Neil Manson Cameron – Obituary

The Scotsman
April 2008

Neil Cameron Born: 27 December, 1962, in Aberdeen. Died: 29 March, 2008, Edinburgh, aged 45.

THE premature death of Neil Cameron, at the age of 45, represents a great loss to Scotland’s architectural and artistic community. However, the bare facts of Neil’s professional and public life belie a range of hidden talents and interests, for as well as his work with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) and his role as an art critic for The Scotsman and the Architect’s Journal, Cameron was also a talented poet and artist. He was, too, a man of compassion, warmth and sensitivity whose kindness to others was manifest.

Cameron was born in Aberdeen and raised in Dunfermline, the son of Douglas Gordon MacKenzie Cameron and Elizabeth Jean Manson. He attended Dunfermline High School and George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh before studying at the Courtauld Institute at the University of London where he graduated in art and architectural history, in 1984, with first-class honours. Following this Cameron, was accepted by Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he undertook doctoral research.

Despite being offered post-doctoral fellowships at both Cambridge and Oxford universities, Cameron opted to join the RCAHMS, and in 1987 he was appointed as an architectural investigator, working initially on the Threatened Buildings Survey, before joining the Thematic Architectural Survey Project to carry out research on civic architecture. From 1991-2006, he managed the Listed Building Survey Project, which included major surveys at the Glenfinnan Monument, Falkland Palace, Balmoral, Drumlanrig Castle and Taymouth Castle. Most recently he was in the process of preparing a volume on Scottish burgh schools, in collaboration with Professor R Anderson.

Cameron’s work with RCAHMS involved him in the preparation and writing of various publications which included Tollbooths and Town-houses: The Civic Architecture of Scotland, Early Medieval Carved Stones at Brechin Cathedral, The Falls of Clyde: Artists and Monuments and New Lanark: buildings and history. He contributed to a wide variety of learned journals and his essay The Romanesque Sculpture of Dunfermline Abbey, published in Royal Dunfermline, is regarded as the definitive statement on the topic; it is given added poignancy here because the abbey, in his home town, is to be the venue for his funeral service.

As principal art and architecture critic from 2000-2 at The Scotsman, Cameron was able to combine his prodigious intellectual and academic gifts with his talents as a writer. He covered the arts scene in Scotland (and occasionally further afield) with scrupulous fairness and objectivity; he was always encouraging and was sensitive to the feelings of those artists whose work he sought to judge and critique. His approach to his work with the Architect’s Journal was similar, but here he was aware that his audience was primarily architectural and therefore took a broader approach. His writing was always informed, carefully crafted and insightful.

Cameron was an intensely private person who valued solitude and peace in the company of nature. This gave him time to think, to read and to write – and occasionally to fly-fish. His poetry is honed, precise and metaphysical; Cameron saw his place in the universe and was always aware of the fragility and impermanence of human existence.

At the time of his death, he was collaborating on a book with the visual artist, Donald Urquhart. Another collaboration in progress, where Cameron had taken the role of designer, was with the sculptor Doug Cocker; Cameron had envisaged a work which would complement the riverside surroundings of his Borders getaway. In his privacy, craving for solitude and love of nature there was something Thoreau-esque about Cameron’s sensibilities, a fact demonstrated in an essay he wrote last year for Inkubator, a collaboration with the artist David Faithfull. Cameron was the perfect choice of essayist, illuminating Mr Faithfull’s wonderfully conceived vision of artists’ books, prints and multiples exhibited under the tri-fold schema Log Cabin, Study and Landscape. Cameron wrote: “…considered silence can be more eloquent than thoughtless speech. Wider connotations of ‘the study’ relate to scientific trial, musical experimentation, sketches in art, and, of course, the enclosed environment of the academic or writer, the quiet backdrop of intellectual exploration, the solitary venue for efforts that one day may escape the confines of four walls and find appreciation and understanding in other places.”

Such observations demonstrate Cameron’s role not only as a critic of the visual arts, but as an artist in his own right.

Neil Cameron is survived by his mother and his two sisters.