Sunday, November 19, 2023

Scottish artist calls Pope’s gift ‘cool and amazing’

 The Papal Medal. (Credit: Church of Scotland.)

A Scottish artist says he was “extremely proud” when he received a medal from Pope Francis for his work.

The pope was given a print of “Throwaway People” by Michael McVeigh by members of the Church of Scotland in the Vatican Nov. 4.

McVeigh is regarded as a modern-day folk artist whose work depicts everyday life in Scotland, and ‘Throwaway People’ is an expression of the plight of those on the margins of society. 

The artist was born in Dundee, where he studied Drawing and Painting at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art from 1977 – 1982.

Rt. Rev. Sally Foster-Fulton, the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, told the artist that ‘Throwaway People’ is an “expression of the fragility of life and how easy it is to fall through the cracks, and it is a print that I have bought myself.”

“I presented it to Pope Francis and explained the story behind it to him,” she said.

“He turned it over and wrote on the back in Italian and said ‘I don’t want to forget what you just said’. You have shared your gift with the pope, it really resonated with him, and in return he asked me to give you this Papal medal as a token of his appreciation,” Foster-Fulton said.

McVeigh was visibly moved when he accepted the honor.

“Goodness gracious, this is really cool and amazing – I am speechless, because this is not what I was expecting,” he said.

“When I heard that Pope Francis wanted to give me something to say thanks for the print, I thought it was probably going to be a card with a quote from the Bible and a picture, but I never expected a medal. What an incredible moment, it is so beautiful, and I am going to keep it forever and ever and I will probably show it to everyone I meet,” he continued.

“I am extremely proud, thank you so much. I never expect anything in life but when something like this happens, it is very special,” McVeigh said.

McVeigh grew up in Dundee, and, despite leaving school with no qualifications, he managed to secure a place at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, part of the University of Dundee.

He said that he used to pretend to be a student and attend classes. However, his ruse was discovered by staff and he was asked to leave, until one of the tutors saw his talent and got him officially in the university.

McVeigh said it was difficult to explain what inspires him to produce his artwork.

“I never think about what I am drawing, I just do it although sometimes people give you ideas but maybe it is an outside force that speaks to me,” he said.

Throwaway People is my expression of those who never realize their potential in life and end up on the scrap heap through addiction and homelessness. I hope it will help remind Pope Francis not to forget people on the margins of society, and to continue to provide them with a bit of hope,” he added.

After her meeting with the pope, Foster-Fulton said the work is an “expression of the fragility of life and how easy it is to fall through the cracks.”

“It is a print that I have remembered forever, and I said to Pope Francis, who has dedicated his life to try and make sure that does not happen, that I wanted him to have that picture. He took it and turned it over and wrote something on the back in Italian so he would remember and was very, very taken by it,” she said.

Foster-Fulton added that the pope asked her “to give one of his gifts to Michael McVeigh and say thank you from him and I think that is pretty cool.”