This is not quite the post I meant to write, and for a few days I wasn’t going to write it at all. Last Thursday, I visited the iconic Mackintosh Library at Glasgow School of Art – the day before the library was destroyed in a fire which ripped through the west wing (closest to camera above) of the Mackintosh Building. I thought it might be tasteless to write about it, but I’ve now decided that I should, both to record that I was part of the last group to be shown round the library and to draw attention, for anyone who is interested, to the Building Fire Fund which has been set up – you can find full details on the GSA website. So here’s the story of my visit.
I’m one of the guides on Glasgow Women’s Library’s Heritage Walks. We want to update our Garnethill script, which has a stop at the Art School, to take in the new building for the School of Design which has been named after a woman, Seona Reid, Director of GSA from 1999 to 2013. Delphine Dallison of GSA’s Library (and also a volunteer with GWL) very kindly agreed to show the guides around to give us some background information. The Reid Building is a very modern, glass-fronted contrast to the Mackintosh. However, it has not completely abandoned tradition, and I admired the way it was built around the old Union. I also liked the internal “driven voids” which penetrate the building and were designed to bring light in from the top and drive it all the way to the bottom floor. There’s a good exhibition on the ground floor, Window on Mackintosh, which tells the history of the School and is open to the public. We spotted GWL’s very own Adele Patrick in the display – next to Peter Capaldi, no less!
Delphine then took us across to the “Mack” which houses the Fine Art studios where many students were busy preparing for their Degree Show. The Mackintosh Library was undoubtedly the star attraction of the evening and I’m really glad I had this final chance to appreciate it. Delphine had gone to a lot of trouble, showing us books from special collections which had been used for a display on the Glasgow Girls. There were books with bindings or illustrations by Jessie M King, Ann Macbeth, Katharine Cameron and others, exhibition catalogues, textbooks on textiles, and books of designs for metalwork such as brooches and belt buckles. A book on “artistic dress” (i.e. loose, comfortable and without corsets) featured photographs of the MacDonald sisters, Margaret (Mackintosh’s wife) and Frances.
However, all this is now gone – what more can I say? Except to end on a note of optimism: 90% of the building and the school’s archives have survived, thanks to heroic efforts by the Fire Service, a thorough salvage operation is currently underway, and GSA seems to be looking after its students really well with those who lost work being given bursaries to recreate their portfolios. The Mack will rise again.