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A Few Famous Scots

  • Robert Burns (1759-96): Scotland's ploughman poet, known in many languages and countries
  • Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955): Nobel Prize winner who discovered penicillin
  • David Hume (1711-76): Laid the foundation for intellectual and philosophical pursuits using the concept of secular morality
  • David Livingstone (1813-73): Medical missionary and African explorer who named Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River
  • Flora Macdonald (1725-90): Key person in rescuing Bonnie Prince Charlie from British troops after his defeat at Culloden
  • John Muir (1834-1914): Pioneering conservationist who discovered California's Yosemite Valley and founded the Sierra Club
  • Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832): Romantic novelist and poet who occupies a position of preeminence in English literature
  • Adam Smith (1723-90): Author of the book The Wealth of Nations, which underpins the modern science of economics
  • Muriel Spark (1910-2006): Author whose classic tale, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, puts her among the elite of 20th-century novelists

Ahead of His Time: Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Although he is legendary today, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) was largely forgotten in Scotland at the time of his death. His approach to design, poised between Arts and Crafts and the Art Nouveau eras, had its fans, however, and certainly history has compensated for any slights he received during his lifetime. Mackintosh's work is recognized today as one of the city's great architectural treasures.

Born in 1868, Mackintosh began his career as a draftsman for the architectural firm of Honeyman & Keppie. Glasgow had become the "second city" of the British Empire, and the era marks a golden age in the city's architectural heritage. In 1896, Mackintosh's design for the Glasgow School of Art won a prestigious competition. Forms of nature, especially plants, inspired his interior design motifs, which offered a pared down simplicity and harmony that was far from the Victorian fashions of the day. Acclaim came from Central Europe and the Vienna Secessionists, in particular, as well as the Arts and Crafts movement in England and America. The reaction in Glasgow was mixed, and he left the city in 1914.

Other landmark Mackintosh buildings in the city include the exterior of the old Glasgow Herald building, now The Lighthouse; the Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street; the Scotland Street School; and the Mackintosh Church at Queens Cross, HQ for the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society (www.crmsociety.com). His own West End home (1906-14), with wife and collaborator Margaret Macdonald, was itself a work of art, eschewing the fussy clutter of the age for clean, elegant lines. Its interiors have been re-created by the University of Glasgow's Hunterian Gallery. In Helensburgh, 40km (25 miles) west of Glasgow, is perhaps his greatest singular residential achievement: Hill House, which was designed for publisher Walter Blackie in 1902.

Leaving Glasgow, he moved to Walberswick on the southern coast of England (where friendships with German-speaking artists caused undue concern during World War I) and later to Port-Vendres in France. In both places, lacking architecture or design commissions, his artistic talents were put in a different direction. He painted watercolors of flowers and landscapes that are nearly as distinctive and individual as his architectural and interior design work. His hand as a master draftsman was confirmed. For more information on the buildings to visit, go to the website of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, or call tel. 0141/946-6600.

Unappreciated Genius: Alexander "Greek" Thomson

Although architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) is well known and his worldwide popularity has spurred a cottage industry of "mock-intosh" imitations from jewelry to stationery, a precursor to him was perhaps even more important and innovative. Alexander "Greek" Thomson (1817-75) brought a vision to Victorian Glasgow that was unrivaled by his contemporaries. While the influence of classical structures - the Greek Revival - was nothing new, Thomson did not so much replicate Grecian design as hone it to essentials, and then mix in Egyptian, Assyrian, and other Eastern-influenced motifs. Like Mackintosh later, Thomson increasingly found himself out of step with fashion, which architecturally was moving toward Gothic Revival (such as the University of Glasgow on Gilmorehill, which Thomson apparently despised).

While a number of structures created by the reasonably prolific and successful Thomson have been tragically lost to the wrecker's ball, some key works remain: Terraced houses, such as Moray Place (where he lived) on the city's Southside and Eton Terrace in the West End; churches, such as the embarrassingly derelict Caledonian Road Church and still-used St. Vincent Street Church; detached homes, such as the Double Villa or Holmwood House; and commercial structures, such as the Grecian Buildings (which today houses the CCA) or Egyptian Halls near Central Station. Just as a Mackintosh trail has been created so that fans can revisit his works, Thomson deserves no less and, in time, may receive his full due.

Ironically, for all of his interest in the exotic, Thomson himself never traveled abroad. He was planning to visit Italy when he died in his home on Moray Place on March 22, 1875, at the age of 57. Less than a decade later, the "Alexander Thomson Travelling Studentship" was created in his honor to send young architects abroad. The second recipient was none other than 22-year-old Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

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