About George Bain

George Bain (1881-1968) was a Scottish illustrator, watercolourist, designer and art teacher. His Celtic Art instruction manuals have inspired countless artists and craftspeople since they were first published in 1945. 


Bain’s story reflects a strong determination to be an artist. When he left school at 14 he went to work in an Edinburgh printers and enrolled for part-time study at the Schools of Applied and Fine Art. Afterwards, aged 21, he won a place at London’s Royal College of Art. While there Bain worked as a freelance newspaper artist. In 1905 he returned to Edinburgh, continuing to work as an illustrator and in the applied arts while studying at the Royal Scottish Academy Life School.

He married and soon needed to support a growing family. So, in 1912, Bain took a post as a secondary school teacher of art. Even then he didn’t abandon his studies, enrolling at the College of Art for a degree course. He finished in 1915, and soon joined the army for the 1st World War. On return from the Mediterranean Bain applied for a more senior teaching post. He became principal art teacher at Kirkcaldy High School. Presumably it was then that he really developed his passion for Celtic art. This continued with new vigour after he retired in 1946.


During the 1920s Bain became captivated by Irish and British illuminated manuscripts and ornate metalwork created in the 600s to 800s AD. He was fascinated by the intricate artistry of Pictish carved stones of the same period. Being determined to understand their artistic styles, he produced numerous detailed drawings. Bain used them to work out how the designs were created, which he then illustrated in simple steps.  From 1945 onwards he published his methods in a series of popular instruction manuals which are still in print as Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction.

Bain wanted others to use his methods to create new designs in a Celtic style, hoping they would gain personal artistic satisfaction. He was also keen to promote a uniquely Scottish national art, and stimulate the rural economy. But as well as instructing others, Bain himself produced numerous designs in a Celtic style. They are for all kinds of items – from rugs to teapots, from knitting patterns to handbags.  The George Bain Collection contains these designs, and sketches, drawings and hand-drawn plates for his books. There is also the craftwork itself – carpets, leatherwork, woodwork, embroideries, ceramics.

These objects provide a unique insight into Bain’s working methods, his teaching, his publications, and his advocacy for Celtic art. We can even see ways in which his domestic life reflected his commitment to Celtic art. But the George Bain Collection doesn’t just consist of Bain’s work. It also includes designs and objects produced by other members of the 19th- and 20th-century Celtic art revivals.  The collection is held by Groam House Museum as a Recognised Collection of National Significance to Scotland.

About Groam House Museum

Groam House Museum is situated in the seaside village of Rosemarkie in the north of Scotland. The museum is renowned for its superb display of Pictish stones, originally part of the vibrant early Christian monastic settlement in the village around 1300 years ago. The designs carved on the stones tell stories of the power of kings, church and saints.

The museum’s local history collection is small but precious to the local area. It gives glimpses of the lives of people who stayed in Rosemarkie and in the neighbouring village of Fortrose during the 1900s.

Photo of Groam House Museum