On the anniversary of the fire that destroyed the cherished Mackintosh Library at Glasgow School of Art, it is appropriate to reflect on a 12-month period of convalescence and share with you our future plans for revitalising the GSA Library. We are relieved that 80% of our Library’s Special Collections (including The Stoddard Design Library, Glasgow Style Collection, rare non-folio items and artists’ books collection) survive undamaged as a result of being housed in the Main Library Building. The Archives remain in store pending conservation as described on the blog. Meanwhile the Library continues to pursue a highly targeted rebuild and welcomes donations of the books identified on our specially compiled list aligned to the history, and future direction, of Glasgow School of Art. Astonishingly, 22% of the original items identified on this list have been received thanks to the overwhelming generosity and support of people locally, nationally, and internationally. Librarians, publishers, booksellers, conservators and rare book collectors – we have been moved by your kindness and we extend our deepest, warmest thanks to you all.
Lectures and Outreach
Members of the Library have presented on recovery at a series of events. Fine Art Librarian Duncan Chappell has spoken stoically on the Library’s Special Collections and the subject of disaster management. Beginning with the CILIP Rare Books Conference in August 2014 alongside Archivist Susannah Waters and then at the V&A in September 2014, Duncan presented on the effects of the disaster and how the Library and Archives emerged from the aftermath. In February 2015, The Glasgow Colour Studies Group was treated to a talk on resources for the study of colour within the Library’s existing Special Collections. Many of these important books escaped the fire, and the stunning selection of pochoirs, pattern books and trade publications Duncan presented demonstrates the brilliance and variety of the surviving collections. The Scottish Colleges, Universities and Research Libraries conference, hosted by GSA Library in March 2015, highlighted the importance of the Library’s fully-catalogued records in identifying those items lost in the fire and the historical information attached to them. It was also a reintroduction to The Hatchery, the Library’s showcase of how artists, writers and curators have used the collections to inspire, challenge and expand their creative practice. Accessible via this link, the resource reminds us of the artistic vigour with which the Library continues to be explored, examined and experimented. As well as a talk for the University of Glasgow Ladies Union, a presentation for professional conservators at ICON Scotland was given by Duncan in April and can be listened to online. Other talks have been given to our library visitors, including a very successful evening hosted by Architecture Librarian David Buri for the Alexander Greek Thomson Society. We also look forward to welcoming the Friends of Glasgow University Library in June.
Finally, Visual Artist and Library Assistant Theresa Moerman Ib gave an extraordinary talk about a personal journey to Mackintosh’s home in Port Vendres in southern France where she scattered ash from the Mackintosh Building into the sea. A recording of Theresa’s talk can also be listened to online.
David has been clocking up the miles earnestly collecting, and making tricky acquisition decisions on the numerous kind donations we have been so touched to receive. It’s been a massive undertaking and so David was particularly pleased when, for example, the lovely people at NADFAS made the trip especially from Leicester with a cargo of three decades of Architectural Review. We acquired several issues of Wendingen, the rare 1920s Dutch architecture and interiors magazine, and started a new zine collection. Zine donations continue to be enthusiastically being accepted by Graduate Trainee Ben Ellis (firstname.lastname@example.org). There are also exciting plans afoot for housing Lux Scotland’s library later this year – this will be an excellent complement to the recently launched GSA Moving Image Library developed by Library Assistants Rick Anthony and Phoebe Amis.
A significant grant of £2,500 from the Friends of National Libraries has enabled us to replace Anna Muthesius’ Das Eigenkleid der Frau, one of the most important volumes housed in the Mackintosh and a seminal text in the development of early twentieth-century dress. Owing to the original Art Nouveau binding designed by Frances Macdonald McNair, one of the famed ‘Glasgow Four’, this extremely rare publication holds particular importance in the history of GSA and is therefore welcomed back with great joy.
Although all wonderful donations have been appreciated and admired, particularly poignant items have attracted significant press coverage. Reporting on the incredible response to the Library’s appeal for books lost in the fire, The Herald reported on the replacement copy of an illustrated book of gypsy folk tales, donated by Blackwell’s Publishers, which includes engravings by Agnes Miller Parker.
In March, a rare 1898 edition of John Keats – His Poems, featuring a binding designed by GSA alumna and esteemed needlework and embroidery tutor Ann Macbeth, was generously gifted to the Library by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association on the recommendation of our friend, the antiquarian bookseller Cooper Hay. The binding, set in gilt-tooled, green Morocco leather, is an exquisite example of decorative book bindings produced in the Glasgow Style from the 1890s onwards by designers such as Talwin Morris and Jessie M. King. Ann Macbeth is known to have taught bookbinding to our students during her career at the School, therefore the historical importance of the donation is a particularly fitting addition to the surviving Glasgow Style collection. The Herald’s coverage of the story can be read here.
More recently, a donation has been received from King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham. In addition to a fine collection of around 30 books, a letter written by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and signed ‘Uncle Tosh’ was included in a second special delivery from the School’s English Master. Among the books are those donated as gifts to the Davidson family of Windyhill house in Kilmacolm by the architect himself, including a late 19th-century book on Japanese design with an inscription suggesting it was a Christmas gift to the family in 1899. The well-documented influence of Japanese design on Mackintosh makes the gifting of this particular book to the Library all the more apposite. Press coverage of the donation was again featured in The Herald.
We are researching information about the significant new donations we receive and posts about these titles are gradually beginning to appear on the Library’s revamped Special Collections website, a lovely adjunct to the Archives website launched to wide acclaim in December. The Special Collections site chronicles School community members’ memories of the Mackintosh Library and, over the coming months, and presents an aperture into the future of the Library’s holdings as we catalogue the donations received.
A 12-week archaeological excavation of the Mackintosh Library was completed in March with the resulting survey revealing that 81 books had been salvaged. Fragments from a studio clock and metal from the central light fittings were among other artefacts recovered. One of the books identified for conservation is Sights and Scenes in Fair Japan (c.1910), a photographic album produced by Ogawa Kazumasa (1860-1930) featuring full-page collotype plates of scenes from Japanese culture and travel using the pioneering photomechanical processes he himself developed. The salvage was well documented in the press, including the following feature in The Guardian.
Our digitisation project, began in 2011, continues in sync with the recovery and titles – including a number from donors – are being added to the Internet Archive. We intend to scan increasing numbers of rare books in the coming years to make our rebuilt collections more accessible to students and researchers. Feel free to browse the growing collection of digitised titles from our Special Collections on the Internet Archive site. Furthermore, while the loss of the Library’s Foundation Collections held in the Mackintosh Library was felt acutely, we have visually recreated the volumes listed in the Library’s very first catalogue by providing links from the Library catalogue to digital versions.
Recovery activities continue apace, rebuilding and revitalising the Mackintosh Library’s collections. The educational significance of the Library and Archives remains of the upmost importance and work progresses with this essential aim in mind. Head of Learning Resources Alison Stevenson, for example, convened a workshop on the future of the Mackintosh Library at the School’s Building on Mackintosh conference in April. A paper from the event by Alison and Duncan can be accessed here through the School’s research repository RADAR. Alison will also speak to library and information professionals attending the CILIPS Annual Conference in June.
The National Library of Scotland is among our generous benefactors and 1000 rare books gifted by them will arrive in the next few weeks. Our priority will be to sort, catalogue and make these titles accessible alongside the numerous others we have received including cataloguing already completed for a large donation of early architectural journals from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS). We will be releasing all our catalogue data to COPAC which, when combined with a new Discovery Layer in the autumn, will help to make all of our collections more easily discoverable.
A number of articles on the GSA recovery, written by Duncan and David, have featured in the professional literature and research is ongoing into the early history of the Library. These can be accessed via ARLIS newssheet (231), Historic Libraries Forum Bulletin (29 and forthcoming), and RIAS Quarterly (Spring 2015). The Library’s Twitter @GSALibrary will provide future updates on further research activities.
For all of those associated with the Mackintosh Library and for those who loved, cared and tended it, we now look to the future with resolve, optimism and dedication.