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School of Mackintosh (Glasgow)

School of Mackintosh (Glasgow)

Mike Gerrard - 2007-12-14

Instantly recognisable for his clever use of black and white- the dark and the light - Charles Rennie Mackintosh is not only Glasgow's greatest architect - he is renowned worldwide as a master of the Arts and Crafts style. And where can you see most of his work? In his native city of Glasgow, of course.

In Glasgow Mackintosh is everywhere you look. He designed churches, tea rooms, schools. You can tour his house, drink out of Mackintosh cups while sitting on Mackintosh chairs, and even stay at a Mackintosh hotel if you like. Yet his greatest achievement is not open to the public, though tours can be taken. It’s the Glasgow School of Art, where students act as volunteer guides, and show visitors how Mackintosh’s work still inspires them today.
 
Our guide, Jill, greets us in the entrance, which is as far as the casual visitor is allowed to go, although it is certainly worth calling in for the excellent shop and to see the mosaics of artists which line the walls. These include names like Van Gogh, Durer, Raphael, Velazquez and, of course, Charles Rennie Mackintosh himself.
 
Jill leads the small group past the security guard and up the staircase to the Museum Space, where some people are busy hanging a new exhibition. ‘There’s been a School of Art in Glasgow since 1845,’ Jill tells us. ‘It was originally where the McLennan Galleries now are on Sauchiehall Street. Mackintosh himself went to that school. The land for this school was bought in 1886 and Mackintosh won the competition to find a designer.  He was aged 28 at the time, so not too long out of the school himself. The school did take some time to build, so you can see different Mackintosh styles within the same building.’
 
We walk along the Eastern Corridor, off which the Director’s office stands. ‘We can’t go in there,’ Jill tells us, ‘but it’s a great example of one of Mackintosh’s trademarks, which is the contrasting way he used light and shade. The waiting area outside the office is very dark, and you can imagine what it must be like for maybe a student waiting to see the Director because they’ve done something wrong. And just from what you can glimpse through the little window in the door, you can see that the office itself is big and bright, full of light. This contrast is so typical of Mackintosh.’
 
Jill leads us into the Board Room, which is still used for meetings and lined with Mackintosh chairs and other pieces of furniture. We climb the stairs and go along another corridor to the Furniture Gallery. This acts as a small museum and is filled with examples of Mackintosh’s work, including some of his watercolours, the original plans for the building, a domino table, a clock from the Willow Tea Rooms, Mackintosh’s own chest of drawers, lots of tables, chairs and even a baptismal font. It’s an Aladdin’s Cave for the Mackintosh fan.
 
Jill explains that the western wing, where we are now, is typical of Mackintosh’s more mature work, and considered to be one of his finest achievements. The crowning glory, and arguably Mackintosh’s crowning glory, is the Library. In two tiers, with a gallery running above, every single feature, from light switches to door handles, was designed by Mackintosh. Jill likens it to being in a forest, and when she switches the lights on it is as if the sun had come through and the light was filtering down into the clearing where we are standing.
 
But what is it like to be a young student surrounded by Mackintosh daily? Is it intimidating, boring or still stimulating? ‘Oh,’ says Jill, ‘it’s so inspiring. Every day you discover new little things. This library isn’t normally used, and you do notice the students slowing down as they walk by to peek in, or popping their head round the door if there’s a tour group in. That’s one of the great things about volunteering as a tour guide – you get to see in the rooms that are normally kept locked. I’ve not seen inside the Director’s office yet, though. I sometimes think it would be worth committing some offence to get called before the Director, just so I could get to see the room!’
 
PRACTICAL INFORMATION
 
The Glasgow School of Art
167 Renfrew Street
Glasgow G3 6RQ.
Tel: 0141 353 4526.
 
Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society
A list of Mackintosh attractions around Glasgow and more information about the artist and his work can be found on the website of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, www.crmsociety.com

Instantly recognisable for his clever use of black and white- the dark and the light - Charles Rennie Mackintosh is not only Glasgow's greatest architect - he is renowned worldwide as a master of the Arts and Crafts style. And where can you see most of his work? In his native city of Glasgow, of course.

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