Born: June 23, 1937;

Died: April 12, 2021.

SHEILA Whimster, who has died aged 83, was a stalwart of the Glasgow Society of Women Artists (GSWA). As the artist-run Society’s honorary secretary for 32 years, a position for which she received a small honorarium which barely covered expenses, Sheila served under ten presidents.

Each and every one would attest that without her doughty, determined and occasionally abrasive “management” style, this historic artist-run society would have long ago ceased to exist.

The GSWA, which began life as the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists, was established in 1882 by a group of women art students from the Glasgow School of Art who realised that their work was not being considered on equal terms with that of male counterparts. Originally based in Blythswood Square, the Society boasted renowned members such as Jessie M. King, Mary Armour, De Courcy Lewthwaite Dewar and Norah Neilson Gray.

By the time Sheila became its Honorary Secretary in 1989, the Society had sold the premises to the Scottish Arts Council. Over the years which followed, she steered the Society from being an insignificant local art club to one widely acknowledged as a major player in the Scottish art world.

She achieved this through an astute mix of business acumen and pin-sharp organisational skills, to say nothing of thrawn dedication and dogged persuasiveness. She attracted significant prizes, arranged a permanent venue for the annual exhibition and in 1993, negotiated an acceptable change of constitution which allowed the Society to become a Scottish Charity promoting women in art.

In 2019, Sheila was recognised for her devotion to the Society by being nominated by then president, Sheila Tandy, for an MBE. The invitation to attend Holyroodhouse to receive the award was turned down by Sheila since it could not be guaranteed that the Queen would be officiating. As her sister, Fiona, remarked at her funeral: “That was Sheila!”

Sheila Whimster was born in Glasgow in 1937 to Jean (neé Fletcher) and Colonel Joseph Whimster. Her mother died when Sheila was just two years old and with her father serving in the Army, she was sent to live with Joseph’s elderly Aunt Mimi in Stirling. This early separation must have made a significant emotional impact on Sheila during her very early years.

Her father was stationed in Wragby, Lincolnshire, where he met his second wife, Joyce. The couple married in November 1944 and moved to Giffnock in Glasgow to be close to Joseph’s family. Sheila returned to live with her father and his new wife, attending local primary and secondary schools.

Her half-sister, Fiona, was born in 1952, and a year later, Sheila went to live nearby with her father’s mother. Joseph died in 1955 when Sheila was 18 and that same year, she left school and joined the ICI Nobel Division in Glasgow as a mailing clerk.

She would go on to work as a personal assistant at Robert Wilson & Sons, food manufacturers, in Kilwinning, at Glasgow University Veterinary Hospital, and at construction engineers, Babtie Shaw and Morton. She worked for the latter, using its offices as a meeting-place for the GSWA, until her retirement at the age of 60.

Sheila had many interests. She was an accomplished pianist and enjoyed painting, mostly in oils and usually still-lifes. She was a competent photographer and golfer and a knowledgeable gardener. She loved animals; her various pets were her pride and joy. She also spent many hours completing crosswords and also creating them for submission to the Sunday Post.

Art was a constant in Sheila’s life and her sister remembers Saturday-morning visits to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum from an early age: “I was encouraged to study the paintings and remember the artists. I was tested by Sheila on my knowledge throughout the following week. I can still remember the painting of Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dali, which absolutely terrified me!”

Fiona describes her sister as a colourful character who, in the early days of her career, dressed in a dark pencil skirt, tight jumper, bright red lipstick and black, pointed-toed, high-heeled stilettos.

“When she was in her early twenties, Sheila had a boyfriend called Jimmy who owned a blue bubble car. I went with them on Sunday afternoon outings. We would all clamber into the little bubble car and off we’d go, usually to the local park which had a boating lake.

“They would hire a rowing boat and we enjoyed fun times together rowing on the lake. Whether Jimmy appreciated Sheila dragging her young sister along on dates is another matter”.

By the 1980s, Sheila had become de facto agent to her friend, Flora Wood. The acclaimed painter and sculptor, who lived in the hamlet of Baldernock, a few miles from Sheila’s cottage in Strathblane, was an active member of the GSWA. In 1988, Sheila was invited to bring her considerable organisational skill and business acumen to the Society at a time when women artists in Scotland were receiving little recognition.

Sheila Tandy, who nominated Sheila for that MBE, was president of the GSWA from 2007 to 2010, a period which encompassed celebrations for the Society’s 125th anniversary. “We worked closely together,” she recalls, “gathering information and past works of celebrated members for a special exhibition at the Lillie Gallery in Milngavie. Sheila did most of the heavy lifting, I just did the catalogue.

“In her usual way, she worked tirelessly to make it a success and made sure everyone else did as well. She could be a nippy wee sweetie at times and more than once I threatened to resign, but eventually we became very good friends. Underneath it all Sheila was kind and generous and gave up most of her time to the GSWA. You could say that women’s art in Scotland is thriving as a result of Sheila’s efforts”.

In her later years, Sheila was dogged by crippling rheumatoid arthritis and failing eyesight. Up until early last year, she continued to manage all aspects of the GSWA’s annual schedule and lived independently, surrounded by supportive friends and neighbours.

She is survived by her sister Fiona, nephew Oliver and much-loved pets, Penny and Puss.