Until 30 years ago, wrecking crews in Glasgow were tearing down
buildings designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Today, he's the city's hero.
The Scottish architect and designer, born in Glasgow in 1860,
is known for his unique style, which combined the starkness of
hard-edge Arts and Crafts with the sensous curves of Art Nouveau.
You can visit Mackintosh's most famous buildings in Scotland, have
a cup of tea in the Willow Tea Room, and walk the streets of
Glasgow, soaking up the atmosphere that influ enced his designs.
But much closer to home, you can see the Ladies Luncheon Room
from Miss Cranston's Ingram Street Tea Rooms and more than 250
examples of Mackintosh's work in "Charles Rennie Mackintosh," a
visually rich exhibit that opened last weekend at The Art Institute
Seeing Mackintosh's work in Chicago, home to Frank Lloyd
Wright's early work, is especially appropriate. While both were
influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement, each spawned a
unique design style of his own.
"Both designed total environmets that not only spoke of
individual works, but of something more powerful," said Ghenete
Zelleke, curator of the Mackintosh exhibition in Chicago. The
parallels between Glasgow and Chicago, both expanding second cities
home to industry and trade, are just as intriguing.
The chronologically arranged show tells the Mackintosh story
through sketches, drawings and paintings, original furniture,
stained glass panels, portions of whole rooms and several carefully
executed models of houses and schools that were among Mackintosh's
A highlight of the show is a room from Cranston's tea rooms,
designed by Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret Macdonald, in 1900.
Catherine Cranston, a character who dressed in Victorian costume,
was one of the first to give Mackintosh free reign in interior
Like most of Mackintosh's work, the tea rooms blur the
boundaries between architecture and interior design, creating a
totally integrated environment. The couple designed virtually
everything used in the room, from the wall panels that define the
space to the menus and the waitresses' dresses and necklaces.
The room has been recreated using the original chairs, light
fixtures, coat racks and wood panels. Tables are set with homey
blue willow china. A pale scrim outside the windows creates a
ghost-like image of Glasgow.
Above eye level are stunning oil-painted gesso panels by
Macdonald, who was one of the most skilled workers in gesso at the
time. The panels are set with glass beads, thread, mother of pearl
and tin leaf. (You can inspect a smaller one at close range later
in the exhibition.)
"We unpacked more than a thousand huge crates just for the tea
room alone," said Daniel Robbins, a coordinator of the exhibit in
Glasgow. The tea rooms, designed between 1900 and 1911, had
remained open until the 1940s. In the '50s, the entire complex was
bought by Glasgow Corp. In the '70s the entire room was dismantled
piece by piece and put into storage. The restoration took more than
four years. The Mackintosh exhibit opened in Glasgow last spring,
where it was seen by more than 200,000 people.
A Changing World
The turn of the century was a time of easier communication
among artists and architiects like Mackintosh, Wright, William
Morris, the Vienna Secessionists and other European artists, so
there is a continuing controversy over who influenced whom. Several
of these designers, including Mackintosh, were influenced by
Japanese design. …