An Update on the Archives and Collections

The Mackintosh BuildingSix months on from the Mackintosh Building fire, The Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections team are now able to provide more detailed information about how this event has affected the School’s extensive archives and collections.

Our holdings, which comprise a wide range of material from the GSA’s institutional archive, artworks and architectural drawings, textiles, plasters casts, photographs and furniture, did suffer some loss and damage as previously reported. However since the 23rd May we have worked to assess and stabilise the collections, put in place conservation plans, and started our thinking for the collections’ future, securing its role as a key learning and research resource for the GSA, academics worldwide and the wider public.

We can confirm that the majority of our paper archives and artworks on paper, including 100 works by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, were unharmed by the fire. A small percentage of the paper archives suffered water damage, but these items have either been air dried or frozen and are now stabilised.

Our textile collections suffered some water damage. However, items have now been air dried, stabilised and conservation work, where appropriate, will commence in due course.

The GSA’s large collection of plaster casts has also survived, although many pieces have suffered smoke and water damage. Plans are now being developed to conserve and restore these pieces.

Items from our Mackintosh furniture collection which were in use in the Mackintosh Library or held in the store above this space were either destroyed or very badly damaged by the fire. Fragments of furniture and fittings are already being recovered from the Mackintosh Library as part of the forensic archaeology work currently underway (click here to watch a clip of GSA’s Academic Liaison Librarian Duncan Chappell talk about this). Many of our most important pieces were on display in the Furniture Gallery and Mackintosh Room in the east wing of the building and were therefore unaffected by the fire. In the early part of 2015 some of these pieces will be brought out of storage and returned to public view. We’ll have more details about this in the new year.

Almost all the oil paintings on canvas in the School’s collection were stored above the Library and were therefore also sadly destroyed.

All of the surviving material is now stable and secure. It will be reviewed by expert conservators as part of a recovery programme which will take place over the next three years.

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Mackintosh library windows fully restored

In recent months the west facade of the Mackintosh Building at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) has been covered with scaffolding signalling on-going repairs to the iconic library windows. Costing in the region of £300,000, the work was grant aided by Historic Scotland with further support from the J Paul Getty Jr. Charitable Trust. The project was managed by Page and Park Architects with Nic Boyes Stone Conservation as lead contractor.

GSA’s library windows have had a somewhat chequered past. The original steel framed windows overseen by Mackintosh as part of the second phase of the building’s construction were in fact replaced in the 1940s because of their already perilous condition. A report to the GSA’s Board of Governors in May 1946 highlighted concerns that any delay to their repair might necessitate the need to “remove the present windows as a matter of safety to life”. Unfortunately, a detailed assessment of whatever repairs were made (estimated initially at £1060 but subsequently rising to £2125!) is no longer available. It also seems that further repairs may have been made in the early 1960s, but the location of the windows on the south-west corner of the building would have seen them continually exposed to the worst of Glasgow’s weather and the use of mastic and putty packed into some of the windows’ joints was hardly a defence against the inevitable wind-blown water ingress.

This time round it was decided that the most effective treatment would be the complete removal of the steel frames and steel and brass sub-frames, and for these to be sand-blasted and then galvanised. As much of the original glazing as possible was removed, cleaned and reused.

Work began on reinstalling the windows in October 2013 and was completed just two months later. Importantly, a detailed analysis of past treatments together with an extensive technical overview of current methods and processes used will be an invaluable resource for those tasked with making whatever subsequent repairs are needed in the, hopefully, distant future.

Mackintosh Building windows undergo conservation

GSA Library windows 170613The massive library windows of the Mackintosh Building here at Glasgow School of Art are currently undergoing conservation. The 30ft high windows will be removed and taken to specialist conservators, who will replace cracked panes and restore metal frames.

Last week preparation for the works began by protecting the woodwork, floors and lights in the library and bringing in protective screens which will replace the windows while they are being restored.

The work has been funded by Historic Scotland, the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Getty Foundation.

For more pictures of conservators at work see this article in The Herald.

The woodwork, floors and lights in the Mackintosh library have been protected and there will be screens to replace the windows while they are being restored.

The woodwork, floors and lights in the Mackintosh library have been protected and there will be screens to replace the windows while they are being restored.

Visit from ICON conference delegates

On Wednesday afternoon we welcomed a group of 23 ICON (The Institute of Conservation) Conference delegates to the School.

The ICON Conference is a triennial event, this year taking place at the University of Glasgow. This year’s theme is “Positive Futures in an Uncertain World” and it’s hoped the event will inspire conservation professionals and all those working in the increasingly challenging and uncertain circumstances of today’s heritage sector. In light of funding cuts and staff losses, the conference will explore and debate how to respond in uncertain times.

Our group visited Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House in Helensburgh in the morning, followed by a visit to the School in the afternoon, where they enjoyed a customised tour of the building exploring the intricacies of balancing the demands of conserving the Mackintosh Building with that of welcoming thousands of visitors each year and all the while continuing to function as a working art school. We then welcomed our visitors to the Archives and Collections Centre to view a selection of our varied holdings, including textiles from the Needlework Development Scheme; Mackintosh watercolours; architectural drawings by Eugene Bourdon; metalwork; and GSA student registers and ephemera relating to events at the School. The afternoon was rounded off with a visit to the Willow Tea Rooms, a Mackintosh building currently in dire need of conservation itself.

The conference is now almost over, but we do hope the conservators enjoyed their pre-conference visit to the School.

The conference programme is available here.

The Needlework Development Scheme

GSA's Archivist Susannah shows ECA researchers Lindy and Lucie some items from our Needlework Development Scheme textile collection.

GSA Archivist Susannah shows ECA researchers Lindy and Lucie some items from our Needlework Development Scheme textile collection

Researchers from Edinburgh College of Art visited us last week to have a look at some items from our textile collection and to discuss the Needlework Development Scheme. Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections Centre has a collection of around 125 textiles that were formerly part of the Needlework Development Scheme, (1936-1962), a sheme set up by thread manufacturers J & P Coats with the stated aim being to encourage greater interest in embroidery and raise the standard of design. When the scheme disbanded, the textile collection was split up between various Scottish institutions.

F40_NDS1075, Embroidered apron, Portugal, 19th century

F40_NDS1075, embroidered apron, Portugal, 19th century, an item from GSA’s Needlework Development Scheme textile collection

Lindy Richardson and Lucie Whitmore from Edinburgh College of Art were excited to see our collection of textiles from the scheme, as they have recently uncovered a number of items themselves. Edinburgh College of Art are now looking for people with memories of the Needlework Development Scheme. See below:

NDS poster

Conservator at work in the Mack

Mackintosh LibraryFurniture conservator Sarah Gerrish spent yesterday in the Mackintosh Library tidying up the timber surfaces. She’s toned down all the visible scratches and marks to the dark surfaces on the lower level (including the skirting boards, cupboard locks and some of the more obvious marks to the table tops) and given some of the cupboard doors exposed to the light and window bays a good coating of wax. All in all, a great improvement. This is something that we hope to repeat once a year just to keep on top of things. Today, Sarah’s going to do the same thing to the timber on the main staircase in the Mack and freshen up the three wooden benches in the foyer too.

Here’s a video from our Vimeo site of Sarah speaking about work she did in the Mackintosh Building during the Mackintosh Conservation and Access Project a few years ago.