▪Marga’s birds

One of the aspects of Margaret’s work that makes it such a pleasure to visit and study her windows is the amazing amount of detail in them. And for anyone interested in Nature, her depictions of birds and flowers are particularly intriguing.
However, the first thing to say is that very few features in her work are there as ‘fillers’ or as casual accidents. In fact, for those who study her work, each and every detail seems to have a hidden meaning.

Especially early in her career, one might in fact be tempted to see this sort of approach as a unique symbolist-realist synthesis. Of course, while you would never ever describe her work as either ‘Symbolist’ or as ‘Realist’, yet her details are nevertheless both packed with emblematic meaning and simultaneously very accurate to life. It’s a fascinating mix!
Her choice and depiction of birds are no different.

Bird sketches, Kesgrave Archive
Bird sketches by Margaret Rope: goldfinch, and kingfisher (bottom left), (courtesy Kesgrave Archive)

This approach is evidence of Marga’s extreme dedication to accurate realism, even inside the apparent ‘dream-world’ of her pieces.
(Similarly, the people in her best pieces are, at one and the same time, both realistic portraits and highly meditative figures.)

Studies

A leading ornithologist was asked to see if he could recognise the birds in Marga’s work.
One might have expected that only half of the birds would be specific and the rest would be just generic bird-shapes, but in fact, in eighty per cent of the birds he looked at, the species could be identified!

  • Visitation Window, two birds, at Shrewsbury Cathedral
  • Goblin Market detail
  • Kesgrave, King David
  • Llanarth, St Francis

Countryside

We don’t know from where this attraction to Nature came – Margaret has left few papers and certainly no diaries, so any help from the artist herself is not available.
We can only guess, using a few scraps of knowledge.

We do know that she was home-schooled in her teenage years, and family anecdotes tell us that during this time she often went out into the countryside with her doctor father in his pony-and-trap, as he visited his more rural patients.
Also, her brother Harry could easily be described as a Nature poet, and many of his prose writings describe his country walks (including many in the family’s native Shropshire). And her sister Irene, though best known as a botanist, also was an important ornithologist.
Could her family have influenced Margaret’s love of birds?

Llandovery memorial window lower half
Marga’s Llandovery RC Church memorial window has birds in the frame – in this detail we see Nuthatch, Pied Flycatcher, Robin (l-h side top to bottom) and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Redstart (r-h side top to bottom)

Meanings

The next stage in the analysis of her use of birds would be to try and pinpoint the extra meanings they give to Margaret’s works.
Roger Hall, who has spent many years interpreting her images, has already been able to point out the meanings of the flowers in many of them. He has then gone on to show how these flowers – that look apparently unimportant – can then radically improve our interpretations of her pieces.

However, so far, researchers have not looked similarly at her birds.
So, we await, with anticipation, such studies!

St Francis, Letchworth
And one for readers to have a go at! Can you identify the birds in this St Francis window? From Letchworth RC Church. Just email us if you do

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With many many thanks to Nick Pomianowski of the West Midlands Bird Club who oversaw the identification of the birds seen in this article.
All the art-works mentioned in this article are to be found in Arthur Rope’s photo catalogue-book – ‘Margaret Rope Of Shrewsbury
except the ‘Sketches of Birds’ which can be found in Kesgrave Archive

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