John Nicolson’s first works of art were much appreciated by fishermen and crofters in the area as he created clay pipes, which were smoked by the locals. Apart from working in clay he also sketched and painted local people and boats.
Some of these paintings and sketches can be seen in the John Nicolson Memorial Exhibition, in Auckengill old school.
One of his paintings is owned by H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
He lived on a farm at Nybster in Aukengill from 1858 until 1934. He is buried in the graveyard of Canisbay Church, where many of his sculptures can also be seen. The stone sculpture that he erected for his mother and father’s grave is purported by many to be one of his finest works.
Another one of his most well known sculptures is that of Calder the Historian, which stands looking over the town of Wick at the riverside. Other examples of his work are the stone figures either side of the gate of the St. Clare Hall, Auckengill. These were carved as a tribute to those who served in the Great War. (When the A9 was moved, the gates to the hall also had to be moved. When the statues were removed from their plinths, a bottle containing coins, a letter dated 14th July 1921, a story from the John O’Groat Journal and some cloth.
He became fascinated with Norse history and Caithness ancestry and was something of an expert, consulted world wide.
He eventually managed to actively work on excavations of various brochs in the area, making many accurate observations. His work was published by the Antiquarian Society.
His broch finds are to be seen in the John Nicolson Exhibition and some in the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh. In the area where he lived he recorded 20 brochs and cairns.
The Caithness Research Society honoured John Nicolson with the presentation of a bust of himself designed by Scott Sutherland. RCAHMS also holds photographs and papers illustrating the work of Sir Francis Tress Barry in Caithness.