Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Ghost Ship Tells Story of Orphan's Proud Journey; A Sculpture Recalls the Penniless Orphan Who Became a Major Figure in the North East, as TONY HENDERSON Reports

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Ghost Ship Tells Story of Orphan's Proud Journey; A Sculpture Recalls the Penniless Orphan Who Became a Major Figure in the North East, as TONY HENDERSON Reports

Article excerpt

AGHOST ship sculpture made in a museum was inspired by the story of a foreign orphan who arrived penniless in England but went on to be a leading North East shipbuilder and shipping line owner.

Robert Ropner, who arrived in the North East in 1857 by ship from Germany, became high sheriff of Durham in 1896 and served in the First World War as a colonel in the Durham Light Infantry.

Artists Stephen Dixon and Alison Welsh made the sculpture, entitled Refuge and based on Ropner's journey, at Preston Park Museum, Stockton-on-Tees.

Dixon, a professor at Manchester School of Art, studied fine art at Newcastle University.

He said: "Ropner was an orphan who arrived by ship in West Hartlepool, hoping to make a new life for himself.

"He settled in the region and made his fortune in the shipbuilding trade, as well as being elected to the local council and serving as mayor of Stockton.

"Ropner is an important part of the Tees Valley's maritime history and his rags-to-riches story really fired our imaginations."

The sculpture, which fills the billiard room at Preston Park Museum, has been constructed using steel, textiles and UV lighting and is on show until November 12.

A soundtrack made from recordings of the sea and sounds on board ships fades in and out, evoking Ropner's voyage from Germany to Hartlepool.

"It is a glowing, mysterious and ethereal ghost ship which we hope will give people a sense of what it feels like to be on a long journey by sea," said artist Alison Welsh, who is head of research at Manchester Fashion Institute.

The artists studied the blueprints for ships built by Ropner's shipping company which are held in the museum's collection.

Emil Hugo Oscar Robert Ropner was born in Magdeburg, Prussia, in 1838.

His parents died of cholera when he was 10 but they left enough money for him and his nine siblings to get a basic education. …

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