Glasgow & West Scotland

Forensic archaeologists begin work at the Mackintosh Library

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Media captionColin Paterson reports on the search for treasures amongst the rubble at Glasgow School of Art

Forensic archaeologists have begun sifting through the ashes of the fire-damaged Mackintosh Library at the Glasgow School of Art.

The experts hope to find items that could be restored or provide information for the building's restoration.

The library, recognised as being one of the world's finest examples of art nouveau, was destroyed by fire in May.

Similar work was carried out after the Windsor Castle fire in 1992.

Alison Stevenson, head of libraries, archives and collections at the GSA, said: "Immediately after the fire, with support from Historic Scotland, the GSA was able to remove substantial amounts of material from the Mackintosh Building.

"We are now turning to what is at once the most complex and potentially most revealing project in terms of conservation."

She added: "Although the library was destroyed in the fire there are significant remains which we hope will retain artefacts or fragments that will prove invaluable both in terms of our archival records and our restoration plans."

The work will be carried out by experts from Kirkdale Archaeology, which has carried out recent excavations at Stirling Castle, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and Linlithgow Palace.

Pauline McLean, BBC Scotland Arts Correspndent

Ten months ago, I spent a winter's afternoon, filming in the library at Glasgow School of Art. No matter how many times I visited, it still had the capacity to thrill. A work of art, which was also genuinely a working building. The wooden chairs and tables worn down by generations of students and few books left long enough to gather dust.

But what I remember most was the newly replaced windows which allowed the late winter sunshine to bathe the room in light, just as Mackintosh intended all those years before.

It was heartbreaking to return to the blackened remains of that beautiful room today. Standing in the doorway, beneath the gaze of sooty statues, is a mound of rubble and wood.

The smell of burnt paper still lingers in the air. The scorched pages of a book - The Burlington House Fair - lie scattered on the surface. A row of scorched but intact books sits on one incongruously remaining high shelf.

The arm of a chair pokes out of the debris: too far away to tell if it's a Mackintosh original, or a piece of everyday furniture for students and staff to sit on.

But there's hope in the ashes. Already they've replaced a quarter of the books they lost and listed others on an international "wish list".

And even those fragments - from pages of books to a crushed ceiling lamp - have a role to play in research for the eventual restoration of the Mack - and its amazing library.

Director Gordon Ewart said: "Over the next few weeks we will work through the remains of the library, excavating layer by layer through the ash, checking carefully for any artefacts that have survived the fire or fragments than can be conserved.

"Throughout the process we will keep an archaeological record which we hope will help inform the GSA's restoration programme and will remain as a detained document of where salvageable material was found."

Image caption The excavation work will help inform the restoration programme

Mr Ewart told Radio 4's Today programme the restoration team are hoping to retrieve as many books as possible along with other notable items such as the clock, light fittings and some furniture.

Some big names have given their backing to the restoration campaign including Hollywood star Brad Pitt.

He told the BBC: "It's one of the great artistic buildings where art is made and art is learned.

"Mackintosh was one of those rare individuals who created his own voice and his own vernacular in building and design.

"He's always been one of my favourites."

Writer and broadcaster Muriel Gray, who is chairwoman of Glasgow School of Art, said the work would take some time.

Ms Gray told the Today programme: "It is going to take great care and great detail. We don't want to get any of this wrong.

"I think in about four years, we will be back here, we will be celebrating and it will be a working library again full of spotty students.

"I can say that because I was a spotty student."

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