June 26, 2014

Mackintosh Library attempts to recover collection after devastating fire

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Charles-Rennie-Mackintosh

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a designer, artist, and architect who lived from 1868-1928, and is now celebrated as one of the most influential artistic figures of the late 19th and early 20th century.

A fire destroyed the beloved Glasgow School of the Arts library designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh on May 23, and students, administrators and professors reportedly wept as they watched the building go up in flames and as firefighters battled the smoke.

Considered one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in the world, the Mackintosh Library also housed special collections that were lost in the fire, including rare Art Nouveau journals like Dekroative Kunst and Jugend, 19th century illustrated books, 19th and 20th century art periodicals, and rare folios from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The Artists’ Books Collection, the Glasgow Style bookbinding collection, the Stoddard-Templeton Collection were not affected. The GSA Library Treasures website is a wonderful place to find some of the beautiful materials in these collections.

Retired librarian Anabel Marsh described a visit to the library and the special collections the day before the fire on her blog:

The Mackintosh Library was undoubtedly the star attraction of the evening and I’m really glad I had this final chance to appreciate it… 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.

As the shock and loss settles in, archivists and librarians are working on preserving the images of the building  and making plans to rebuild the collection. Designer and computer programmer Malcolm and Daniel Powers have created the “Mac Photographic Archive,” an open-source website that collects images of the Mackintosh Library. The project is “an attempt to document the building for posterity, this website allows anyone, students, alumni, staff, and tourists to upload their personal record of the school.”

A list of volumes to replace and information for where to send donations to rebuild the collection has been posted on the Glasgow School of Art Library website, and librarians around the world are spreading the word. Brad Pitt, a fan of Mackintosh, and Peter Capaldi, the actor and an alumnus of GSA, have already pledged 20 million pounds to the fundraising efforts.

According to Muriel Gray, the chairwoman of the Glasgow School of Art, the library will be rebuilt:

As for the library, Mackintosh was not famous for working in precious materials. It was his vision that was precious and we are confident that we can recreate what was lost as faithfully as possible.

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Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.

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