Glasgow, Architecture, And Art: Exploring The Work Of Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Charles Rennie Mackintosh: is the name of this Scottish architect, artist, and designer familiar? If it is not, it is till very likely you will have seen some of his work, or work influenced by his ideas.

Glasgow Scoool of Art before the fire copyright kerry dexter

Mackintosh was born and raised, and created most of his work, in Glasgow. Every year in October, his hometown spends a whole month celebrating Mackintosh’s art and ideas. There are exhibits, talks, and all manner of other events to share information about the man and his creativity. Mackintosh was born in 1868 and died in the 1920s. His busiest time time as an architect in Glasgow was right around the turn of the twentieth century. He designed buildings including schools, churches, tearooms, and private homes, furniture, stained glass, and decorative architectural elements. He was also skilled in drawing, painting, and textile design. Though Mackintosh is often called a founder of Art Nouveau, his work takes a distinct and often distinctly Scottish form of its own.

Seven places to experience the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh:

Mackintosh married Margaret Macdonald, an artist he met while both were taking classes at the Glasgow School of Art. The husband and wife often collaborated on interior design projects. Charles tended to draw on natural plant forms for inspiration while Margaret looked to legend and myth. You can see several of their collaborative and individual design panels at the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, along with furniture and other items.

laterns design by CR mackintosh copyright kerry Dexter

The importance of light to shape space was one of Mackintosh’s firm beliefs. That’s evident in his design for the Glasgow School of Art. Despite budget constraints during construction and a problematic site which was on a steeply sloping hill between two of Glasgow’s main streets, he created a building which has become an icon of his work,: and an icon of the city of Glasgow itself.

That love and respect for Mackintosh and the Glasgow School of Art extended around the world came clear in May of 2014, when a fast moving fire engulfed the center of the building. Everyone got out of the building safely, and firefighters from Scottish Fire and Rescue saved much of the historic building. The library, which is often referenced as a classic example of Glasgow style, was gone, though.

Glasgow Scool of Art after the fire  by Kerry Dexter

It was decided to rebuild the library to Mackintosh’s design. There is original documentation, and the room had been studied and photographed many times over the years. The craftspeople who are working on the interiors take into account the working conditions of their predecessors, too, wanting to create a place, as was the original, that is thoughtfully done but not too perfect. When you walk down the street today, you are likely to find the building still under reconstruction. That’s an interesting story in itself, perhaps for another time.

Across the way, in the modern day Reid Building you can learn more about the life of Mackintosh, his influences — including some of the design books he studied — and the work of other artists who studied at the GSA.

Art by CR Macktosh Ried bldg GSA Glasgow phot by Kerry Dexter

You can learn more of Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the Hunterian Art Gallery on the University of Glasgow campus, too. Many of his drawings and notebooks are in the collection there. These are detailed visual notes, if you will, of places Mackintosh came across when, as a young architect, he won a scholarship to travel in Europe. They show they eye and hand of a creative thinker at work. At the Hunterian Art Gallery you can also walk into rooms from an apartment where Charles and Margaret lived. When the building was was to be demolished rooms they designed were given to the gallery and have been reconstructed on site.

Spiral staircase at The Lighthouse Glasgow by CR Mackintosh photo by patrick mackie

The Lighthouse,. which Mackintosh designed as a newspaper headquarters, is now a home for cutting edge Scottish architectural research, a fine bookstore, a quiet top floor cafe, and intriguing exhibits tracing Mackintosh’s career.

Queen’s Cross Church is a place to see how Mackintosh handles design for a congregation. These days it is the home of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society.

Scotland Sreet School Glasgow by CR Mackintosh photo by Thomas Nugent

The Scotland Street School shows his interest in providing light and space for students, and now is home to museum of Scottish education. The Willow Tearooms, at this writing closed for refurbishment, give insight into another way Mackintosh took is ideas about light and space into practice for a working business.

Photograph of spiral staircase in the Mackintosh Tower at The Lighthouse by Patrick Mackie, Scotland Street School at night by Thomas Nugent.
All other photographs by Kerry Dexter, photographs at Kelvingrove made with permission of the museum. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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