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Mackintosh Library Excavations Begin

Glasgow School of Art

<![CDATA[The Glasgow School of Art's Mackintosh library is being excavated by archaeologists, in an attempt to discover any surviving items. After being gutted by fire in May this year, the debris and ashes are being sifted through carefully by the team of archaeologists. About 90% of the building was saved from the fire, but the library, one of the world's finest examples of art nouveau style, was almost entirely destroyed. Duncan Chappell, the school's librarian, has noted that about half of the school's rare books were housed in the library when the fire struck. The team hopes that some of the rare archival materials, as well as original furniture and fittings, will be discovered relatively unharmed. The excavations led by Gordon Ewart, director of Kirkdale Archaeology, are expected to last several weeks. Ewart's team will be working systematically through the debris, excavating one square metre segments at a time. Each 25 centimetre layer of ash will be transferred to the Mackintosh museum, where items worthy of salvage will be identified. A similar process to this was undertaken following the fire at Windsor Castle in 1992. As the Glasgow School of Art fire had a variable heat effect, combined with the fact that some items may have been shielded under debris from the collapsing roof, Ewart thinks that many objects will be found in a good condition. In an interview with The Guardian, he said “We are looking for books that are viable, specific objects – notably the clock, furniture and light fittings, as well as wood and the fabric of the library itself.” Hopes are high that some of the library's collection will be rediscovered. Ranald MacInnes, head of heritage management at Historic Scotland, has been involved with the salvage effort from the outset, and feels optimistic. "If we look at previous fires, it’s amazing what has survived, and been able to be scrubbed up," he said. A large amount of care is being taken with any salvaged books, Chappell explained. “When we bring them [the books] out, they’ll be sent off for freezing, to stop any mold growth, and ultimately our aim will be to restore those and make them usable again for the students and researchers we have here,” he told The Guardian. Plans to restore the library to its former glory are well under way. The Glasgow School of Art estimates that the cost of restoring the building could reach £35m. Scottish ministers and the UK government have pledged to contribute to a fund launched in June by Brad Pitt and Peter Capaldi, a former student of the art school. This month, 100 students who lost their work in the fire have resumed their studies with the help of Phoenix Bursaries. The bursaries are providing studio space for up to six months, and a living allowance while they recreate their portfolios. The excavation team are optimistic, and have already had some success; recently finding a shelf of books which appears largely intact. Even amongst the rubble and debris, unique items have been found. For example, A German architectural periodical was recently discovered beneath some blackened wood, its pages still damp from the water which fought the blaze. ]]>

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