Glasgow Style at the Kelvingrove Gallery

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My recent trip to Glasgow  included a visit to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Amongst the exhibitions is one dedicated to Glasgow Style, a celebration of the vibrant and iconic decorative arts and architecture which have become synonymous with the city’s creative past.

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At the end of the 19th century, the Glasgow School of Art had established itself as one of the leading academies of its kind in Europe. The school gained a reputation as a design leader with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose eye for design saw him become a legend of his craft, being instrumental at the forefront of the School‘s success. Glasgow Style was born.

This mural of the man himself, and incorporating his iconic rose design, adorns a wall in the city centre, one of many fabulous murals in Glasgow.

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh trained as an architect but enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art to enhance his skills set. Like many great artists, Mackintosh’s achievements were not fully appreciated until after his death.

He was commissioned to design a series of tea rooms and given full creative freedom over the decor and furnishings, even cutlery. These tearooms became synonymous with Mackintosh to the extent that when one building was demolished, it was decided to painstakingly remove and preserve the interiors beforehand.

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Below are some of the original furnishings and fittings, including tableware which can be seen in the display cabinet. Another original tea room has been reassembled at the new Victoria & Albert Museum in Dundee.

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The Mackintosh design style was not only to be found in public spaces. Some other exquisite examples in private ownership are included in the exhibit.

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It was during his time at the Glasgow School of Art that Mackintosh met his future wife, Margaret Macdonald and her sister, Frances, who married Mackintosh’s friend, James McNair. They were known as the four, all contributing to the Glasgow Style movement.

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The four and their stylish crowd.

Margaret Macdonald collaborated closely with her husband on numerous projects and was a talented artist in her own right. In fact, her husband modestly acknowledged her genius as compared with his own simple “talent”.

The Gesso panel on the wall below is entitled The Wassail and was designed by Margaret Macdonald, and was displayed in the  Ladies’ Luncheon room at one of Miss Cranston’s tea rooms.

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One of my favourite pieces is this stunning Tiyptych, by another female artist, Marion Henderson Wilson. Designed in 1905, these three panels of beaten tin depict a series of Glasgow motifs including intertwined lines of natural growth and the iconic roses. The subject is described as a mediaeval woman, but she looks quite of the moment – the 1905 moment, that is.

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The production of glassware first started up in Glasgow in the 1600s, but the industry grew from the 1850s and was thriving by 1900, supplying the domestic market and churches. The Glasgow rose often featured, as in this splendid panel found in a tenement flat on Florida Avenue.

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Here are some more intricately painted panels which once would have looked stunning in a private house.

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If you like Art Nouveau, these are just some examples of a superb collection at Kelvingrove.

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An autumn day in Glasgow

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The last time I went to Glasgow was on a very hot day in the summer of 1982. I was with my family and we had driven up for the day from the south of Scotland where we holidayed frequently at our caravan. I had spent some pocket money on an album by Visage, one of my favourite groups of the time, and it was so hot that the vinyl record melted in the boot of our car. It’s funny, the things we remember. I don’t recall anything else about that day or any other childhood visits, so yesterday’s long overdue return was like going for the first time…. and this time it definitely wasn’t hot.

One of the best ways to get a flavour of a city when time is short is by boarding a sightseeing bus. Although still quite mild for November, it was a bit nippy on the open top deck. We started our tour at George Square where Christmas decorations had already been installed .

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Statue of Sir Robert Peel, founder of the modern  British police service
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Glasgow is already bedecked with stunning Christmas decorations

The agreeable voice of suave TV historian Neil Oliver provided the recorded commentary as we wound our way around the city.

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The first Duke of Wellington has been in situ outside of the Gallery of Modern Art since 1844 but with a more recent addition to his attire

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Glasgow has some fantastic murals. It would be worth spending a day looking at the city’s outstanding street art (I might well do that!). I love this depiction of the city’s founder, Saint Mungo, on High Street. Represented as a modern man, Mungo tenderly handles the bird that never flew which he is said to have restored to life after having been wrongly blamed for its death. The story of the wild robin tamed by Mungo’s master, Saint Serf, is part of the story of the city’s origins and is included in its motto:

‘Here is the bird that never flew

Here is the tree that never grew

Here is the bell that never rang

Here is the fish that never swam.’

 

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Billy Connolly mural
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Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The tollbooth steeple clock stands at the junction of four main mediaeval streets. It is all that remains of the early 17th century civic building which it had once stood atop.

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I didn’t visit the Purple Cat cafe, but thought it was a great name!

 

Glasgow Green is in the city’s east end. I really wanted to spend some time here exploring the beautiful People’s Palace but in the end we didn’t have time to go back; such a shame as it looked so lovely, but even more reason to visit again!

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We journeyed on alongside the river Clyde, passing the Riverside Museum and Scottish Events Campus

 

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Scottish Events Campus – the armadillo
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Scottish Events Campus – the Hydro

From the riverside location our bus continued towards the west of the city. It was a bright and sunny day and the colours of autumn were glorious.

 

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Alighting in salubrious Kelvingrove, we enjoyed a warming and very tasty lunch near the welcoming coal fire of The 78, a popular vegan bar restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere and an interesting and delicious menu.

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Warmed and reinvigorated, we walked to our main destination, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, stopping at the bridge over the river Kelvin to admire the water below,  the autumnal trees and the bronze-cast sculptures, including this 1926 depiction of Philosophy and Inspiration. I have a feeling that the skull’s eyes are a much more recent addition.

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The grounds of Kelvingrove Gallery are lovely and are a perfect setting for the location of the many exquisite objects within.

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Having come to the end of our mini tour of a marvellous city, off we went to enjoy some awesome Scottish art and art-deco designs which I’ll be sharing with you soon.

 

 

 

Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, Eskdalemuir, Scotland

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I came across this place when looking online for places to visit on a short break in the south of Scotland. It burst onto my monitor in a multi-coloured flash and at first I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought my Google search had brought up a rogue link to a place somewhere in the Himalayan foot hills, not the rolling green hills of Dumfriesshire. Closer inspection showed me that Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery did indeed have a Dumfries post code. I was hooked!

The magpie in me has always been attracted to the shiny and colourful, and this place had it in abundance. The bold, ornate temple with its dramatic art and sculpture jumped off the screen. I decided I had to go there to see for myself.

I had spent many happy childhood holidays in the Scottish border regions where my family had a static caravan. My memories are fond and include more recollections of grey skies and rain than sunshine in the blue. I’ve always found brooding grey skies and hill mists powerful and compelling.

As the little bus makes its way along the narrow road, passing through miles of uninhabited heather-covered moorland and vast forests of fir, my anticipation grows. I try to picture the spectacle of this bold oriental structure against the pastoral landscape.

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The temple comes into view. First I see a wide driveway with entrance through a grand ornamental archway. Lines of red, blue and green prayer flags flutter in the breeze. It all looks surreal. Entering from the road via a different route I find myself almost immediately in front of the temple building. Large and imposing, it is every bit as colourful as the photos suggest. This fascinating construction is a sight to behold; a feast for the eyes.

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Stepping inside, the interior is stunning. Red and gold dominates, especially in the inner sanctum where a large golden Buddha statue sits in pride of place within a glass display cabinet. Offerings of food items and trays of candles are placed before the statue which is surrounded by manifold images of saints and deities. The richly painted ceiling is a stunning canopy. Look too closely and too critically and of course you will see that all that glitters is not gold. Grandeur or bling? Artistic or tacky? Ornate or pale imitation? What would the wise man say? Maybe he’d say, ‘Don’t look to closely and just enjoy the experience.’

Outside again, I am free to roam around the site with the only ‘off- limits’ areas being the residential apartments for the monks and visitors on retreat. A flock of small birds catches my attention as they settle on a strange object placed on a balcony. I climb the stairwell to investigate. The birds take flight as I approach and I am none the wiser as to the nature of the foodstuff upon which the feathered collective has been feasting. It most resembles a small pile of melted candle wax. Descending the steps again I pass a shaven-headed monk in full garb accompanied by an American woman I’d earlier seen inside the temple. I receive a look of disapproval from the monk; perhaps I am out of bounds.

The extensive monastery gardens are a mix of pleasure and practicality. Wildflowers, sunflowers, marigolds and lavender are just a few of the flora in bloom alongside the beds overflowing with marrows, cabbages and lettuce. Some areas appear to be a work in progress. A cement mixer and piles of flagstones suggest grand ideas not yet made manifest. A brown hare appears on the path ahead where bracken has taken over and nature rules. It stands perfectly still, almost like an illusion, before darting away at the sound of approaching footsteps. Statues of the Buddha and deities and demons of Tibetan folklore turn this Scottish garden exotic and mystical. Strips of pretty fabrics adorn tree branches, prayers and wishes moving in the wind. Insects hover above the lily pads of a still pond traversed by a pretty wooden bridge.

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The ‘Tibetan Tea Rooms’ had looked very inviting on the website and I am looking forward to a wholesome veggie lunch prepared (hopefully) using the organic home-grown produce I’d seen in the vegetable garden. I am most disappointed to discover that the only food on the menu is Danish pastries and cheese & onion pasties. The enthusiastic young man who serves me informs me that there is usually soup and sandwiches too, but all the kitchen staff are new and still learning. Two packets of crisps and a refreshing bottle of elderflower cordial have to suffice. It doesn’t seem to matter in the scheme of things.

On my way back to the road I pass an intriguing building, a sort of corridor with prayer wheels arranged along one side, and what is essentially a columbarium along the other. Within glass-fronted cabinets stand rows of urns and other receptacles containing cremated remains. Most have alongside them photographs of the  people and pets whose remains are housed here, presumably members of the Buddhist community and their companions in feather and fur. Exquisitely decorated vases, bejewelled caskets, Chinese-style lacquered boxes, even hand-painted cardboard tubes all repose in the recesses. Smiling faces look out from gilded frames as the prayer wheels spin in sequence, carrying a thousand heartfelt wishes onto the breeze.

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