Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Omega Quest.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (CRM), to the best of my knowledge, designed four headstones / gravestones / tombstones. The only reason we know this is because the design sketches for three of them still exist.
There may be others for which the paper designs are lost, and if so, they are weathering away quietly, still beautiful and peaceful, unknown unto the end of time.

It is my quest to visit these four known markers of past lives, and pay my respects. I believe CRM designed these for family and friends, and trying to find the connection is an interesting investigation.
The closest headstone to visit, stands within the Glasgow Necropolis, which is a large Victorian Cemetery in the heart of Glasgow City.

This headstone for Alexander McCall, in the form of a tall Celtic Cross, was designed when CRM was 19 or 20 years old. His father worked for Alexander McCall and the commission came through that connection I believe.
The headstone has been vandalised on a number of occasions, not due to any CRM connection I think, but because it contained a bronze panel and commemorated a policeman.
My old mentor used to say " Never attribute to intelligence, that which is adequately explained by stupidity." The bronze panel would have been a target for metal thieves, and that it commemorated a former Chief Constable, would have been seen as some sort of revenge.
The Necropolis is obviously a magnet for Neanderthals & lowlife when darkness falls, and many of the headstones have been vandalised through the years.
A newspaper report on the restoration of the headstone is here.
Some views of the headstone below:
View from the front shown above.

Detail of the centre carving shown above.

Detail of the bronze plaque shown above. The original plaque has now been replaced with a fibre-glass replica.

Detail of the cross shown above.

Detail of the damage shown as a reverse view above.

Detail of the scroll carving on the sides of the cross shown above.

History and fate weave a strange fabric, embroidered by circumstance. Also resting within the Necropolis are members of the Blackie family, who ran the old-established Glasgow publishing house of Blackie & Sons, Ltd. We will be discussing the resting place of J. Alexander Blackie, his wife Sallie Gemmell, and memorial to their only son Robert.
John Alexander Blackie was the elder son of Walter Graham Blackie, and Chairman of Blackie & Sons from around 1906 to 1917.

Let's go back in time for clarity:
In February 1893, a Gentleman by the name of Talwin Morris answered a newspaper advert for the position of Art Manager within Blackie & Son.

He got the job.

In May of that year Talwin and his wife Alice, moved north to Glasgow to a house named Dunglass Castle on the North shore of the Clyde near Bowling, and Talwin started work for Blackie & Son Ltd.
Previously, Alice and Joseph, her Father, had discovered Dunglass Castle on an earlier house-hunting expedition, possibly inspired by this newspaper advert:

Talwin and Alice became acquainted with the Macdonald Family. It would be nice to think this happened by way of Charles Macdonald, the Lawyer brother of Margaret & Frances, who became a close friend of Talwin.

Sans Clarity Insertion Update 26th Oct 2011.
It is more likely that Talwin was introduced to Francis H. Newbery, the Headmaster of the Glasgow School of Art, by the R.B. in the job advert, the R.B. being Robert Blackie (1820-1896), brother of Walter Graham Blackie (1816-1906), and uncle of John Alexander Blackie (1850-1918) mentioned above.
Once acquainted with Francis H. Newbery, exposure to the work of the Macdonald Sisters, J. Herbert McNair, and CRM would have followed.
Robert was a Governor of the Glasgow School of Art and would have been 73 years old when he interviewed Talwin. Robert handled all the Artistic matters of the publishing business having been trained as an artist by Mr. W.L. Leitch.
With their common interest in Art, Talwin was attracted by the work the Macdonald Sisters were undertaking in their Hope Street Studio, and in due course was introduced to both Charles R. Mackintosh and J. Herbert McNair, and they all became friends.
Talwin obviously knew the firms Bosses, John Alexander Blackie and his younger brother Walter Wilfrid Blackie. Walter Wilfrid Blackie at this time around 1901, lived in Dunblane, and wanted to move closer to the firms offices in Glasgow. Talwin must have been party to this, possibly only as conversation, but decided to introduce his architect friend CRM to Walter Wilfrid Blackie with the aim to discuss the design and building of a house for the family.
This house was destined to become The Hill House in Helensburgh, a CRM masterpiece.
Talwin Morris then, played a pivotal role in the destiny of CRM. But what of the resting place of John Alexander Blackie in the Necropolis? Where does this come into the story.

Talwin Morris designed the headstone which marks the resting place of John Alexander Blackie, but I don't think it was designed for John, but for Sallie his wife.
His Australian wife Sallie died in 1910 aged around 48. I have not found any information regarding the reason for her demise, but John must have had Talwin design the headstone either because he knew Sallie liked Talwin's designs or/and because he was looking forward to his future burial in that same plot.
And thus we have the headstone below, with a carved stylised butterfly signifying resurrection, placed within an inverted teardrop. The text also looks like Talwin's design. It is possible that Talwin's wife Alice, who was an Authoress, and Sallie may have been friends, as they were probably the same age. That is a possible connection for the commission.

A view of the headstone above.

A clearer view of the inscription on the headstone above.

A detail of the carving shown above.

A wider view shown above.

The pivotal role that Talwin played in the destiny of CRM was paid back one year later in 1911, when Talwin passed away. At the request of Alice, now Talwin's widow, CRM designed the headstone for Talwin. The only man on the planet worthy of such an honour.
Talwin was laid to rest in Dumbarton Cemetery and this will be the next part of my Omega Quest; when time, tide and tears allow.
Thank you for joining me on this quest.


Blogger Julia Smith said...

the next part of my Omega Quest; when time, tide and tears allow

Love that, Sans.

REALLY enjoyed the shots of the tombstone art. How incredible to have art like that in your cemeteries. My sister and I used to enjoy walking through the Mount Pleasant Cemetery when we lived in Toronto - there was a lot of gorgeous Victorian stonework in there. But I'm pretty sure none by CRM!

We also seem to have a lot of headstone vandalism here in Nova Scotia. Hmm...what does that say...?

9:47 PM  
Anonymous teri said...

I love cemeteries and their monuments. There are a few here, in the Philly area, where the more wealthy reside and some of the tombstones are master pieces.

10:36 AM  
Blogger Sans Pantaloons said...

Julia, thank you. It is unfortunate that muscles fully develop long before the brain fully develops. As Humans, it is our burden.

Teri; yes, a great deal of time and effort has been spent to craft some wonderful monuments. Do you have any pictures?

4:49 AM  
Blogger Sans Pantaloons said...

Small updatette. The inverted teardrop is more likely Talwin's version of the Vesica Piscis.

6:42 AM  

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