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.

Our Plaster Casts and Objects

The Mackintosh Building has always hosted a number of plaster casts comprising human figures, architectural fragments, plaster reliefs, plaster friezes, marble reliefs, tondos and busts. These figures have occupied the halls of the Mack from the late 19th century onwards.

Plaster Cast

Medici Venus (PC/196)

Used as teaching aids the casts are generally based on classical statuary and were sourced from Roman, Greek and later Italian and Medieval periods. While it is not unusual for art schools to hold plaster casts such as these, because ours have always occupied the school they regularly appear in the archive’s photograph collections.

The East Basement Corridor of the Mackintosh Building (GSAA/P/7/109)

The East Basement Corridor of the Mackintosh Building (GSAA/P/7/109)

Their presence dominating both the corridors and the classroom.

Students at work in the Antique Studio, now known as Studio 40 (GSAA/P/7/224)

Students at work in the Antique Studio, now known as Studio 40 (GSAA/P/7/224)

During the evacuation of the Mackintosh building as many of the plaster casts and other objects from the collection were removed. Others still remain inside because they were in too fragile a condition to move and it was safer for them to remain in situ where the environment is stable.

For those taken out of the building, like all our objects and collections they have been examined by specialist conservators who have advised on how they should be treated. For this work we would like to thank:

-Graciella Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation

-Glasgow Museums

-As well as all the volunteers who assisted the archives with removing the collections from the building.

Lion and Serpent (PC/058)

Lion and Serpent (PC/058)

All the casts that could be removed have now been transferred to an offsite location where their condition will be assessed.

Giuliano de' Medici (PC/039)

Giuliano de’ Medici (PC/039)

Alongside our plaster casts all of the majority of our object collections were successfully removed from the building, and during the process of wrapping we came across some unusual objects! Can you guess what this is?

Mystery Object

Our object collections include ceramics, small chest of drawers, coin and medal casts, brooches and more. All of these have survived the fire unscathed.

 

Recovering our Textile Archives

We have covered paper and are now onto our wonderful textile collection. The textile collection spans from the 16th century till present day and contains a diverse selection of works including woven samples from Donald Brothers Ltd., work by Robert Stewart, Kath Whyte, Fraser Taylor and many more. These collections suffered no direct damage from the fire, but some were exposed to water as the blaze was extinguished.

Fraser Taylor

Fraser Taylor Textile

Like any of the collections that were touched by water (or had the potential to be) the textiles were quickly removed from their original store. As would be expected all archive materials are packaged and wrapped in archival proof materials (in other words acid free packaging). In this case the textiles were wrapped in tyvec or boxed in acid free boxes that took the brunt of any water exposure.

Textiles Removed from the Mackintosh Building

Textiles Removed from the Mackintosh Building

Once removed from their original store these were then transferred to the Reid building so that the textiles could be dried, aired and re-packaged after being examined by conservators. While of course this incident was extremely unfortunate, it has afforded a unique opportunity to see all the textiles laid out at once.

Eskimo Dolls

 

Textiles being air dried

Textiles being air dried

 

Over the last couple of months these textiles have been dried using a combination of fans and dehumidifiers and were periodically examined by textile conservators. To these conservators, for the generous offer of their time and assistance we would like to thank volunteers from the:

-University of Glasgow, staff and students

-National Museum of Scotland

-and independent conservators

All of who advised on the state and repackaging of our textiles collections.

Textile conservator hard at work

Textile conservator hard at work

Through the work of such volunteers these textiles have now been repackaged and moved off site for storage.

All the textiles repackaged and labelled for off-site storage

All the textiles repackaged and labelled for off-site storage

Next week we will be moving on to the plaster casts.

Our Paper Based Archives

As promised we have an update on what has been happening with our collections, starting with our paper based archives.

Here at the GSA we have a variety of paper archives and art work on paper. These include over 2000 boxes of records created by the school and its students and staff, such as the archive of the architectural firm Gillespie Kidd & Coia, the school governor’s notes, ephemera, photographs relating to Glasgow and the school’s exhibitions and events, and the bulk of our deposited collections. Alongside this, our stores house architectural plans, pieces of artwork, the student registers and several original works by Mackintosh (including the Magazine, the architectural drawings for the school and his watercolours, some of which are currently being exhibited in the Reid Gallery as part of GENERATION). This material provides the foundation of the school’s history and these items are often the first to be relied on here in the archive for visitor enquiries.

Fortunately the bulk of this material was unharmed by the fire, however a small section was exposed to water after the fire was extinguished and were the first items to be removed from the building.

Air drying the paper based archives.

Air drying the paper based archives

The majority of records touched by water could be air dried but any records that required more extensive conservation were removed offsite to document specialists ‘Harwell’ where they will be frozen so that conservation work can be undertaken. The rest were assessed by paper conservators from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) who helped to repackage and identify any documents at risk. With the risk of repeating myself, once again I really must say thank you to those from the NRS who helped during this time. Your help was very much appreciated.

Due to the potential risk of exposure to water while the materials remained inside the Mack the decision was made to evacuate the building of all materials as quickly as possible. This resulted in the formation, on Tuesday 3rd June, of a human chain travelling from our stores and winding its way down to McLellan Galleries where these materials were stored temporarily.

The Human Chain

The Human Chain

We would once again like to thank all those who helped form this chain and contributed to the truly immense task of emptying both stores in a single day. These include:

·         Historic Scotland crew, who manned the staircases to pass up the boxes and took apart and lifted all of our plan chest drawers down to McLellan Galleries

·         Volunteers from the GSA staff and associated institutions who generously gave their time

The Human Chain

The Human Chain

Due to this immense endeavour the entirety of our collections were removed from the building and set aside for repackaging and labelling.

Repacking and Labelling

Re-labelled paper archives

Re-labelled paper archives

Once these materials were removed they were assessed by external conservators who offered their services before the process of repackaging and labelling went underway. For this, there are many more volunteers we have to thank:

·         The National Galleries

·         The University of Strathclyde

·         The University of Glasgow both staff and students

·         Museum Galleries Scotland

·         Dewar’s Archive

·         The National Records of Scotland

·         Harwell Document Restoration Service

As the bulk of these collections were in a stable condition they have been moved offsite for safe storage.

 

Archives in Storage

Archives in Storage

That is the current stage of our paper archives and next week we will be providing an update on our textile collections.

Recovery from the Mackintosh Building

The Mackintosh Building

 

It has been a while since we have blogged after the sad incident on the 23rd May, we have been busy here at the Archives and Collections Centre in the process of removing, assessing and consolidating our collections to see exactly what the impact has been. We now have a firmer picture of exactly what has happened and the opportunity to update you all on the situation.

Firstly, everyone from the Archive would like to thank all those who kindly offered their assistance, well wishes and help during the process of evacuating the Mackintosh Building of our collections during this difficult time. These include staff and volunteers from:

  • Historic Scotland
  • Belfor
  • Glasgow Area Disaster Planning
  • Constantine
  • University of Glasgow
  • National Records Scotland
  • Glasgow Museums
  • Graciella Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation
  • Museum Galleries Scotland
  • Glasgow School of Art Staff

All of the people from these institutions have generously offered their time and expertise, and it is a gesture that has been truly overwhelming for us here at the archive. As we are a small team of only five people, I can sincerely say that without all your help the task of retrieving and moving the entirety of our collections over the last couple of weeks would have been impossible. So once again we would like to thank you all.

Another textile saved

Another textile saved

At the moment the bulk of our collections have been removed from the Mackintosh Building. This includes material housed in our plan chest store (many prints, architectural drawings, the Mackintosh watercolours and more); our paper store (containing the school director’s papers, business archives and the bulk of the school’s historical and ephemera materials) and our textile store (that includes works by  Robert Stewart, Grace Melvin and Kath Whyte).

Another piece of the archive saved

Another piece of the archive saved

 

The collections that have been removed are currently in the process of being assessed to ascertain their condition. Where possible, affected material has been stabilised. There will be further posts to update you as work continues.