One of the challenges for the Margaret Rope exhibition in Shrewsbury was to inform the local populace of the importance of the event. After all, this was the first-ever exhibition of the life & times of their greatest local-born artist, yet – for a lot of reasons – most Shropshire people had at that time never heard of her!
In the absence of a large advertising budget, one solution was to take the exhibition out to the people.
And so the idea of a giant projection-show of images from the exhibition was born.
It helped of course that one of the finest British light-show artists lives in the town. Andy McKeown has created huge kaleidoscopic light-displays all over the world, beaming moving images onto heritage buildings, cathedrals and even the sides of bridges.
When Andy was approached to see if he would do something similar for the exhibition, we received an enthusiastic response – it turned out that he was one of the few people (at that stage) who knew Margaret Rope’s work well, and he was a fan.
Andy told us: “I love stained-glass anyway, but have a particular fondness for Margaret Rope’s work – as seven of her windows are installed in the church I got married in!”
In fact, Andy was so enthusiastic, he insisted on donating his services for free.
So, on a rather cold & dark October night, the projection kit was installed in Shrewsbury town central square, the sightlines were all set up, and for an giant close-ups from Marga’s works (some magnified by fifty times) swirled and floated and drifted and glided over the facade of the museum building. A specially mixed soundtrack, featuring the ethereal music of The Sixteen, made the effect even more special.
Andy called his show ‘Exquisite Fragments’.
The show easily achieved its secondary aim, which was to startle, impress and then convert passers-by – but had the strange knock-on of creating a demand for a second show. Once they had heard how wonderful it had been, many regretted not having been able to get along to see it – and asked for a repeat.
The town-square authority (yes, there is such a body…) were brilliant – and were able to agree a second date relatively quickly, which was fixed for December 21st… a Christmas bonus for the Shrewsbury public!
It would have been very unfair to ask Andy to do it for nothing a second time, and, such was the enthusiasm, donors quickly came forward to support the event. (Thanks to the Rope Charitable Trust, Tim King, Maggie Connell, David Findlay and Mar Stewart – the main donors).
But the new show was also an upgrade on the first. As Andy said at the time: “I have greatly refined and added to the show since, so this is almost a different event. I can only say that anyone who takes time to stop and stand and watch, even if for a few minutes, will experience in these images great beauty, great pathos, and significant emotion. They won’t regret it.”
Certainly, the public turned up in expectation. During the whole hour, visitors came and went (it was very cold!) but there were never less than a hundred people watching…
And… there was another revelation. Some of us who thought we knew Marga’s work well were astonished to see some tiny details we’d not been aware of in her windows until that point – perhaps not so surprising when you realise that some of Andy’s close-ups were almost ninety feet tall!
Such revelations led on to some later fascinating researches.
It’s curious to think that this show, one that will last long in the mind, is the tribute of a modern-day artist working in the colours of electric light to a twentieth century artist who worked in the colours of natural light.
Hear Andy talk about his work, including Exquisite Fragments, on BBC radio – click here
See Andy’s stills from the Exquisite Fragments show – click here
See more stills from the Exquisite Fragments show – click here
See second video of the Exquisite Fragments show – click here
And… thanks for the original idea to Kate Tebby!