‘Small army’ of 100 conservators volunteer to restore Glasgow School of Art
School’s board vows to rebuild Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s fire-ravaged library
By Emily Sharpe. Web only
Published online: 26 May 2014
More than 100 conservators are standing by to lend their expertise following Friday’s devastating fire at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Glasgow School of Art. The response from volunteers to save the school came “with amazing speed and generosity of spirit”, says Alison Richmond, the chief executive of Icon, the UK-based Institute for Conservation.
Conservators from the UK and abroad answered a social media call for help from within 24 hours of the blaze that destroyed the school's famous art nouveau library. The volunteers include managers and coordinators, conservators trained in disaster response, archivists, conservators of paper, paintings, textiles and stone. “We have people offering to source freezers, drying facilities and secure storage for collections,” Richmond says, adding that some volunteers are familiar with the building and its collection. “We have this small army of expert helpers and are standing by.”
Retrieving items from the archive and collection that are in need of immediate conservation is the first priority, says the school’s director Tom Inns. Following this, works by students will be recovered and will receive conservation treatment if needed.
The school’s elegant library, an Arts and Crafts masterpiece designed as part of an extension by Mackinstosh that opened in 1909, unfortunately could not be saved. The library was especially vulnerable because of the 100-year-old wood used throughout the room.
While the chairman of the school’s board of governors, Muriel Gray, called the loss of the library an “enormous blow”, she says that an inspection on Saturday showed that the majority of the Mackintosh Building is still intact and that the damage is “considerably less than we dreaded”. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said that more than 90% of the structure was viable and that up to 70% of the contents had been saved, according to the BBC. “The joy that our archives are safe combines with the delight in seeing most of our beloved building bruised and battered but most certainly not destroyed,” Gray says.
Gray says that the school intends to rebuild the library. “Mackintosh was not famous for working in precious materials. It was his vision that was precious and we are confident that we can recreate what was lost as faithfully as possible,” she says.
The UK government has also offered its support towards the restoration, with Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the treasury, pledging “in the millions, if necessary”.
The Glasgow School of Art has launched an online drive to raise £1m for its Mackintosh Building Fire Fund. To donate, go to: http://www.gsa.ac.uk
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