It’s long been a hope that the collection of papers and artworks left by Margaret Rope when she died could be assembled into a permanent archive.
Well, as of this year, that is now the case. Underwritten by the Rope Family Charitable Trust, this collection now has a safe home.
Based in the Trust’s office complex in Suffolk, this newly-established ‘Rope Archive’, complete with temperature-controlled rooms, holds the majority of portable artefacts now associated with Margaret.
A journey to where we are now
After the artist died in 1953, her possessions – some going back fifty years, to her youth – were all left in the possession of Quidenham Monastery, the convent where she spent the last years of her life. Included in the bequest were a large number of cartoons (ie, full size preparatory designs for windows), some photographs, many sketches, some small artworks and a few personal documents.
In the 1970s, Quidenham gave the collection on loan to Birmingham Art Gallery, where a basic inventory of them was completed.
However lack of resources at Birmingham meant a full scholarly examination of the items could not be carried out, and, in 2017, Quidenham then gave permission for the cache to be transferred to the offices of the Rope Family Trust.
The trust set aside a special space for the items, and also linked them up with other documents and items relating to other members of the Rope family.
Curating the archive
Having taken advice from professional archivists, a small team of volunteers is currently sorting and labelling the pieces. All in all, there are well over five hundred items.
The most important, and fragile, pieces in the archive are original ‘cartoons’ of windows designed by Margaret Agnes Rope. Already discovered in the archive are the cartoon of the Annunciation Window made for Our Lady’s Church in Birkenhead (destroyed by bombing during World War II), and a photograph of the Our Lady Window in Newport, showing it as it was before it was damaged by vandalism. These, and more, are eye-opening discoveries.
There are many personal sketches, some even dating back to her college days. Margaret’s sketch of her sister Irene (in her wartime uniform) – see pic right – is one of the few depictions of Irene, who later became a well-respected botanist.
Even some private little drawings exist, reflecting daily life in the convent, where she lived for thirty years.
Sadly, there are only a very few documents in Margaret’s own hand, fewer than half a dozen letters. However, the wider collection of the Rope family’s personal photographs and letters often refer to Margaret, so they at least shed light on Margaret’s private thoughts.
In the next-door Church of The Holy Family, which was endowed by Mrs Doreen (Lucy) Rope, Margaret’s sister-in-law, there are a number of stained-glass windows, by both Margaret Agnes Rope and her cousin Margaret Aldrich Rope. The church’s works increase the significance of this site to Rope scholars.
The impact of the Covid crisis was of course that no scholars visit – but it also provided impetus for an initiative to put all the archive material online. This is a daunting job, but it’s estimated that it could be complete sometime into 2021. When that happens, it will be the first independent collection in the country to achieve a full online archive with photographs, descriptions, references and more.
The overall manager of the archive is Dr Anne Folan, an historian in her own right, and an expert curator – though enquiries go through the volunteer who is driving the project along, Arthur Rope.
Arthur, who produced the definitive Margaret Rope book, is further supported by three Margaret Rope enthusiasts, Tatiana Schenk, Mark Stewart, and the expert in Margaret’s windows, historian Roger Hall.
For more details about how the curation process and about how storage and cataloguing will work, as well as a much fuller description of all the discoveries in it so far, please see the official Margaret Rope Archive page.
Arthur is also the contact for anyone wishing to donate, or loan, items to the archive. Donors, who have already given a number of pieces, are welcome to give or lend items to do with Margaret Agnes Rope, Margaret Aldrich Rope (a stained-glass artist in her own right), and/or other members of the Rope Family, especially Michael, Irene and Father Harry Rope.
Please contact Arthur to discuss any thoughts you have.
All in all, this should be a major contribution to not only Margaret Rope Studies, but for researchers looking into the work of stained-glass artists of this period.
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