In October 1901, Glasgow artist and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh visited Dysart Kirk – then St. Serf’s United Free Kirk – to design a mural to go round the cloverleaf shaped walls.
He was paid expenses for his visit from his employers, Honeyman and Keppie, and a fortnight later the church board paid the firm £10 in fees for what was described as ‘decorations’.
The stencilled design shows the dove of peace and the tree of knowledge with three rings depicting good, evil and eternity.
Some time later, however, the mural was painted over – the reason for this can only be surmised, but perhaps Mackintosh’s ‘art nouveau’ style was too rich for the douce tastes of the congregation – and no traces of it were visible.
There the story might have finished had it not been for an astute member of Dysart Kirk browsing some years ago in the National Library of Scotland. She came across a photograph of Mackintosh’s design in a German art magazine, ‘Dekorative Kunst’, published in 1902. The image was captioned as being in a Scottish church which she immediately recognised as the interior of Dysart Kirk from the distinctive arrangement of the window arches and the curved wall.
Many of the oldest members of the congregation were asked at the time if they could remember seeing the mural before it was painted over but to no avail. There again the story might have ended casting pessimistic thoughts that anything painted by Mackintosh on the walls a hundred or so years ago would have been long obliterated by countless coats of paint each time the church was decorated.
However, when plans were drawn up in 2003 to carry out much needed repairs and alterations to the church, the initial designs to allow disabled access proposed an entrance through a side door near where the mural had been. Forward looking members of the congregation approached the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society in Glasgow. They knew about the existence of the mural as it had been well documented but assumed it had been lost. Pamela Robertson, Professor of Mackintosh Studies at the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Art Gallery was then approached and she contacted Mr Alan Ferdinand, a specialist conservation surveyor, who carried out a professional evaluation to see if anything lay behind the bland cream paint.
Funding from various public bodies, charities and individuals to carry out the work was applied for and granted but importantly, work on the first panel was funded entirely by the congregation. Four of the panels have been recovered and conserved.
Various Open Days are planned throughout the year for the public to visit and view the murals.
Should you wish entry at a different time you can request entry by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.