Rev Colin Renwick, minister at Dunblane Cathedral, shares an appreciation of silversmith Graham Leishman Stewart (1955-2020).
Graham Stewart, who died in Edinburgh on Wednesday 28 October, is widely regarded as one of the finest silversmiths of his generation. Born in Bridge of Allan and educated at Dollar Academy and Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, Graham’s earliest influence in the craft, at which he was to excel, was his father, William Morrice Stewart, an optical instrument maker who trained as a silversmith in later life.
Graham’s shop and workshop in Dunblane’s High Street was a place to which lovers of fine quality silver and jewellery from all over the world made their way. Both as a designer and craftsman, Graham commanded the respect of his peers and the many admirers of his work all over the world. His sculpture, The Honours of Scotland, sits in the main hall of the Scottish Parliament, and he is responsible for the claret jugs that are part of the millennium collection for Bute House, the official residence of the First Minister.
Yet, for all his undoubted success, and all the well-deserved plaudits, Graham remained a deeply humble and gentle man, who took as much care in helping someone visiting his shop to select just the right gift for Christmas or any other special occasion, as with the most prestigious commission. Precious though their purchases from Graham may be, so also are the memories people have of their encounters with Graham as they made their choices or worked with him as he sketched a design, seemingly with such ease.
As well as being full of things of great beauty, many of which were created on the premises by Graham and his colleagues, countless people have spoken of finding his shop a serene and restful place, suffused with something of the gentleness and warmth of the man whose name it has borne since he established it in 1978.
Much of Graham Stewart’s work has been inspired by poetry and Celtic spirituality, with its deep sense of God in the midst of creation. His deep love and knowledge of poetry flowed seamlessly into the magnificent calligraphy that adorned much of his work. One of my abiding memories of Graham was of him reading poetry by Seamus Heaney to me from his hospital bed. Not for the first time, nor the last, did I feel more blessed by Graham’s company than I suspect he could ever have been by mine.
Nature was also a constant source of inspiration to him: an interesting seed-head, or a crocus bursting forth from the ground, seen when he and his wife Elizabeth were out walking their dogs, would be sketched by Graham on his return home before taking shape in silver in due course. I remember admiring a table centre, the inspiration for which was some star anise.
Graham has been a good friend to Dunblane Cathedral, with which he has had a long association, faithfully dealing with any bashes and scrapes suffered by the cathedral’s communion silver over the years, or cleaning the intricate silver lantern that hangs above the font. His very generous gift to the cathedral of a communion cup, designed by him and made in his workshop, is something that I suspect will be treasured and used for many generations to come.
Although essentially a quiet and private person, Graham has been a good friend to many people in Dunblane and far beyond. An outstanding artist and silversmith, as well as a good teacher of his craft, he retained, along with his deep sense of humility, a lovely capacity for wonder and appreciation. Out of such deep humility, patience and a rare gift for careful observation, true wisdom can emerge. Graham was, indeed, a wise man.
Many of those of us who were privileged to know Graham may wonder if a man so genuinely humble ever truly knew just how talented and deeply loved and respected he was.
Graham is survived by his wife Elizabeth, their children, Thomas and Hannah, and their spouses, his grandson Ivor, his mother Betty, who celebrated her 100th birthday in September, his sister Wilma, and his brother Iain.