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Art School Fire: ‘It was the most fantastic place to work in’

Artist and former student Dr. John Lowrie Morrison OBE explains what 'the Mack' means to him.

Dr. John Lowrie Morrison OBE. <strong>Jolomo </strong>
Dr. John Lowrie Morrison OBE. Jolomo

Dr. John Lowrie Morrison OBE – ‘Jolomo’ – studied at the Glasgow School of Art from 1967.

I arrived at the Mack on September 30 1967 and spent several hours standing in line to matriculate in a fog of cigarette smoke.

Then down to the Mack lecture theatre, around 100 of us, to listen to GSA Director Sir Harry Jefferson – Barnes  and Deputy Director & Registrar G W. Lennox Paterson tell us about our courses and how the Mack worked.

We were severely lectured about smoking, that is was permitted but to make sure that our fags were put out, as the Mack would go up like a ‘tinder box’.

The Mack was a wonderful building.

I had decided to be an artist at the age of four and aged eight my parents gave me a box of oil paints palette and brushes for my birthday and I then decided this art stuff was for me and I was going to Glasgow School of Art.

I knew all about Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Mack as my mother was a fancy chocolate box maker working in Springer & Sons in 35 Buccleuch Street just a block away from the Mack.

She used to take me there as a very wee boy in the 1950’s and pointed to the Mack saying you will go there one day.

My maternal grandfather Henry Lowrie was an insurance agent but also a member of the London Guild of Printers and an extremely good amateur watercolour painter who never had any real art training.

So my mother, I think, wanted me to carry on the ‘the Gift.’

The Mack was just the most fantastic place to work in, many of the students who worked in other campus buildings were really jealous and I used to feel sorry for them.

I particularly felt really sorry for the students who were in Section 5 run by Ted & Elizabeth Odling – this was an experimental Studio which functioned down in Sauchiehall Street well away from the Mack.

Most ex-students I know fell in love with the Mack, as it was just the most beautiful building to work in, I even spent my evenings there going to extra life classes just to “be there”.

From the top of the building to the basement it just exuded CRM, you felt him everywhere, a number of students found it a bit creepy but I didn’t.

Everything was designed by him, from the studio stools and easels to the superb clocks that were all linked together by a master clock, a system just newly restored but now of course lost forever.

Of course most of the interior was wood, which was ultimately it’s downfall.

One memory that is etched in my mind is of November 18, 1968.

I was up in the hen run working on second Year model making run by Dugald Cameron.

I was in one of the wee hen run window recesses that had a seat and a window bench.

Whilst making my model a fire broke out down towards the Clyde – the Mack had a great view over Glasgow.

First it was just some smoke then huge flames.

This was the James Watt Street Fire Disaster where 22 employees died behind barred windows.

Many of us watched for ages that day, including a certain student named Tony MacMillan, now of course Robbie Coltrane, who was working on first year model making.

When the 2014 Mack fire took hold I will never forget the cameras zooming into that same little hen run window that we had been sitting around watching the James Watt Street fire all those years ago and now burning away on film.

The Mack seems to have a strange bedfellow with fire… for the Mack is now all consumed by that fire.

However, hopefully it will rise again and be the world’s best building.

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