Walter Geikie RSA 1795-1837engraved in gold lettering on dark stone]
Deaf Artist of Renown Co-Founder of the World's First Deaf Church and Society
Beloved of all in this Parish and City
Installed by his fellow deaf Scots of the Donaldsonian Association 6th April 1996
His true memorial may be seen in our city art galleries and in the quality of life and dignity accorded to deaf citizens of Edinburgh today
'Come join wi' me, folk of Auld Reekie
To weave a wreath for glorious Geikie'
Scottish painter Walter Geikie was born 9 November 1795, in Edinburgh. When he was two years old, he survived a serious illness with total deafness; because of his early age at the time, he didn't develop spoken language, either. Geikie's father, a wigmaker, believed the boy could learn, and taught Walter to read and do basic math. At 15, Walter was admitted to the new Institute for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb in Edinburgh, but soon his skills prompted a transfer to the Trustees' Academy of Industrial Design.
Geikie studied drawing at the Academy, and became a successful artist, specializing in scenes of urban life. He exhibited paintings in Edinburgh to critical acclaim. He also published two volumes of etchings. Walter Geikie was voted into the Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture as a academician in 1834.
Geikie is also remembered, as the memorial plaque above indicates, for co-founding the first deaf church in Scotland (or maybe anywhere), where scriptures were discussed and sermons delivered in sign language, by and for deaf believers. (An offshoot of the church, the Edinburgh and East of Scotland Society for the Deaf, still exists.)
Geikie died suddenly from typhoid fever at the age of 41. A posthumous collection of his works, titled "Etchings Illustrative of Scottish Character and Scenery," was popular and helped keep his name before Scottish audiences through the mid-nineteenth century.
For further reading:
Elizabeth Bredberg, "Walter Geikie: The Life Schooling and Work of a Deaf Artist at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century," Disability & Society 10(1)(1995): 21-39.
Archibald Geikie, "Brief Sketch of the Life of Walter Geikie, Esq., R. A. S., Edinburgh, Scotland," American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb 7(4)(July 1855): 229-237.
Harry G. Lang and Bonnie Meath-Lang, Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary (Greenwood Publishing 1995): 141-143.