• Arran Arts Heritage Trail

The Paton Family - Artists on Arran



I grew up looking at my great grandfather’s paintings. They were always present, in whatever house we lived in. Finely tuned, powerful images of mountains, mists, hillsides, orange bracken and weather. As a painter, he was clearly mesmerised by his surroundings and the landscape of Arran. My mother had grown up in Corrie and Sannox. My grandmother’s island family, originally hailing from Dunfermline Fife, date back to to 1720. Fishermen, boat builders stonemasons, nurses and painters.



My great grandfather, Donald Paton (not to be confused with Donald A. Paton who was a different painter, confusingly similar in age but not related) was feued land from the estate after WW1 as many Arran families were at that time. This encouraged the burgeoning island tourist industry. The agreement was that large houses were built capable of hosting paying guests, with small back houses used by resident families during summer seasons.



Donald Paton built Paton’s Tea Rooms in 1924 which would later be extended to become Black Rock House, a twelve bedroom boarding house my grandparents would eventually run until 1966. Black Rock was famous for my grandmother’s baking and cooking (Donald, her father, painted a beautiful mural in the dining room, still there somewhere under layers upon layers of household paint and plasterboard) and was regular summer home to hill walkers, many a geology student and professor (still regular visitors to Corrie and Sannox given its association with Hutton’s Unconformity) and of course, artists.


Paton’s Tea Rooms, Corrie

Joan Eardley and Margot Sandeman visited Corrie regularly, where they rented a tiny house known as the Tabernacle, still visible from the Corrie shore. Jessie M King, notable Glasgow Girl, was also a Corrie regular, visiting to run summer schools and paint, occasionally alongside her friend and fellow artist/designer Charles Rennie Macintosh. She very was fond of my grandmother’s afternoon teas apparently, and later they became good friends. A photograph of my grandmother wearing Jessie’s famous hat, coat and gauntlets beside her bike is pride of place still.


Donald, 1861-1931, was a stonemason by trade and formally untrained as a painter. He did paint though, and regularly. Self taught, he worked en plein air, favouring challenging weather and terrain. The creative genes were clearly embedded in the bloodline, as a relation of Sir Joseph Noel Paton, illustrator, sculptor and poet. Famous for his paintings of Scottish folk and fairy lore housed in The National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh. Also, Sir Joseph Noel’s brother (both RSA academicians) Waller Hugh Paton and their often unmentioned sister, a successful sculptor, famous for her contributions to The Scott Monument, Emmilia McDermaid Paton (later Amelia Robertson Hill by marriage). Both Sir Joseph Noel and Waller Hugh Paton regularly visited Arran to paint and to holiday.


Amelia Robertson Hill, Bust of her brother, Sir Joseph Noel Paton - National Portrait Gallery


Donald went on to have five children, one of whom was my grandmother, and another of whom was painter, Hugh Paton. Because he had been untrained, Donald insisted his son, showing early talent, should attend Art College. Hugh exhibited a much looser, more contemporary style, with blocky bold colours, thick border lines and simple compositions. Later, Hugh’s daughter Avril Paton became a successful painter, famous for her painting, Windows In The West. Many of Donald’s great grandchildren have also been creative - actors, singers, musicians, writers and makers.


Having spent much of my childhood on the west coast of Scotland and on Arran, the landscape seems to have tattooed itself on my psyche. The spectacular combination of rugged blue hills and the sea is a gift for an artist and I too went on to become a painter. Landscape, and importantly for me, the impactful images of mountains I grew up with, have provided a reference through which to explore themes of environmental change, isolation, wilderness and otherness in my own work.


Rowan will be showing at the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh next year, and is the most recent winner of the W Gordon Smith Award.