It's an important week. I don't say this because it just happens to be my birthday, today, Tuesday, August 17. Sixty-three years it is! No mistake, getting old. With age comes experience. Or so they say. I've certainly learned that when people have made up their minds about something, it is very difficult to get them to change their view.
I suspect that might be the case with the Royal Club Board of Directors. They have already spent some time at their July Board meeting, discussing the fate of Charles Lees's painting of the Grand Match. They made the decision then that the painting should go for auction unless some alternate solution could be found by the next Board meeting. That's on Thursday, this week.
To my mind, consultation with members has been minimal. It was minimal five years ago, and it has been again this month. There was one post on the RCCC website (here) and that's not even on the front page of the site anymore. I hope that some who are interested in curling's heritage will have read what I have written about it here, with suggestions on how the Board should proceed. And that they have made their views known to Willie Nicoll, the Chairman, or one of the other directors, Jeanette Johnston, Anne Malcolm, Bob Kelly, Trevor Dodds, Kay Gibb, or the RCCC President Robbie Scott, who is also a member of the Board. By the day after tomorrow, it will be too late.
It is nearly twenty years since I last saw the painting. I suspect that many of the Board have not seen it recently, if ever. And that's the problem. Reproductions, such as that on the cover of the February 1989 Scottish Curler, hardly present the painting in the best light. I remember it as being very impressive, hanging in the boardroom at Coates Crescent, and before that at Perth Ice Rink.
I would like to see the painting again, now. I'm sceptical when the Royal Club Board says that is faces a 'restoration bill of a minimum of £50,000, possibly escalating to nearer £100,000'. How reliable are these figures, and what do they mean? Is it all scaremongering, to convince us that there is no other course of action than to auction off the Club's biggest asset?
What work is really needed? What work is needed simply to ensure that the painting does not deteriorate further, and retains its current value, suggested by the auctioneers Sotheby's as being between £300,000 and £500,000. In what condition is the frame? What work is needed so that the painting can be hung again, if only temporarily, so that we can all see it. What work is REALLY needed to restore the painting to former glory?
I have already suggested that the best way forward is to have the painting taken into expert storage where it can be examined, without haste, and answers to the above questions obtained, and made available to all members. All with an intention that a new, permanent, home for the painting will be found one day, with the painting on loan from the Royal Club, rather than sold.
What is niggling me is the thought that perhaps the painting has been damaged, and this is the reason that a previous report of its condition has not been made public. If so, when did this damage occur? Whose fault was it?
If damage has occurred, let's be quite clear where some of the blame must lie. The painting has been owned by the Royal Club for more than one hundred years. If it is shown that the Royal Club Council of past years, by its negligence, allowed the painting to become damaged, then we will all need reassurance that the present Board is looking after all the other items of curling memorabilia in its care.
Yes, I'm guilty of scaremongering now.
But one thing I'm sure about today is that, even if the Charles Lees painting is sold on, we will all have to become more aware of those items of the sport's heritage that we, the members and directors of the RCCC, have been charged with looking after. What's the point of collecting items from the sport's history, as the RCCC Trust is actively doing, if these are not going to be cared for?
If the Royal Club is unwillingly to care for our sport's memorabilia, perhaps the answer for the Board is to sell off ALL the Royal Club's historical artifacts. If the Lees painting goes to open auction, then the precedent will have been set. This is certainly an important week!
There is now a Facebook group for Friends of the Grand Match painting, go here.