The south facade of the Mackintosh building following the fire (c) Glasgow School of Art

19th-century plaster casts likely destroyed in Glasgow School of Art fire

Jonathan Knott, 20.06.2018
But most of the institution's archival materials and collections were offsite
Plaster casts that have occupied Glasgow School of Art’s (GSA) Mackintosh building since the 19th century are likely to have been destroyed or damaged in the huge fire that gutted the school last week.

A spokeswoman for GSA told Museums Journal that while most of the institution’s archives and collection have been kept offsite since the previous blaze in 2014, some plaster casts were in the building when the fire broke out on Friday night.

“All the archival material and artworks were removed from the Mackintosh building in 2014 and are still offsite,” said the spokeswoman. “Some of the collection of plaster casts were in the building, but it is too early to say what the impact of the fire has been on them.”

According to a blog on the GSA Archives and Collections website from August 2014, the institution's collection of plaster casts comprised “human figures, architectural fragments, plaster reliefs, plaster friezes, marble reliefs, tondos and busts”.

“Used as teaching aids the casts are generally based on classical statuary and were sourced from Roman, Greek and later Italian and Medieval periods,” says the blog.

“During the evacuation of the Mackintosh building many of the plaster casts and other objects from the collection were removed,” says the blog. “Others still remain inside because they were in too fragile a condition to move and it was safer for them to remain in situ where the environment is stable.”

The institution's collection includes art, design and architectural work by GSA alumni and former staff, and comprises many works by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the designer of the Mackintosh building.

GSA did not provide information on the number of objects that were in the building at the time of the fire.

The Mackintosh building was undergoing a £35m restoration process following the 2014 fire, which affected a third of the building. Many of the restored fixtures and fittings for the Mackintosh Library, which was destroyed in the previous fire, are in storage at another site and remain safe, according to a report in the Guardian.

The latest fire was more extensive. Differing opinions have been expressed on whether the building can now be saved or whether it will have to be demolished.

A spokesman for Glasgow city council told the Guardian on Monday that “right now, people are operating on the understanding it will be saveable.”

And on Sunday Paul Sweeney, the MP for Glasgow North East, posted a series of videos on Twitter illustrating damage to the Mackintosh building following a visit. Sweeney tweeted: “I knew the interior was totally lost but I'm hopeful that most, if not all of the external facade can be reinforced and retained. The Mack will endure.”

In a statement on Sunday, Muriel Gray, the chair of the board of governors at Glasgow School of Art, said: “First we would like to express our deep gratitude to the magnificent Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, and also to extend our sympathy to our neighbours, both residents and businesses, who have also suffered, very much including the beloved O2 ABC Glasgow.

"It is an understatement to say everyone is utterly devastated but as usual the GSA Executive Team, staff and students, have been outstanding, positive and supportive. We now have a difficult waiting game until Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Glasgow City Council and associated agencies have completed their investigations into the condition of the Building. We remain hopeful of as positive an outcome as possible because it is clear that the love for the Mackintosh and recognition of its importance to Glasgow and the wider world is shared by absolutely everyone”.

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