McNicol, Ailsa Ann
Ailsa Ann McNicol, jeweller (1952-2023) began her life in Saltcoats. Her father was a market gardener and in 1961 the family moved to Corriecravie with 9-year-old Ailsa, her sister Ann and brother Donald. They lived at Ashgrove where there was ground and continued to grow mainly roses but also flowers and vegetables, selling them from an honesty box by the roadside. They later moved to Kilmory house in Lagg.
She attended Kilmory Primary School, Arran High and studied her Highers at Rothesay Academy on Bute.
On leaving school Ailsa applied to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama to study at the Atheneum in Glasgow. (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) She studied acting for two years before changing direction to do an apprenticeship in silversmithing with the renowned Scottish silver jewellery designer, Norman Grant at Lundin Links in Largo on the Fife coast.
Grant had a small number of staff and ran a summer school programme for students who came from around the world. In his work, he was influenced by natural forms and the coastal landscape, and his jewellery was associated with the revival of Art Nouveau in the 1970s.
The influence of Norman Grant on Ailsa’s work is clear; her high level of craftsmanship and Modernism with sometimes a hint of Art Nouveau style. Living and working for most of her life by the coast, on the Isle of Arran, is reflected in the style of Ailsa’s work. It was also with Norman Grant that she learned the technique of enamelling combined with Sterling Silver.
On return to Arran, Ailsa set up her first jewellery workshop in the old coal house of the Invercloy Hotel in Brodick. She worked from here for many years, during which time she was mentored by another well-known Arran Jeweller, Mike Gill.
Her workshop moved several times. Firstly, she set up the Arran Craft Gallery, which is now Arran Gift Box, with the idea of bringing craftspeople working in different disciplines together. She invited many to show and sell their work in the gallery. She was joined by Margo McLellan, a stained-glass artist, the two became business partners and eventually moved the Arran Craft Gallery to the premises now Driftwood in Brodick.
In 2011 they moved the workshop to Corrie, opening a little café and craft gallery, the Rockpool, where she was also helped by her close friend Renee. Here Ailsa continued to invite other craftspeople to share her retail space.
In 2018 Ailsa and Margo made the decision to close the Rockpool after 18 years of being business partners. It was then that she built a workshop in her garden at Merkland, this time not being open to the public but focussing on what she loved to do, create beautifully crafted pieces of jewellery.
She worked from here, with her black Labrador, Bella, never far from her side, until she became ill and sadly died in July 2023. During her last few years, she began to pass on her skills, teaching local doctor and friend, Isla Cox, who has now inherited all of Ailsa’s workshop tools and materials.
Her creativity extended beyond silversmithing.
She was a member of the Kilmory junior choir, founded by her mother Irene, and as an adult, she was the main driving force behind Kilmory Singers, doing all their musical arrangements. She was involved in starting the Arran Folk Festival and worked with various musicians on the island. For many years she coached children for the music festival both in music classes and in speaking. When Ailsa’s mum began Brodick Players, Ailsa was able to use her acting training as a popular member and had parts in all their productions.
Ailsa had a successful jewellery-making business for over 50 years. There can’t be many women on Arran who don’t proudly own one of her pieces, she was very much established as Arran’s jeweller and her legacy will continue.