Special Collections: World & Folk Cultures

Naganari Kodama (1884) 新選古代模樣鑑 (GSA Library, Special Collections)

From its earliest days, Glasgow School of Art has been alert to global developments in art and design. The World Cultures collection introduces the arts and cultures of societies from across the globe, and provides an increasingly relevant counterpoint to an art historical canon based upon European or Western-centric views of art and its production.

Significant volumes on Oriental and Islamic arts are also held in the Stoddard-Templeton Collection.

The Arts of Japan

The arts of Japan are represented particularly strongly in the collection, and this reflects the close trade and cultural links that existed between the Japanese nation and the city of Glasgow. These connections were first established in 1872 when the Iwakura Mission visited the city, and were further cemented through the Japan-Glasgow Exchange of 1878: the Japanese government gifted a collection of over one thousand art pieces to the city, across architecture, furniture, wood, lacquer ware, ceramics, metalwork, and textiles. Today the collection resides with Glasgow Museums. In 1881-1882 the Oriental Art Exhibition attracted around 30,000 visitors to the McLellan Galleries, in rooms adjacent to those in which GSA was then located. Meanwhile, Glaswegian engineer Henry Dyer (1848-1918) had introduced Western-style technical education to the Tokyo Imperial College of Engineering and had sponsored exchanges between Japanese and Glaswegian students. In 1889, Kustaro Mitsuta became the first Japanese student to enroll at Glasgow School of Art.

In 1887, ‘a series of books on Japanese art and design’ were acquired by then GSA Headmaster Francis Newbery. Although individual titles are not recorded, the GSA library holds to this day a number of rare Japanese books published in the Meiji period. Much has been written on the influence of Japanese art and design on the young Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who was enrolled as an evening class student at the School from 1883-1894, and it is tempting to conjecture that Mackintosh may have enjoyed a formative exposure to the arts of Japan with the arrival of these volumes in the GSA library during his studies. Also included in the collection is a book on the Japanese artist Hokusai inscribed in Mackintosh’s hand in 1889 to his Windy Hill patrons, the Davidsons.

Folk Arts

Virginia More Roediger (1941) Ceremonial Costumes of the Pueblo Indians (GSA Library, Special Collections)

The collection also includes a number of volumes on folk art and design, particularly in relation to the national dress of different societies and cultures. Importantly, these volumes expose us to forms of artistic production so often dismissed as ‘low’ compared to the ‘high’ arts of painting, architecture and sculpture. In the mid-20th century, GSA Head of Embroidery Kathleen Mann did much to encourage the appreciation and study of the folk art tradition in her book Design from Peasant Art. She also travelled widely across Europe for the Needlework Development Scheme, acquiring examples of local indigenous embroideries that were used in the teaching of students both at GSA and elsewhere.

Archive material relating to Mann and the Needlework Development Scheme is also available for consultation in GSA Archives.

Digital Volumes

We have digitised a selection of volumes from this collection, which you can view online or download.