeboye.

In 1919 he purchased Tornamona cottage in Cushendun where he would paint for the rest of his life. A blue plaque was unveiled on the cottage in 2009.

Craig was selected to represent Ireland in the Art Competition 1932 of the Los Angeles Olympics. Sadly he came away without a medal but one reviewer commented "his refined technique and his brilliant and pure translucent colours, mark him out as a craftsman with a great future".

Craig never painted for money or followed trends. When anyone asked him about other artists he simply answered "sure, aren't we all doing our best?" He painted whenever the mood took him and that included abandoning whatever he was doing at any time if inspiration struck.

Throughout his life he travelled for inspiration and shows. He also made several expeditions to Switzerland, France (Savoie and Provence regions), Belgium, Holland and Spain. He had regular one-man shows in Dublin, Glasgow and London at renowned galleries such as the Royal Academy.

While he enjoyed travelling the continent, Ireland was the only country he really wished to capture especially Counties Antrim and Donegal. He himself said "if painters only knew the charm of the Glens they would come from all parts of the world to depict them on canvas".

His last trip was to paint in Donegal where his health failed him. He returned to Cushendun where he passed away on 12 June 1944. He is buried in Layde Parish Church in the heart of his beloved Glens. As his brother-in-law Stanley Prosser said "Even on his last journey to paint in Donegal, he could not rest until he was back in the Glens."

In November 1948 Jimmy's widow Mrs Annie Craig donated the painting 'Glendun, Cushendun' to Bangor Borough Council (later NDBC). This marked the beginning of the Council's beautiful collection. In Annie's will a further twelve paintings were bequeathed to the Council on the condition they "set aside a suitable room to be known as 'Craig Room' and that no other paintings pictures prints etchings lithographs or photographs be hung displayed or exposed in such room". Bangor alone was selected for such a generous gift which shows the link between Jimmy and the town.

The collection was enhanced in 1960 when Sir Percival Brown donated a portrait of Craig by Maurice Wilks, while 'The Antrim Hills' was presented by Mr Brice in 1963. The room, formerly the library of Bangor Castle continues to be called 'The Craig Room' to this day.