December 28, 2021, Santa Fe- In any meanderings, one never can be quite sure as to what will be encountered-especially in a quality museum. The greater part of this morning brought a new appreciation for the creativity of the Scottish Lowlands, a place I’ve yet to see.
After sleeping as if on a cloud, at Albuquerque’s Monterey Inn, I headed back to Old Town, and Blackbird Coffee House. Breakfast was put off a bit, as I grappled, along with a nice family from Texas, with the parking registration machine-which was out of paper. Fortunately, neither of us were visited by a parking warden, in the time spent enjoying a meal. Blackbird delivered nicely, as it always has.
Following quiche and coffee, I headed over to the Albuquerque Museum. As it happens, the headlining exhibit is showcasing The Four, a pair of related married couples whose heyday was Glasgow’s fin-de-siecle, when the great British port and industrial giant was in full ferment-followed by full flowering, from the 1890s until World War I. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, his wife, Margaret Macdonald, her sister, Frances Macdonald and brother-in-law, James Herbert McNair were the prime movers behind the neo-Renaissance of the Scottish Lowlands at the turn of the Twentieth Century, thus becoming known as The Four. They drew their influences from previous groups of Glasgow artists, notably the “Glasgow Boys” of the mid-Nineteenth Century, but also the Celtic Revival and Japonisme artistic movements, which emerged in Gilded Age Britain. The Four were also called Spook School, by more conventional art critics, due to their distortions of the human form. As an architectural designer, however, Charles Mackintosh relied largely on rectangular sketches. His great buildings, including Hill House and the Willow Tearooms, of late Victorian Glasgow, chartered by the entrepreneur Catherine Cranston, as well as The Lighthouse, now the site of Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture.
The Four were completely-rounded artists, producing not only buildings, but ornate and solidly-constructed furniture, a variety of paintings, fabric art and metallurgy. One of their prime acolytes, Anne Macbeth, was largely responsible for bringing embroidery into its own, as an art form that became a staple in secondary school arts curricula.
The Mackintoshes eventually relocated to London, while the McNairs, remaining in Glasgow, found their fortunes fading. Frances died in 1921, after which her disconsolate husband destroyed nearly all of her work. Charles and Margaret kept their body of work in trust, and it remains curated by various art galleries in Glasgow and in London.
Those of us who have the fortune to visit the Albuquerque Museum, until January 22, are thus treated to an appreciation of Glasgow’s fin-de-siecle flowering.
There is furniture:
Gesso (pronounced JE-so) is a hard plaster of Paris compound, usually applicable to sculpture or painted wood.
Repousse’ is the process of hammering a metal piece into relief, from the back side.
While the Glasgow Style itself faded, after World War I, the influence of The Four was long felt, as far afield as Vienna and Dresden, as well as here in the United States. Art Nouveau developed alongside Glasgow Style, and was profoundly influenced by the work of The Four, and any of the more than 70 other adherents of the Style.
After ninety minutes of immersion in the work of the Mackintoshes, McNairs and their colleagues, I spent an hour or so with New Mexico’s own avant garde. There are provocative depictions of religious themes and modernistic expressions of Native American spirituality. Young Indigenous people love science fiction as much as any of their contemporaries. I leave you with a depiction, by Tony Price-not a Native himself, but one inspired by Indigenous lore.