Have you ever watched Who Do You Think You Are? Last July, a team from the BBC were here in the archives, donning white gloves to view the entry in the School of Art register for 1897-1906 relating to one of our former students, the stained glass designer Margaret Agnes Rope. Watching them filming the look of surprise on the presenter's face when shown her name appearing among the list of students enrolled in 1900 reminded me of similar scenes in that show.
At the age of eighteen, Margaret won a scholarship to attend the School, travelling daily from her home in Shrewsbury. She was clearly a talented student, winning several prizes in the course of her training under Henry Payne. The BBC were keen to gain an impression of the life of the School of Art while Margaret was a student in the opening decade of the twentieth century, filming several close-ups of images from our lantern slide collection. These reveal that Edwardian women students were not only working in more traditionally feminine media such as embroidery and needlework, but also in casting and metal-working. ‘Marga’, as she was called, was an instinctive rebel – known for smoking cheroot cigars, riding a motorbike and wearing her hair short. Without backing from a patron, rich family or husband, she made her own way in her career, one of a new generation of professional women artists as much at home in a workshop as in a drawing-room.
Margaret was a deeply religious person, entering an enclosed order of Carmelite nuns barely a decade after her initial success. Even shut away from the world, she continued her work in a small studio set aside by the convent at Woodbridge, Suffolk. Although she was one of the leading stained-glass artists of the early twentieth century with works on three continents, Margaret Rope's achievements have largely been overlooked - possibly because she was an intensely private person who left few records behind her. We hope that the BBC programme will help to bring her greater recognition. It's being broadcast on BBC Midlands at 7.30pm on Monday 26 September as part of their Inside Out series. Alternatively, you'll be able to watch it online for thirty days afterwards.
If you'd like to know more, why not go along and see the exhibition on Margaret's life and work opening at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery on Monday 12 September?