Art and the man

10th February 2006 at 00:00
For the past 100 years, Charles Rennie Mackintosh's distinctive designs have delighted the world. This year, Glasgow will be displaying his vast collection in a series of exhibitions to celebrate his work. Su Clark has a sneak preview

Barcelona has Antoni Gaud!, Chicago has Frank Lloyd Wright and Glasgow has Charles Rennie Mackintosh, arguably one of the greatest and most influential architects and designers Britain has ever produced.

For the past 100 years, Charles Rennie Mackintosh has inspired not just architects and designers, but also artists, printmakers, furniture makers, and more recently jewellers, with his originality and clarity. However, Glasgow has no desire to keep him to itself. Later this year it will be displaying its vast collection of his work, and that of his closest collaborators, during a one-off Glasgow Mackintosh Festival.

Pamela Robertson, senior curator and professor of Mackintosh studies at Glasgow University, has been planning and co-ordinating the festival for the past 20 months, which will take place this September across all of Glasgow's Mackintosh properties and collections in the city. The aim is to attract an additional 150,000 visitors to the city over the next three years.

"Glasgow houses the most important buildings and artworks by Mackintosh anywhere in the world, and he is a figure of worldwide importance," says Pamela. "The festival will enable us to place Glasgow's Mackintosh heritage firmly on the global cultural map."

This year's centenary celebrations surrounding Scotland Street School is one prompt for the festival; another is the reopening of Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, closed for three years for a pound;27.9 million refurbishment. Part of the new look Kelvingrove is the "Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style Gallery", housing the largest permanent display of the Glasgow School's wide-ranging media and techniques.

Glasgow is proud of Mackintosh, who was from a family of 11 children from the Townhead area of the city. He started out in architecture, but his talents ranged beyond the structural to designing the furniture to go inside his buildings and the decorative touches, such as his Mackintosh rose, that have become ubiquitous over the past 100 years. By the start of the 20th century he had designed some of the city's major buildings, and his fame stretched far beyond Scotland.

The Hunterian Art Gallery, built on the spot of Mackintosh's last home in Scotland, will be one of the key players in the festival. In Doves and Dreams, it will exhibit the work of Mackintosh's closest collaborators, his close friend J Herbert McNair and his wife, Frances Macdonald, sister of Mackintosh's wife, Margaret. Together they are known as "The Four". There will also be a display of Margaret MacDonald's watercolours.

Pupils can also visit the Mackintosh House. Incorporated within the structure of the gallery, the house and contents have been meticulously reassembled with original fixtures, fittings and furniture. Pupils will be able to see the instantly recognisable high-backed chairs that Mackintosh and Margaret used, the table and chair they ate from and their bedroom furniture, all designed by Mackintosh. They can also see how he transformed the traditional, dark Victorian townhouse into a light and modern residence.

"We have lots of school parties come to the Mackintosh House, and we hope they will continue to come during the festival," says Pamela. "As only small groups of 15 can go round the house at once, we split classes in two and show one half the gallery and the other the house, then we swap them round. With the re-opening of Kelvingrove Museum, we envisage some parties splitting their day between there and us."

The Hunterian is developing resources for schools that will support the teacher, but it is also providing a series of continuing professional development events.

"We can lead visits but we also want to empower the teacher to feel confident about leading the group themselves and continuing the topic in the classroom," says Monica Callaghan, head of education at the Hunterian.

A comprehensive database of the entire Mackintosh collection is also under construction, which will allow teachers to reinforce learning back in the classroom.

For older design students, drawings Mackintosh made for architectural competitions are on display at the Glasgow School of Art, a building he designed in 1896. The art college is currently looking at resources and hopes to offer interested schools support. It will also continue its building tours that are popular with schools. Scotland Street School Museum currently offers schools tours of its building, with insights into Mackintosh design as well as the evolution of teaching in the city (see page 27).

Another major exhibitor within the festival will be The Lighthouse Centre for Architecture and Design, based in the old Glasgow Herald building, Mackintosh's first public commission. It houses the Mackintosh Interpretation Centre, and during the festival will be displaying a contemporary design exhibition inspired by Mackintosh, and a specially commissioned Mackintosh Flower Garden. It will also be running Mackintosh tours, children's workshops and CPD training for teachers. The Lighthouse has an active schools programme and resources which will be supplemented during the festival.

Many of the 12 Mackintosh properties and collections are participating in the festival, which means there is something for every age group. But the organisers are hoping the event will merely be an introduction to the man and his art, and that teachers will want to come again and again, ensuring another generation of Scottish children learn about Glasgow's favourite architect.

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