Held at: Bryn Mawr College [Contact Us]Bryn Mawr College Library, 101 N. Merion Avenue, Bryn Mawr 19010
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Bryn Mawr College. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Margaret "Margo" Barton Feurer Plass was born in 1896 in Haverford, Pennsylvania to socialite Margaret "Madge" Barton and wealthy amateur archaeologist Carl Feurer. As a child, she attended Friends' Central School in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. She went on to study Classics and History of Art at Bryn Mawr College, where she was a member of the Class of 1917. She transferred out after two years, taking classes at the University of Pennsylvania and becoming a Main Line debuntante. In 1918, Plass enlisted in the Naval Reserve, where she would end up meeting her husband Webster Plass (1895-1952). They married in 1920 after knowing each other for only four months. From 1920 to 1936, Plass accompanied her husband as he traveled the world working as a consulting engineer for American oil companies. Together they traveled to many places including Peru, Brazil, Mexico, China, Japan, India, and the Belgian Congo. During this period, they took many photographs and began collecting African and South American art, many of them tourist pieces. She also took courses in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Malaya.
After Webster's death in 1952, Margaret donated most of their African collection to the British Museum, where he had been a recent benefactor of the Department of Ethnography. It was here that her academic work into anthropology and art escalated. She worked closely with William Buller Fagg (1914-1992), an anthropologist and curator for the British Museum, on her endeavors in collecting African Art. This also commenced nine more trips until 1982 to Africa to study and collect more art. She was considered the leading collector of African Art during her time.
Plass alternated her permanent residence from the Barclay Hotel in Philadelphia and the Chelsea neighborhood in London, depending on where her research took her. She published articles along with Fagg concerning the items she had collected, primarily Ashanti goldweights. Her book "African Miniatures: the Goldweights of the Ashanti" (1967) was considered a staple text in the field of African art. She was awarded an O.B.E. by Queen Elizabeth II in 1967 for her research and donations to the British Museum. Until her death in 1990, she collected more African art, often curating it at the Penn Museum. She also gave lectures on her work at numerous institutions including the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, and LaSalle College. Along with these lectures, she donated art to each of these institutions.
The Margaret Feurer Plass Papers consist primarily of correspondence, her scrapbooks from 1933-1982, and photos compiling her curation work. The collection is organized into the following four series:
Series 1: Correspondence and other miscellaneous texts, box 1, 1895-1994.
Sub-series 1.1: Correspondence primarily from 1933-1982. Organized by date or correspondent. The papers predating 1933 are by Plass' parents, but there are very few of these. The correspondence predating her husband's death typically chronicles their travels in the Belgian Congo, China, South Africa, and Latin America. A journal she kept in the 1960s chronicles a trip to Egypt and her opinions on politics and art collecting.
Some of the letters saved are from Margaret herself, detailing travels in Western Europe, including Germany in 1938, Tunisia, South Africa, Mozambique, India, and Malaysia. She does discuss art, particularly African art, that she purchased. Her opinions on the politics and demographics of each region are expressed as well. Much of the writings during World War II and shortly after discusses Webster's work in helping the "war effort". Her initial interest in studying anthropology becomes more firm in these writings. Such letters can give insights into the early phases of her art collecting. Most of the letters are to her mother and friends back in America, with many of them being to "Mrs. Dodge" who took care of the Plass' dog Danny.
Post-1952, most of her correspondence relates to her work in collecting African Art, including lectures she has taught and art she has donated. Receipts and letters thanking her for her donations are prominent in this section, including correspondence from the British Museum, the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, Oberlin College, and LaSalle College. The Webster Plass Collection at the British Museum is a prominent topic of these letters. Notable correspondents in her papers include British sculptor Henry Moore, American sculptor Malvina Hoffman, and British artist Leon Underwood. They discuss her collecting of African art, her donations, and her acquiring of their artworks as well, with her correspondence from Underwood being quite extensive.
Sub-series 1.2: Miscellaneous, 1949-1982. Various documents, including honorary diplomas given to Plass, menus from places she has traveled, greeting cards, clippings, and Plass' passport. Many of the earlier documents, including menus and postcards, will provide a glimpse into Plass' quality of life while traveling. The same can be said for the miscellaneous clippings, travel tickets, and correspondence. This area also has undated letters from diplomats. The travel documents present in this sub-series allows for her travels to be pieced together.
Sub-series 1.3: Legal correspondence, 1980-1994. Donations outlined in her will, including dealings with Bryn Mawr College and its Plass Fund, and lawsuits that she was the plaintiff in. One lawsuit concerns the now-defunct Philadelphia Center for the Blind and the other is against Dr. David Meltzer in which he was holding an African headrest, valued at $50,000, that belonged to Plass. Her lawyer was Harris Wofford, American congressmen and former president of Bryn Mawr College.
Series 2: Photographs, boxes 2-3, 1933-1982. Loose photographs and photo albums showing travels with Plass and her husband, where they go to Peru, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan, India, California, Canton, Indochina, and the Belgian Congo. Photographs of Plass with African art, her wedding photo, her receiving honorary degrees, and three unidentified cassette tapes.
The photo album concerning Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, and Curacao has typed descriptions for some of the photos, in which context is given for the photographs along with the colors that would have been present if the photographs were in color. The rest of the albums, including the loose photographs, take up many different subjects including people, markets, landscapes, dress, ceremonies, aerial shots, the Plasses and their friends, animals, and local events (one of which is a labor strike in Argentina).
The later photographs show Plass at exhibitions and showcasing her African art among colleagues. When put in context with her correspondence, the history of her collection can be delved into further, piecing together where each object was and when, including how Plass cared for her objects.
Series 3: Scrapbooks, boxes 4-6, 1933-1981. Three compiled volumes containing clippings of journal and newspaper articles on African art and Plass, thank-you notes from the British Museum for donations, and documentation of Plass' correspondence with Bryn Mawr College. One volume consists of William Fagg's articles, drafts, and notes.
The scrapbooks were compiled by Plass herself. The articles she compiled are primarily from MAN, The Times, and The Illustrated British News, including articles that she has written and about art that she has collected. This can provide insight into what she was interested in and her art collection was being utilized. The thank-you notes from the British Museum, and a few from the Penn Museum, can track her collections. Some of these notes are handwritten and contain information about the origin of the object as dictated by Plass. There are also a few photographs of Plass with items from her collection and at her home.
Series 4: Plass Collection inventory, box 7. Three bound volumes comprising photographs of the "Plass Collection" at the British Museum, divided up as "Belgian Congo", "British Colonies", and "French Territories". Photos of other art Plass has either collected or worked with, primarily at the British Museum, but also the Penn Museum. Categorized by country/culture of origin. Some have cataloguing information on the back.
Almost all of the photos are in black and white and serve as an original catalogue for the Plass Collection at the British Museum. Photos not in the bound volumes include art from "All Africa", but also art from the Near East and Mexico. The cataloguing information also expands beyond the British Museum into art that she has donated to the Penn Museum, LaSalle College, and those that she sold at auction.
Donated at the bequest of Margaret Feurer Plass '17 in 1990
- Bryn Mawr College
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for use.
- Use Restrictions
The Margaret Plass Papers are the physical property of Bryn Mawr College Special Collections. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the author or their heirs and assigns.
Contains notes on art she has found, diary entries, opinions, travel notes, and newspaper clippings on her achievements
Discuss C.A.R.E. parcels
Leon Underwood, British artist and promoter of African Art, mentions William Fagg and Bryn Mawr president Katherine McBride
Malvina Hoffman, American sculptor
Henry Spencer Moore, English artist (1898-1986)
Discusses Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Austria, and Tunisia
Discusses Australia, Malay, New Zealand, Indonesia, and China
Discusses Mozambique and South Africa
Discusses the Dutch and Sumatra
Contains black and white loose photographs of Manila, Macao, Java, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Canton, and Singapore
Contains a few general photosgraphs of Webster and Margaret Plass
Contains a few photographs of the Plass family and some general travel photography
Contains photographs of travels to California and New Mexico
Contains travel photographs from Europe, China, and Southeast Asia
Contains loose photographs and clippings of Margaret and Webster Plass, some in New York, Indonesia, and England; also contains notes from Margaret as a child and her father, Carl Feurer
One is labeled "English Friends in London"Physical Description
Has newspaper clippings on back for context
Includes photo with Ronald Reagan
Contains photos Brazil, Argentina, and Puerto Rico as well as some loose photographs from the United States and China
Includes photos and typed notes on Margaret and Webster Plass' travels throughout Latin America including: Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Curacao, and Venezuela
Contains clippings and articles on African Art; mostly contains articles and drafts by William Buller Fagg (1914-1992)
Contains articles and clippings on African art, thank you notes from the British Museum for donations, and correspondence with Bryn Mawr College and its 75th Convocation and Alumnae Relations
Contains articles and clipping on African art, obituaries for Webster Plass, photos of Plass at her home, photos of Plass at exhibitions, and thank you notes from the British Museum for donations
Contains photographs of art she has collected, including those at the British Museum and the Penn Museum. Some are numbered. There are also some articles on African art.
Contains photos of people and Ashnati art that Plass has collected, most are numbered
Contains images of objects collected and used by Plass at the Penn Museum, most are numbered
Photos of Near Eastern art collected by Plass, none are numbered
Most photos are numbered and have sale information on the back
Contains images, some with writing on the back, of art Plass has collected and donated to the British Museum from the French Territories