A Portrait of Sydney Scroggie

Portrait of Sydney Scroggie (1985)
by Lex Braes
Oil on plywood
24 x 22 inches
Collection of Tom Johnson

A personal memory from a Cairngorms scene and not seen, early 1980s.

Coming off Clova, descending from a Loch Brandy ploy with Syd and Maggie, their right and left hands held together for the more difficult terrain. As usual, Syd’s big stick probes forwards and purposefully, finding secure ground to place his artificial foot on. Downhill over the rough and crossing a soggy patch, his stick tells us, tapping a squelch, ‘This is the second burn that drains Clova’.

An ominous rumble interrupts the ruse, gaining volume. We stop and listen to the distant thunderous roar. Syd recognises it, source and origins, and directs me towards the sound that’s reached us from across the glen. 

We’re looking towards Glen Isla. To the right, Glen Doll. 

‘What can I see?’ Syd asks me, just below to the left. 

Maggie is enjoying a rare break from being Syd’s eyes, and I am too slow to connect sight and sound to the blurred ambiguous-looking grey shape moving in a variety of directions at once. 

‘That sounds like an avalanche on Cairn Broadlands,’ he says. 

How right Sydney was.

Lex Braes

Sydney Scroggie—mountaineer, poet, writer and Lovat Scout—held a life-long dedication to the Scottish hills. Despite losing his sight and one leg during the Italian Campaign in the Second World War—only a month before the war’s end—he refused ‘to accept his blindness as a physical prison, [and] instead view[ed] it as a challenge.’ Scroggie travelled all over the country to fortify this deep connection with the hills, always scribbling the sounds and scents of the landscape, and the revelations and tales that have ‘turned him into something of a legend in the mountaineering fraternity’—both at home and abroad. Many of these musings have been captured in his eloquent and inspirational novel, The Cairngorms: Scene and Unseen

In Syd’s obituary, published in The Scotsman 18 September 2006, we learn of another classic act:

‘No stranger to controversy, Scroggie’s friendship with the Dundee painter Lex Braes resulted in a bizarre episode in his life. In 1988, when apartheid still held South Africa apart, Edinburgh District Council purchased Braes’ portrait of Nelson Mandela. It sparked a furore and prompted Scroggie to write in defence of his friend, which led to him being deemed a subversive by the right-wing group the Economic League—not something that would have worried Scroggie in the slightest.’

Braes still cherishes his time with his dear friend in the Scottish hills. His portrait Nelson Mandela, at Nineteen (1986) can be viewed at the Museums & Galleries Edinburgh. 

Excerpt and quotes taken from: 

The Newsroom. ‘Syd Scroggie’s Obituary’. The Scotsman. Monday, 18 September 2006.

Creator’s biography

Lex Braes is an Artist and Educator in Architecture born in Glasgow, Scotland. Studied Fine Art at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee University, Scotland (1974-1979). Brooklyn Museum Art School (1979-1980), University of California San Diego (1983-1984) advisor Allan Kaprow MFA program. Lives and works in Brooklyn NY. Visiting Associate Professor Pratt Institute School of Architecture since 2003. Exhibited widely, represented by Felix Ringel, Düsseldorf, Germany. Course Leader Architecture Venice Italy summer programme 2022 Collaboration ECA, European Cultural Academy and Pratt Institute.