The latest edition of the ‘Journal of Stained Glass’ is devoted almost entirely to an examination of the output of the Glass House – the London studios where Margaret Rope worked between 1911 and 1922.
As Peter Cormack says in his all-too-brief introduction, the venture, set up by the suffragist Mary Lowndes and her business partner Alfred Drury in 1906, was a “great feminist enterprise”.
Hive of industry
It is only in recent years that the full value of Mary Lowndes’ contribution to both stained-glass and to suffragism has been fully recognised.
As a stained-glass maker and graphic artist herself she observed a contradiction in the creative industries at the time: women were being allowed to train at art-schools, but very often had little opportunity to establish themselves in wider industry.
Her Glass House complex, by providing studios, a team of technical advisers, and in-house facilities including kilns, to both women and men, was designed to break the mould and encourage independent working – especially benefiting women.
Peter Cormack quotes Mary Lowndes’ words of 1909: “Glass Painting has of late years received a great impetus in this country, and women are taking their part with men in the front ranks of the new movement – though it is probable that 20 years ago there was not among artists a single woman glass painter.”
It may sound comical to us, but one of the most thoughtful achievements of the Glass House was to install separate, custom-built ladies lavatories…
In this instance however, the Journal seeks not to go deep into the importance of the Glass House or its place in history, but rather to provide the data for others to do that.
So, here we have instead a sober profile of the business.
Included are: thumbnail sketches of each artist who hired out the facilities (including Margaret Rope); an outline of the business’s history right up to 1973; a tenancy list; and – the point of this exercise really – a detailed breakdown of some 3,500 invoices issued by the firm (including clients, cost, date, and description of item). This list of invoices – transcribed by BSMGP member and author Alan Brooks – takes up some 150 pages of the journal!
Researchers will find such data fascinating. Already it has helped us identify the sort of prices stained-glass windows could raise, and gives an insight into how these artists worked – sometimes step by step, sometimes being able to commission a huge project at once.
Marga is represented of course; she maintained her relationship with Lowndes & Drury all her career. In fact the records pertaining to her have also turned up one item which was previously unknown to Margaret Rope reseachers.
However, the list of invoices, long as it is, is also frustratingly incomplete. This is not the fault of the authors however; the fact is that, for certain periods of the firm’s existence, the documents are simply missing.
The fact reminds us that histories are never complete (more’s the pity).
The ‘Journal of Stained Glass’ is the long-established annual publication put out by the BSMGP (British Society of Master Glass Painters) for its members, though anyone can buy a copy (on mail-order) if enough are left.
This particular edition is a rather hefty item, over 300 pages long, but it is a lovely, glossy thing. It’s almost worth buying a copy for the fifty lovely colour plates of windows by Glass House artists, including a photo of one of Marga’s Blaxhall Church pieces.
It’s good too to realise how timely this edition is.
The year 2018 has seen so much about the anniversary of the granting of the vote to women – and Mary Lowndes’ efforts in bringing that to pass – that it is fitting that one of Mary Lowndes’ greatest achievements on behalf of women should also be celebrated in this fashion at this time.
The Journal of Stained Glass Volume XLI – ‘Glass House Special Issue’ – is available on mail-order for £28.