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John Donaldson was born in Maryhill, Glasgow on 28th July 1887, one of 6 children of Sarah (née Miller) and Alexander Thomson, a blacksmith at a saw-mill. John's mother died in 1900 when he was 12. His elder sister, Sarah, who was 20, took over as house keeper and the family continued to live together in the Maryhill area. In 1901, John's eldest brother Alex, worked as a foreman at a saw-mill, with his older brother William, then 15, a sawmill labourer and his elder sister, Barbara, a waterproof garment maker. John at this time worked as a grocer's message boy while his younger brother, James, attended school. By 1911, John still lived with his father, sister Sarah, and younger brother, James, in Maryhill. James was also now working as a bag salesman with John a full time art student. John's studies at The Glasgow School of Art commenced in 1904 when he studied drawing and painting part time, while working as a joiner. He was to continue studying at The Glasgow School of Art over a number of years, initially part time before becoming a full time student in 1909. He studied drawing and painting for 3 years before his studies stopped from 1913 to 1919. During the First World War he served as a driver with the Royal Engineers and after the hostilities ceased he returned to Glasgow and took up his studies at the Glasgow School of Art again, funded for one year by the Ministry of Labour. He continued until 1922, as a day student before switching to evening classes in the 1922-23 session. He may have worked as an art teacher at Paisley Grammar School at this point and took his final evening classes in drawing and painting with The Glasgow School of Art in 1924-25 while working as an art teacher. John Donaldson is commemorated on The Glasgow School of Art's First World War Roll of Honour.
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