Saturday, May 24, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Twelve

Tuesday, 28 March, 1989
Helensburgh to Glasgow
Day Twelve

Didn’t leave Helensburgh till nearly noon. Had a nice breakfast in the front hall of Mrs. Grant’s house, it being the basic bacon and eggs with one or two Scottish variations. I was attended by the family border collie, who did not get anything.

Went by the Baillie-Scott White House (not far from the Mackintosh), but it’s in private hands so I didn’t see the inside.

Then got some change for a traveller’s cheque, since Mrs. Grant didn’t know what to do with one, and bought a snack at a bakery for later on. Gave in to temptation and bought a book on Mackintosh watercolors at the Tourist office. It’s a real book, don’t worry. I paid by check and discovered I have one missing . . . At least, I don’t recall writing it. As soon as I come across a National Westminster branch I’ll have to ask them to check their computer for me.

Paid Mrs. Grant at the B&B, loaded up my bags, and headed for Glasgow. And it’s odd, but as nice as some of the English people I’ve met have been, with the Scots it seems more real and relaxed.

Usual absurdity with getting lost in Glasgow, this time the problem being compounded by big city traffic and parking regulations. At length made it over to the Hunterian Art Museum on the U of Glasgow campus, to see the Mackintosh house they’ve incorporated into it.

The Museum [Art Gallery] building itself is a piece of crap. The Mackintosh rooms are a revelation.

These are from Charles’ and Margaret’s own place. I love seeing evidence of how they worked together. He may not have had the happiest of careers but at least he had that in his marriage, and seemingly had it all his life.

They won’t let you take photos in there, which is too bad since doing that tends to fuse things into my memory as well as onto the film. Still, I think I can recall the lines and proportions of the rooms and pieces. I did have to wonder about the fireplaces, though. All coal grates. I hope to God his flues didn’t smoke-- they’d’ve mucked up those pristine white interiors in no time.

Spent a lot of time examining the working drawings/cum renderings for the furniture, displayed upstairs in a separate gallery. Mackintosh must’ve trusted his craftsmen implicitly-- there’s hardly a separate detail except an occasional rough axo of a pull out tray. Funny, but I was affected in a homely way by the notes as to how many tablecloths or towels or other linens this or that cabinet was to hold . . . Design isn’t all flights of imagination . . . And the process goes on even now; I am part of a tradition.

And even Mackintosh’s cursive minuscules held a note of familiarity: "All architects write alike" (as a non-architecture-student friend once said to me) . . . And I could tell from the state of each drawing and its title block how much time he’d had to get the design out. It still happens the same way now.

After this I went back down and compared the built furnishings with my memory of their drawings. Useful exercise.

Not sure what to say about the blue guest room. If the photos are correct, the pattern wasn’t all that relentless. But still, "daring" doesn’t half cover it. I never know what to say when an artist goes off in a new direction. I’d hate anyone to tell me I couldn’t do that myself, but when you admire the artist’s former style more, you’re left with the equally unattractive alternatives of wondering if the new work is really good and you have no taste, or if someone you admire is slipping.

It’s really too bad Mackintosh did no real architectural work after that. Because if he had we really could’ve seen where all this was leading.

He was born the same year as Frank Lloyd Wright. Pity he didn’t live as long.

Saw the originals of two of his Port Vendres watercolors in the watercolor exhibit elsewhere in the gallery. The colors are still wonderfully bright and fresh.

Discovered from a pamphlet I got at the kiosk at the entry that the Queens Cross Church was open till 5:30 today but wouldn’t be open tomorrow. It was 4:30 by now and I got back to the car and set out to drive over. Got thoroughly muddled again, thanks to the Glaswegian propensity for not labelling streets. After once too many of having to back out of a dead end that wasn’t properly marked, I nearly laid on the horn and screamed in a boil over of frustration.

Finally made it to Queens Cross by 5:20 (I’m now told it’s a fifteen minute walk from the Hunterian). Fortunately the people there were very nice and didn’t hurry me out. So I got to spend at least a half hour wandering around the church. It’s primarily the headquarters for the Mackintosh Society now, but one of the local congregations is using it on Sundays while their building is being redone. I was glad to hear that.

The decoration isn’t lavish but it’s varied and original. I particularly liked the design of the trusses in the parish hall. The stylized plant life motifs on each of the column capitals of the nave are all different, too.

The light was flooding into the side balcony (the day having turned out to be fine) and down into the chancel. I had to wonder if you could ever get an effect like that during morning services, but I was grateful for its beauty now.

Over to the Youth Hostel on Woodland Terrace thereafter. Got a berth, then took off again to see the outside of Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art. I’d discovered at Queens Cross that I won’t be able to see the inside this trip-- they’d closed for the Easter holidays, too. But I don’t trust this Scottish weather, so I thought I’d at least go shoot the facade while I had the sun.

It must be a heck of a thing to go to school there, and look daily upon the inventiveness of one of your forebears . . . Did you know the decorative motifs of the ironwork at the front are all different? And it’s wonderful how he’s coped with that difficult, steeply-sloping site. Not a pis aller in the place.

It’s a shame the buildings across the street are so damn ugly.

Back at the Youth Hostel (I know my way there, at least) I unloaded, then took my bit of food down and ate it in the members’ kitchen. Then I wrote Eric* [architect and former employer] a short letter, which may get me in a lot of trouble, but who gives a damn, I was entirely complimentary. Talked a little with a girl from Australia, who’s also here to see the Mackintosh work. She knows someone who’s going to try to get into the School of Art despite the out-of-term closure.

This week there are a lot of French students here. I’m surprised how much I can understand of what they’re saying. There are two elderly Frenchwomen sharing the room here; I don’t know if they’re connected with the others.


Sandy said...

Another wonderful post that painted pictures in my head.

St. Blogwen said...

Go back and click on the links, now that I've added them in. The Mackintosh work needs to be seen to be appreciated!