Pictish key pattern

At first glance this appears to be a leather book cover. It has clearly been folded, but there is a problem – there is no means of holding it in place over a book. Perhaps the fold reflects the way the piece was stored rather than its use.

This item is one of many that came to the museum in a wooden box, sent by the Bain family in 2011. But we aren’t sure if the leather was embossed by George Bain or Iain, his son. He started studying Celtic art after he retired in the late 1970s. The form of the key pattern is very similar to that on his greetings cards. Iain was an engineer, not an artist or illustrator, so the designs he produced are quite schematic. Somehow they lack the fluidity of his father’s work.

George Bain studied the key patterns on the Rosemarkie stones and used drawings of them in his study of Celtic key patterns. Presumably he used illustrated reference books as his source. However, it is possible that he visited Rosemarkie church to see them, while the family was visiting his wife’s home near Inverness. Today, all of the sculptured slabs can be seen at Groam House Museum.

See Bain’s Celtic Art, Methods of Construction page 76, Plate 3 and
Iain Bain’s Celtic Key Patterns publ 1993