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How One Man’s Family Quest Unearthed a Rich Heritage of Paintings of The Auld Toon

New Zealand born Allan Main undertook a remarkable quest lasting 20 years and taking him around the globe – after the discovery of a dusty painting stored with old family photographs in his father’s trunk.

After his father’s death in 2001, Allan took the painting, signed W Main, to art restoration experts. They were not impressed.

”They said it was trash, toss it out,” he said.

But Allan wanted to know who the people in the painting were, and where they came from.

”I feel like Uncle Willie left a trail of bread crumbs for someone to find and follow,” he said, ”I guess that was me.”

The painting found in a trunk that kindled a passion

American link and Stonehaven Relatives Helped Fill in Blanks

Allan stumbled across a Los Angeles woman who had inherited one of Willie’s paintings and who was herself seeking information about the artist.

She led Alan to Stuart McKenzie, a descendant of Willie Main’s, still living in Stonehaven. So, in 2015, Allan came here to meet with Stuart, who provided him with vital information on his family tree.

Great Grandad James Main

Willie Main was born in Stonehaven on the 31st of January 1884, the second son of Jane Scott and shoemaker James Main. He was one of three sons and six sisters. The family lived at 1, Old Pier.

One of the boys was Allan’s grandfather James. He left Stonehaven for a new life in New Zealand, where he arrived in 1906.

Allan born in New Zealand in 1953

Australian Uncle Found – too late!

Allan discovered three of Willie and James’ sisters had also emigrated – to Sydney, Australia. And there was a son still living.

”I spent a year trying to track him down, blind calling phone numbers, police stations etc and all to no avail.

”I finally got a positive lead on his location and called, only to find he passed away the day before – a very true story I promise .

”I was told by his wife she had some paintings and letters, so I took off to Australia to meet and see what she had. The rest is history.”

Auld Toon Heritage Abounds in On-line Gallery

What Allan discovered is that his great uncle Willie was a very prolific painter, who clearly loved both his home town and his distant family.

”I am aware of art in the USA, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand and Australia,” said Alan.

 ”There will be many more hidden in attics or hanging on walls without any knowledge of the artist at all.”

The images – many of which may have been painted from memory – are a fascinating insight into life in the auld toon, which he never left.

In adulthood Willie lived at 3 The Cross, close to the Town House with its distinctive clock tower, which features in many of his paintings.

Junction of Albert Lane and John St – showing gable of 3 The Cross, Willie’s house

Old closes and long-lost pantiled buildings are brought back to the life they enjoyed before the sanitising slum clearances of the 20th Century. The herring boom of the 1880s is depicted in fleets of Zulus. And the Backies and watergates regain the charm that brought children paddling.

Allan said: ”Willie was a very humble man by all accounts and spent his later life as a gardener. He was a wag in many respects and grew his tobacco plants in the attic of the home at No 3 the Cross so as not to pay taxes.

”I have been totally blessed to be able to find his works and you can see how his style improved as he got older. He tried many methods and to my mind was a master of most.”

On-line Gallery of Willie’s Work

And Allan has brought Willie’s paintings together into an on-line gallery, where they can be viewed and enjoyed.

”People have said his work is worthless as it is not fine art. I disagree obviously and believe his work tells a story of Scottish village life in a very difficult period.”

The Backies

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6comments
Ali Brown - November 22, 2020

What a fascinating story and a wonderful website of lovely paintings, well done The Bellmam for this lovely story.

Reply
frank.robertson2017@gmail.com - November 22, 2020

Brilliant stuff.

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Susan - November 23, 2020

Very interesting. Thanks.

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Elizabeth Rees nee Main - November 23, 2020

Hi, I was born at 29 New Street Stonehaven in 1927. My father was Joe Main son of Robert Main Fisherman, who lived in 6 Castle Street at that time. The paintings remind me of the Stonehaven when I was a child as I moved to
Keith Place, when I was 3, and the harbour was my playground.

Reply
Linda Beattie - November 23, 2020

Bygone days brought to life with lovely paintings.
Love the story.

Reply
Bob Murray - November 23, 2020

To paint them from memory,fantastic!

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