Peter Cormack, one of the leading authorities on historic stained-glass in this country, wrote the piece below in response to the recent BBC Radio Four Women’s Hour article on Margaret Rope.
Nearly 30 years ago, in 1985, I organised the first ever exhibition devoted to ‘Women Stained Glass Artists of the Arts & Crafts Movement’ (at William Morris Gallery, London).
At that time I sent information about the exhibition, which featured work by Margaret Rope and several of her talented contemporaries, to BBC Woman’s Hour. I received absolutely no response. This is all the more astonishing as one of the principal artists included, Mary Lowndes, also played a leading role in the Women’s Suffrage campaign.
Since the 1980s, I and others have been lecturing and writing about women stained glass artists of the 1900s, as well as their male colleagues.
I have, for example, lectured at Shrewsbury Cathedral about the Rope windows, and in 2013 I was interviewed by BBC Shropshire about her work.
Little-known by the public
It is simply not true to say that Margaret Rope and other women artists have been ignored and not studied by art historians. If the public knows little or nothing about these artists, it is because their work is not taken seriously by the media, as the recent Woman’s Hour with its sensationalist ‘angle’ demonstrated. Only Caroline Benyon’s measured contribution was worthwhile.
My own book – ‘Arts & Crafts Stained Glass’ – will be published by Yale University Press next summer and will include much about women artists.
Nicola Gordon Bowe’s book on Wilhelmina Geddes, the great Ulster stained glass artist, will also be published next year.
We art historians working in the field of modern stained glass face all sorts of obstacles in promoting our work to a wide public, so it is a great pity that Woman’s Hour simply wants to tell an inaccurate ‘story’ rather than report the true facts, thereby diminishing the marvellous achievements of women who made a pioneering contribution to the Arts & Crafts Movement.
I was asked about contributing to the recent Woman’s Hour feature but was unable to because I was at a conference in Scotland at the time. I asked if the feature could be postponed for a day or two but in the usual media rush it had been scheduled already.
If WH wants to do serious features on topics like this, it needs to do proper research – which requires time and planning to ensure that the subject is discussed informatively. That would be the best way to do justice to Margaret Rope, her cousin Margaret E. Aldrich Rope, and all the other women who made their careers in stained glass in the 1890s and 1900s.