An appreciation: Edward Longbottom

EDWARD Longbottom, who has died suddenly aged only 66, was for over 25 years a well-regarded, though sometimes infuriatingly eccentric, designer of major exhibitions throughout Scotland.

His clients included museums, art galleries and interpretation centres, and his most celebrated works included leading contributions to such major exhibitions as Henry Raeburn, Whistler in Venice, Van Gogh and Britain, and Kandinski.

His other celebrated events in galleries and museums included contributions to Impressionist Gardens and Treasures from the Royal Observatory. He also worked on the restoration of the Summerhall arts centre and for dozens of other smaller clients.

A small, sparkling man of immaculate manners and appearance, Edward usually had a mischievous glint in his eye and was celebrated for having the perfect outfit for every occasion. Indeed, for a recent brief visit to Venice he was reported to have purchased an entirely new costume, including a panama hat “ so as not to insult the place.”

He would even iron creases in his pyjamas before heading off on sailing trips. When once asked why he was so keen to get his appearance so perfect he once responded “ What too few men realise is that while men just want to undress women, women just want to dress men”.

This obsession with detail was surely one of the reasons for his considerable success as an exhibition designer. When invited to attend an interview for a commission, he would often arrive immaculately dressed with armfuls of portfolios and then swamp the interview panel with sometimes almost too much charm and detail until they agreed with almost everything, possibly out of sheer exhaustion.

His skill in the field was an almost uncanny understanding of the impact of colour, light and typography and how they might work in co-ordination in a three-dimensional setting.

Many commissioners enjoyed working with the flexibility of a free-thinking designer rather than what some observers might have viewed as the usually duller and more sycophantic approach of the larger operators. But others, it’s fair to say, didn’t.

He was not always easy to work with. His punctilious approach to almost everything he did, added to the depression he sometimes suffered from the loneliness of working alone, often made him deliver work late, but few of his customers were disappointed by his eventual contributions, particularly before they saw his bill.

Edward Longbottom was born on April 25, 1953, in Suffolk, the son of Reg, a well-known engineer who went on to be the chief engineer of the Mersey tunnel. His mother was to die young as a result of kidney failure, a condition that Edward was always worried would take him before he grew old.

His father was obsessed with detail, a philosophy that Edward was to turn into a religion.

Indeed, when Reg died, his son buried him in his freshly-pressed linen travelling suit with his passport and money in his pocket for the journey. He also arranged for the coffin to be brush-painted with varnish as he thought it would give a better finish than a spray-gun.

His initial education was in Liverpool College, where he would later claim to have been the classmate of Sir Simon Rattle, the orchestra conductor. He then went on to Hull College of Art and latterly to London, to learn his trade before moving to Edinburgh in the late eighties.

Arriving in Edinburgh he found himself fascinated by the tension between the conservatism of the New Town and the dynamism of an art scene which very much nurtured and reflected his own approach to his work. He fell deeply in love with both the city and Scotland, and declared that he hoped he would never leave.

His hobby was the organising of elaborate expeditions in vintage sailing boats in the Hebrides, upon which he would cook elaborate meals, seemingly unperturbed by the raging ocean and the seldom-level cooker. Once, when a splashing wave sprayed a pan of porridge, he cheerfully observed, “ Perfect! It needed salt.”

His meals back at his home were even more theatrical and he once spent a day travelling to London largely to source a single ingredient for a special dish.

Eventually the kidney problems that had killed his mother started to plague him. Convinced that he was on the point of death he blew a good deal of his savings on a sailing trip from Argentina to the Antarctic.

But on his return home he received a kidney transplant that saved him and gave him several more years living near Penzance. He bought a tiny electric car which he would often take his friends kids for hurls in.

Edward was a one-off, a hugely talented artist of three dimensional art whose work brought pleasure to many, this writer included. We once did some work together, which he invoiced as “ Loudbottom Unlimited.”

I worry that I will always miss him.

His death has brought great sadness to a huge army of his friends. He never married but amongst those friends were many wistful women who doubtless would have wanted to dress him if only he would have ever allowed such an intrusion.

A stone to his cairn.

Maxwell MacLeod