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Vintage smalti from two Scottish studios

We're delighted to be offering for sale a selection of vintage smalti. This beautiful cache of glass has a touch of mosaic stardust about it, having been owned by two of Scotland's most eminent mosaicists, George Garson and Dugald MacInnes. The smalti were originally acquired in the 1970s by Garson (probably from Orsoni in Venice) during the period he worked as a senior lecturer at Glasgow School of Art. On his retirement, Garson passed the smalti to his former student, mosaicist Dugald MacInnes, and the latter's shift towards working solely in slate has now made possible the release of this wonderful selection of materials to us.

Vintage smalti pezzi in a range of colours in bright containers
A selection of the vintage smalti which was probably bought from Orsoni in Venice in the early 1970s

George Garson grew up in a two-room tenement in 1930s Edinburgh. Perhaps it was his merchant-seaman father's talk of life aboard ship or the family's pride in its Orcadian roots that led the young Garson to become an apprentice in the Leith shipyards. He spent more than ten years there, quietly using any spare time to become an accomplished amateur painter. He kept his artistic world strictly hidden from his shipyard colleagues, fearing ridicule in what his obituarist, Jim Crumley, called 'the ferociously socialist' atmosphere of Edinburgh's docks and wharfs. But secrecy was no longer an option when the Scotsman's art critic visited a group show to which Garson had submitted a painting, singling him out in print as 'the poet of the bunch'. Unmasked, he secured his standing among his workmates by chalking wickedly satirical caricatures of shipyard foremen on unfinished hulls.

It was the encouragement of Garson's wife, Jean, that eventually persuaded the 30-year-old to take his paintings to Edinburgh College of Art in 1960. His small portfolio was enough to earn him a place at the College, and his interviewers were sufficiently impressed by his idiosyncratic use of colour to see that he would thrive in the applied arts studios. So began a 50-year career of making murals, stained glass and mosaic.

Mosaic by George Garson using smalti in the Glasgow  School of Art Library
Detail of George Garson's mosaic in the Glasgow School of Art Library © Helen Miles Mosaics

Garson also became an influential teacher. He was appointed head of mural design and stained glass at Glasgow School of Art in 1971 where he deployed a teaching style that could be challenging; Jim Crumley says, 'his students either wilted or flourished in the sizzling atmosphere'. One of those who came out unscathed, and indeed was devoted to Garson, was Dugald MacInnes. In 1975, as a new graduate, he worked alongside his erstwhile teacher, realising substantial mosaics in Grangemouth, Falkirk, showing the Scottish town and its industries.

Mosaic in Grangemouth, Falkirk, made by George Garson and Dugald MacInnes
Detail of smalti mosaic designed by Alan Davie and realised by George Garson and Dugald MacInnes, depicting the town and industries of Grangemouth, Falkirk, 1975 © Helen Miles Mosaics

George Garson and Alan Davie in Grangemouth, 1970s © Falkirk Arts

Like his tutor, Dugald MacInnes is fascinated by the geology of his homeland. Both men spent time on the Inner Hebridean island of Luing and were inspired by its elemental landscapes of ancient blue-grey slate. MacInnes has taken his interest further, becoming a qualified geologist and archaeologist. These strands have had a profound influence on his mosaic work; he has shifted towards using Scottish slate almost exclusively and produces extraordinarily refined panels in this most subtle and demanding material. This shift has meant that the smalti which Garson, at his retirement, passed on to MacInnes, are now available to us.

Mosaic made with Scottish slate by Dugald MacInnes
Stone Circle II, panel made of Scottish slate and smalti, 25 x 25cm © Dugald MacInnes

You can see Dugald MacInnes's work in slate here.

Read The Scotsman's obituary of George Garson here

Thanks to Helen Miles for kindly providing photographs of George Garson's work. You can read Helen's blog post, 'A guide to the mosaics of Scotland' here
Other photographs © Mosaic Workshop Ltd


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