Westender Insights

Conversations with local artists

We have an amazing range of creative shops and businesses in the West End. But who are these creative business owners and artists, who or what was their inspiration, and why did they settle in the West End?

Anne Marie Hillan chats with the artist owner of one of our favourite art and gift shops, Nancy Smillie, alongside one of the talented West End artists whose work she sells, Damian Henry.   


The Nancy Smillie Shop down Cresswell Lane is a West End institution. Whenever I take visitors on a West End wander, it’s one of my go-to shops with its beautiful furniture, art, and all things homeware, as well as fabulous designer jewellery, cards and gifts. But I have always been curious about Nancy Smillie herself. Is she even a real person? And why did she set up shop in the West End?

I recently met Nancy in her West End home which is currently undergoing refurbishment works. Nancy was apologising for the building work and everything being a little topsy turvy but for me, her living room had a seemingly effortless natural, artistic charm, with absolutely amazing original art on every wall and piles of art books bundled temporarily, but beautifully, in every corner.

Nancy grew up in Wishaw, Lanarkshire. No one in her family was artistic. Her dad was a police officer and art was not considered a realistic career choice. It was her teacher at Wishaw High School, Mrs McBride, who was the driving force behind Nancy studying Art and from 3rd year onwards Nancy won every art prize. Mrs McBride was insistent and clearly persuasive and Nancy attended Glasgow School of Art. She studied drawing and painting for the first two years, her true love and what should have been her speciality. But instead, Nancy specialised in ceramics. That confused me – why ceramics?  

Nancy admits that at this point in the 1970s in Glasgow she did not know of anyone with artwork on their walls – no one! But folk did have pots. And Nancy’s career in pottery began.

In the Beginning

The Saltoun Pottery, Nancy’s own, opened off Ruthven Lane shortly after she left art school in the mid 1970s. Running the pottery was a steep and expensive business learning curve, but in due course her unique hand-thrown pots were being sold in The Conran Shop in London and were shipped worldwide, especially to Japan. Such was her success that Nancy was invited to open a store at the prestigious and award-winning Princes Square in 1988, and The Nancy Smillie Shop was born. Initially selling high end ceramics and glass work Nancy soon diversified into sourcing and selling designer jewellery, from there the popularity of the Nancy Smillie Shop was guaranteed. I am old enough to remember that first amazing Nancy Smillie shop. As a young woman in Glasgow this was where I wanted to shop and more truthfully be shopped for! 

The shop-in Princes Square traded for a very successful 11 years. By then the pottery was in Cresswell Lane and the shop moved alongside. The shop has extended and now sells a full range of homeware including furniture and textiles, a massive range of amazing designer jewellery, alongside cards painted and designed by Nancy, and a small range of Nancy’s unique hand thrown pots. 

The Creswell Lane Store

It’s a fabulous local store with an excellent website for the convenience of those further away. There is also a friendly team in store, but Nancy herself remains very much involved in selecting the ranges. Nancy loves the designer jewellery and the ‘sculptural element it capitalises on in its design’. Current ranges stocked include Dganit Hen and Lynne McLachlan. In the store, Nancy promotes and sells the work of Glasgow School of Art graduates alongside Scottish creatives. Not because they are local – but because their work is uniquely creative and of the very highest standard.

As Nancy gestures around her living room saying her first love remains painting and drawing, I belatedly realise that the artwork on her living room walls are her own original art. Honestly, I am in awe. What an incredible journey from Wishaw to the Art School, from painting to ceramics, from Ruthven Lane to Princes Square and back to Cresswell Lane.

Mrs McBride would be so proud.            

Did Nancy keep in touch? Did the influential art teacher know of her success? I was delighted to hear that Nancy visited Mrs McBride a number of times after leaving school and presented her with some of her pots as a thank you. Mrs McBride apparently said ‘I was only doing my job’. What an inspiring story. What an influence a great teacher can have. 

So, Nancy Smillie is indeed a real person who has lived and worked in the West End for over 40 years. A talented, artistic, down to earth business person who is clear she will never forget those who helped her.

Damian Henry

Damian Henry is a Glasgow School of Art graduate, born and brought up in the West End. Art has always been a big part of his life. His mum, Clare Henry, is the well known and respected former Art Critic for the Glasgow Herald and the Scotsman. She was actively involved in the formation of the world-renowned Glasgow Print Studio. If Nancy’s inspiration was her teacher then Damian’s was his mum. The young Damian made the first of many visits to the Print Studio when he was three so it’s unsurprising that Damian is now an artist print maker known for his distinctive figurative images. Damian studied painting but print making is his trademark style. It is a complex technique involving hard manual labour, acid, sharp tools, and old Victorian presses alongside new technology.

One Devonshire Gardens @ Damian Henry

Initially Damian’s work was moody, atmospheric and mostly monochromatic, but in 2003 that changed and now his prints of animals, flowers and people are full of colour and character. 

During lockdown, Damian advertised that he was accepting commissions. That’s how we met. I commissioned Damian to produce a portrait of my home as a surprise gift. Damian creates the image working from photographs. Recently, I was shown the initial sketch of my house as well as his copy of the finished article. We absolutely love our portrait it’s such a good likeness, but he has given it great character too. 

A Glasgow Boy

Damian has had over 20 solo shows in the UK, USA and Canada but his base has always been Glasgow. Westender readers may remember him from attending the Paintings On Railings art markets at the Botanic Gardens. Damian received great feedback from those visiting the markets and loved talking to locals about prints they liked. 

Damian Henry with ‘Goldfinches’ and art critic, mum Clare Henry

He has always remained involved with the Glasgow Print Studio. Recently his work Goldfinches was part of The Love Of Print Exhibition at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery which ran from November 2022 to March 2023. The exhibition celebrated 50 years of the Glasgow Print Studio and Damian exhibited his work alongside famous names including John Byrne, Alison Watt and  Alistair Gray.

He is currently working on collections of his work suitable for the gallery walls of our homes. There will be collections of West End and Glasgow landmarks including Oran Mor, One Devonshire Gardens, the Botanic Gardens and Kelvinbridge, in addition to his animal prints and life studies. Damian’s work is available to buy online and in store at The Nancy Smillie Shop and his mum continues to be his greatest supporter! Her home has his work displayed on every available wall.  It’s the most charming personal gallery.

The Future

As for his future plans, well Damian’s wife is from Tuscany and in the future he would like to spend his time between Glasgow and Tuscany, painting Tuscan landscapes and Italians café scenes as well as Glasgow landmarks and homes. Now that sounds to me a perfect blend of inspiration, lifestyle and therapeutic weather. And we can all look forward to seeing Damian Henry’s Italian collection in years to come at The Nancy Smillie Shop.

Damian Henry’s commission for Anne Marie Hillan’s ‘Lockdown House’



Find Anne Marie at instagram.com/lock.downhouse

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