I arrived in Glasgow to brilliant weather, quite a surprise. The air travel was challenging, as air travel goes–nine hours from Seattle to Amsterdam and then a mad dash to another gate to catch my connecting flight to Glasgow. The taxi driver from the Glasgow airport to my guesthouse provided a true grit Scottish accent, but I was certainly not prepared to record his voice, given that I had lost a night of sleep. I had to listen hard. My guesthouse is a pleasant 1880 Victorian building that is part of a series of middle class “tenements” in the West End of the city. Here tenement means residences for skilled workers, some buildings have original stained glasswork accents. The ceiling in my room is quite ornate, in clear contrast to the simplicity of art nouveau design.
I collapsed on my guesthouse bed and fell immediately asleep for a few hours, but then in an attempt to get in sync with Glasgow time, I ventured out to the Kelvingrove Museum to see the first of my planned series of Charles Rennie Mackintosh exhibits. Mackintosh was an architect, yes, but he was also a furniture and interior design artist. The sumptuous flowers and curves of art nouveau were present in the cabinets and chairs in the museum exhibit. The primary motif in his work is the stylized curving rose, which keeps to the dictum of botanical influences present in art nouveau. Mackintosh used contrasting lines and rectangles to create his signature forms. The rose is so prominent that the term Glasgow Rose appeared in the museum exhibit notes. It was a great surprise to see the work of women in the exhibit, which was called Glasgow Style, Mackintosh being only one of the contributors. His wife (they were students together at the prestigious Glasgow School of Art) designed fantastic works in gesso and fabric. I jotted down the names of other women in the exhibit for further study. Of the many cities that I have visited to document Art Nouveau (the art movement that followed Arts &Crafts) Glasgow is the first city that has provided names of its women artists.
Next Day: Took a train to Helensburgh to see Hill House. The Hill part should have tipped me off; there was a steep half hour walk to the House and the weather remained sunny and quite warm. But, as the tourist info booth man said, “it’s worth the walk.” Mackintosh and Margaret created a highly planned mansion for the publisher, Blackie, and his family. Rooms were arranged so that light hit walls at perfect angles and the windows in the children’s room would get wafts of rose fragrance from the gardens. Many of walls were stenciled with the Mackintosh’s signature rose design. Furniture looked sculpted, fireplaces had mosaics, and the stained glass was elegant. The building is owned and maintained by the Scottish Land Trust. The docents are all volunteers.
It’s good to have my Glasgow Almanac A-Z with me, it offers biographies of all the Glasgow Style artists who, with Mackintosh, make up Glasgow’s art nouveau movement. Mackintosh was not appreciated while alive, I learned, dying in obscurity. Isn’t that frequently the story with the greats? We make them greats when developmentally we catch up with the aesthetic that the artist visioned long before we could.
Over and out.