Jasper Wylie: Born Glasgow 19th June 1899
The Early Years
It has to be said, dear Jasper was not exactly brought up with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was born in Glasgow’s notorious Gorbals where frankly E.P.N.S. was a luxury. Life was tough. His parents Sadie and Jimmy Wylie, who worked in the blancmange department of a food processing company, were tragically killed in the great custard explosion of 1907. Young Jasper was brought up in a “room and kitchen” by his Granny, Big Isa Wylie. Granny was an indomitable spirit who had led the Gut Work Girls Strike of 1888. Isa was known the length of Hospital Street for her no nonsense ways with mince and as a woman who could make a meal for ten with an onion, an OXO cube and a single gas ring. Granny’s skills as a needlewoman were much sought after especially after a rammy in the Gallowgate on a Friday night. It is thought that Granny’s way with hooking rag rugs was to be a major factor in Jasper’s artistic development. Some of her earliest examples are now much sought after by Folk Art specialists. Indeed Granny Wylie was something of a well known hooker in Hospital Street.
On leaving Adelphi Street School, which he hadn’t attended much any way (due to a major bullying incident when the big boys took exception to his two tone boucle balaclava and matching muffler), Jasper was apprenticed to the Acme Mattress Re-Stuffing Company. This was known locally as “the hairy mill”. It was here that Jasper waged a constant war against ticking, horse hair and a tendency to chesty-ness. However, a bursary from the Starch Processors’ Benevolent Fund for Orphans set him on the road to design and gave him the opportunity to attend evening classes at the famous Glasgow Art School where he excelled in continental poker work and drawn thread embroidery.
Jasper’s contribution to The Great War
In 1917 Jasper was called up to fight for King and Country and he joined the Artists’ Rifles. Despite years of applying hot bread poultices to his chest by dear Granny Wylie, Jasper’s chest already had more crackles than a good going fire. He was one of the first known horse hair suffers who came to be known by an unsympathetic medical profession as “the mattress malingerers”. Years of mattress re-stuffing meant there would be no front line action for Jasper. Instead he was sent to a supplies depot in Italy where he developed his passion for Capodimonte figurines and marquetry inlaid occasional tables.
Scandal in Sauchiehall Street
By the 1920’s Jasper was back in Glasgow. He was by now highly influenced by all things Italian and opened a fancy goods and soft furnishings emporium in the famous Sauchiehall Street which he called “Capistrano”. A shortage of capital, due to unwisely over-extending on a consignment of onyx table lamps, led Jasper to one of his few business disasters when he went into partnership with Benito Biscoti, an Italian cafe owner whom he had met in Sorrento. Biscoti or “Mr Double Nougat” as he was known in Glasgow, to those who paid his “insurance premium”, would do time in Barlinnie Prison for his part in the “Great Raspberry Ripple Rip Off”. This food adulterating scandal almost brought Jasper to his knees and it has to be said that Biscoti and the Depression were not kind to Jasper.
The Tassel Triumphs
Jasper, however, had gained something of a reputation amongst Glasgow’s ladies of taste. It was not long before going down the back passage to meet the housekeeper was a thing of the past. Jasper’s reputation for having the finest what-nots and bolsters in the West End soon led to main door entrances along the length of Great Western Terrace. During these years many Glasgow ladies had their upholstery smoothed over and their tassels untangled by Jasper. It was these ladies of refinement who recommended Jasper to the Committee of The Woman of The Empire Pavilion, an essential feature of the 1938 Empire Exhibition. It would be Jasper who hand pleated the silk tented ceiling and it was as the Queen said “a sensation” and a lot of other Queens would copy it in their sitting rooms in Hyndland.
Despite this success Jasper was a restless soul. He longed for Spain and the chance to meet an up and coming painter who did everything with cubes, just like his granny had done with OXO cubes. Alas Jasper’s holiday turned into a nightmare when he found himself unable to choose between two rival factions in a flamenco dance championship. Should he move left or right? Jasper was confused. Fortunately, the British Embassy was able to free him from the notorious prison known as the “Paella Pit”.
A fragile Jasper stuck with a consignment of unsaleable tartan awnings and a morbid fear of castanets fled to the coast and spent the next few years cruising with some sardine fishermen around the western Mediterranean. The fishermen were thrilled that Jasper took such an interest in their knitwear and helped him to collect peasant recipes and concertina tunes. In 1939 Victor Gollanze agreed to publish “Food without Frontiers” and “Jasper’s Pullovers”. Dark clouds were, however, gathering over Europe and there was little public appetite for sardine soufflés and striped sweaters with matching bobble hats. Sales slumped. The books were pulped and turned into leaflets about pig keeping for the war effort.
World War II
Jasper returned to Britain and a civilian job with the Ministry of Supply, organising the furnishing of offices for government departments. One day after signing the official secrets act he was sent to Bletchley Park with a consignment of bentwood chairs and blotting paper. It was here in the canteen that he solved a puzzle with a cup of tea and a bourbon biscuit bought for him by a Mr Turing who was ever so grateful. Mr Turing’s joy was all a bit of an enigma to Jasper. It was during this time that Jasper was approached by some awfully nice men from Cambridge who wondered if he might like to do some work for them in Russia after the war. Jasper declined unable to see any decorating opportunities in the Kremlin.
Love at First Sight
After the war, Jasper headed back to his old haunts in the Mediterranean, and spent several years pottering around collecting pots and fabrics. He was constantly alive to the notion that the post war years would bring a new world order for interior design. One morning in Nice he was walking down the Promenade des Anglais with his friend Cecil who was learning the art of the perfumier in Grasse, when he was hit by a bolt of lightning. There, on a bench in the sunshine, was Muriel teaching Matisse how to cut out paper dancing figures. It was love at first sight. Marriage at the Town Hall was followed by an intimate lobster and champagne lunch for 500 at the Hotel Negresco. They honeymooned along the coast at Menton staying with Jean Cocteau. Cecil went as well and seemed to get on like a house on fire with Jean who gave freely of his talents as well as his painting tips.
It was a marriage made in decorating heaven and the blissfully happy couple returned to Scotland to open the acclaimed Chez Nous firstly in Edinburgh and now in Glasgow. If Muriel and Jasper have any regrets it is that they were not blessed with children. Alas for Muriel it is that time of life when the Stork just passes by and anyway the doctor said it was unwise of Jasper to try and lift all that Capodimonte by himself. Instead they think of their clients as their children, and to quote Jasper.” Muriel and I live to decorate; chintz and china are our children, uncut moquette our raison d’être”.