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After teaching design for a year at Cheltenham, Mann was appointed as Head of the Embroidery Department at the Glasgow School of Art in 1931. At the time of her appointment the once groundbreaking Embroidery Department had lost some of its energy after the First World War. The arrival of the energetic and dedicated Kathleen Mann at the age of 23 “Blew away the cobwebs” (Cordelia Oliver, The Herald, 1987) in the department which was still steeped in the arts and crafts heritage of Newbery and MacBeth.
Glasgow School of Art had always been an outward looking school interested in European movements, with the Mackintosh Building itself a monument to early Modernism. Once established in her office on the top floor, Mann set out to bring her department into the mainstream of Modernist design developments. Her emphasis on freedom and spontaneity in design are evident in the examples of her students’ work. She encouraged new techniques, in particular the use of machine embroidery, employing the free use of cut paper in the design process. A particularly fine example of her machine embroidery work is the Madonna and Child panel c1934-6 (Glasgow Museums). As always where innovative individuals challenge tradition there was some resistance, particularly to use of technology, which appeared to undermine arts and crafts tradition in embroidery.
Mann promoted large-scale work and often worked on panels as large as 6ft in height. Sadly none of these original works are known to exist at this time. The then Director of Glasgow School of Art W.O. Hutcheson, (1933-43) found her “an extremely interesting and capable person“ and the annual assessors’ reports congratulated the work of her department (1931/32, 19323/33, 1933/34). In a report on the Design School in 1933 Anning Bell notes, “Miss Mann is a great success. The students like her and she is keenly interested”. Mann encouraged in her students a spirit of exploration, which was consistent with the spirit of the times. Mann was Head of the Embroidery Department at Glasgow School of Art between 1931-35. Her achievements during her short tenure firmly established modern design and decorative art in the Glasgow School of Art as it was being developed across Europe.
In 1934 the Needlework Development Scheme in Scotland was initiated anonymously by J&P Coats thread manufacturers of Paisley. The scheme, a collaboration between the four Scottish colleges of art Gray’s of Aberdeen, Duncan of Jordanstone in Dundee, Edinburgh College of Art, the Glasgow School of Art and the thread manufacturers Coats. It was established with the stated aims of promoting and encouraging embroidery and embroidery design. Heads of Departments and teaching staff from the four colleges, including Kathleen Mann, were recruited to travel to Europe collecting and buying examples of contemporary and peasant embroidery. The collected embroidery works were intended to be used as teaching examples for distribution in schools and colleges throughout Scotland and beyond. An enthusiastic supporter of the scheme Kathleen Mann was an obvious choice as researcher and collector and travelled to France and to Italy in 1934 on this mission.
It was the same year that she married her colleague Hugh Adam Crawford A.R.S.A. Glasgow School of Art regulations of the time required that married women had to resign from post and it was with great regret that the school accepted her resignation. Mann had indicated a wish to continue in her post and it is likely that Director W.O. Hutcheson had hoped that this might be possible. However as no challenge was made to the rule by the Board of Governors the resignation was accepted in 1934.
Following her time at GSA Kathleen Mann dedicated her energy to her family and deferred to her husband’s career. She continued to write, to produce books and articles, about decorative art and embroidery, which contributed significantly to design education. Her last known embroidery commission was to design 3 new mitres for the Catholic Bishop of Glasgow in c1962 – none of which have survived.
Her books, such as Design from Peasant Art and China Decoration, show how use of folk art motifs and methods could liberate and take design forward. Mann believed that a synthesis of elements of peasant art combined with modernism was the way forward for a developing design aesthetic. A telling remark in one of her occasional articles for the Glasgow Herald in 1935 she noted “In Glasgow today colour is almost forgotten. Perhaps this is due to the fogs and dirt”.
The austerity of the war years was reflected in Mann’s contribution to the book New Life for Old Clothes, A & C Black 1943. Because of war economy restrictions on materials available to designers she compensated by decorating the plain china, making the utilitarian personal and adapting her design training to another use.
It is clear that Kathleen Mann was greatly influenced by her travel and collecting, she was one of the designers and educators for whom peasant art was one of the strands in the development of the contemporary modernist design. After her role at GSA Mann’s books and newspaper articles continued her contribution to developments in embroidery design.
Mann’s particular contribution to education in Glasgow School of Art was to re-invigorate the department to give impetus to the drive towards Modernism. Her last public appearance was when she opened the exhibition A Century of Embroidery and Weaving at Glasgow School of Art. Kathleen Mann died on 11th January 2000.
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