As I looked over at the two figures standing ten feet away I thought, I’d recognise that jawline anywhere.

Brad Pitt and friend were listening to me talk whilst gazing at the interior roof of the Mack, Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterwork building at the Glasgow School of Art.

In 1993 I was giving a tour of the building to about 16 tourists. 

​It’s some 31 years since I joined the roster of guides while in my third year of a History of Art degree at nearby University of Glasgow.

The Herald: Brad Pitt was filming the movie Interview with a Vampire when he paid a visit to Glasgow School of ArtBrad Pitt was filming the movie Interview with a Vampire when he paid a visit to Glasgow School of Art (Image: Agency)

Along with others also keen to start sketching out what ‘professional development’ might be on a cv, I made it over to the Art School a couple of times a week to host a tour for a princely £5 wage.

Enough to buy lunch after or a ticket for an afternoon film at the GFT down the hill, it didn’t rub so much at the time that each person on the tour paid about the same per ticket and there could be more than 20 on the tour.  

I don’t regret it for a second. In hindsight, especially, but even at the time I knew we had access to something special, an artistic work of genius hidden in the plain sight of being a working art school building.

The Herald: The entrance to the Mack building The entrance to the Mack building (Image: Newsquest)

A perfect example of the tension between conservation and education, use it and potentially pay the price - or lose it.

I made this point often - Mackintosh designed the building for use.

It belonged to every art student to whom these tours were probably an annoyance, if they noticed them at all (although it could be said that artistic practice in the late 19th century didn’t present quite the hazard it did 100 years later, but that’s a whole other issue). 

The Herald: Fine art students at Glasgow School of Art Fine art students at Glasgow School of Art (Image: Archive)

Here, Mackintosh was an artist designing for artists. If he needed to ensure that vision was secure, for example laying bricks and mortar with his own hands, he did that.  

It was in every corridor seating-nook for conversation; in painting studios deluged in light from multi-storey high windows; or in sweeping drawbridge-like stone steps, perfect for graduation photos or morning cigarette chats.

Everyone else here was a tourist, whether we had paid for a ticket or not.  

The Herald: Lorraine Wilson, former tour guide at Glasgow School of ArtLorraine Wilson, former tour guide at Glasgow School of Art (Image: Lorraine Wilson)

We started the tours in the small reception area, just outside the gift shop stuffed with its ‘mockintosh’ giftware.

From that small plain whitewashed vestibule there was no way to imagine what came next.

The Herald:

Throughout the building, Mackintosh literally moved you from dark to light, a journey through time  - the art school was built over ten years in two halves - in stone and brick and paint and wood.

A dark staircase, reminiscent of Glasgow’s tenement stairwells, took you up into the museum. 

Huge black wood beams arched high like the hull of an upturned ship, the black wood noting his interest in Japanese art whilst small floral motifs illustrating a lifelong obsession with natural forms. Plaster casts of classical sculptures had made this a light drenched drawing studio. 

Off to the east side, a corridor and staircase where light levels dropped as you climbed, a play on Scottish Baronial architecture, literally turning this ‘castle’ on its head.

Mackintosh didn't just revisit architectural tradition, he moved things forward with wit and confidence.  

The Herald:

A good contrast is the University of Glasgow’s Gothic Revival main building, completed only six years before Mackintosh started his building but looking like it's from the 15th century.

At the top of the building, we would emerge from another dark passage into the crystal clear glazed panes of what was called the 'hen run.'

Linking the east and west parts of the building, it was apparently so-called because female students or ‘hens’ would use it to join their male friends in the west half of the building.


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The view it afforded south was wide and expansive and made the most of the building’s placement high over the city, like a challenge to the status quo. 

After the hen run another dark stairwell lead to a room which housed key pieces of furniture including the iconic tea room chair and table sets and fine art prints showing Mackintosh’s move into primary colours and abstraction.

The Herald:

I remember one conversation with a visitor here who pointed to one of the iconic ladder chairs and said he’d been able to buy one in 1972 for very little.  

We ended the tour in The Library, presented as the pinnacle of Mackintosh’s achievement in the building.  

The Herald: The prized library at Glasgow School of Art which was replicated during the first rebuildThe prized library at Glasgow School of Art which was replicated during the first rebuild (Image: Newsquest)

Smallish, not in the least grandiose, a first-level balcony housing special collections, supported by dark wooden posts. A ground floor ‘clearing’ in the centre.

Windows of glazed continuous columns of light running from the ground to the full height of the balcony level.

Jewel-coloured carvings dropping down from the balcony around the room, each was different but could be read continuously perhaps referencing musical notation.

So many details but nothing extraneous. A total work of art, all balance and proportion, warmth and intimacy, subtle yet confidently Mackintosh at his best. A public space with domestic ease. I hope you saw it for yourself. 

Brad Pitt didn’t actually come on the whole tour, no doubt bound by a tight Hollywood schedule. He was filming the movie Interview with a Vampire in the UK at the time.

But maybe what he heard and saw in the museum that day was brought to mind when he donated funds to support the first rebuild project, a horrible future scenario we didn’t yet have to imagine.