Obituary: Zibby Garnett

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ZIBBY GARNETT was a countrywoman who used her knowledge of all the applied arts that make great houses shine to steer at least two of them into calmer water. Through the Nineties she was immersed in the conservation of decorative arts, first at the Lincoln College of Art and Design and later, after their merger, within De Montfort University.

She was a great self-improver who read for the pleasure of it but found the means to bring most of what she learned to good use. By the time she reached Lincoln she had learned her trade in the dismantling of one of the Dukeries (several ducal houses in a small area of Nottinghamshire), Thoresby, 84,000 square feet of "muscular Victorian eclecticism" by Anthony Salvin. In 1980 it had been passed to British Coal which preferred to be the owner of its problems rather than answerable to others for the subsidence their undermining was causing. By 1988 they wanted shot of it and exercised the right to move the family, still in occupation, out of it.

Zibby Garnett was ready, having finished a good, but less than half-complete, catalogue of the contents, and then put method into the selection of what should be kept for use in a new building and what should go for sale. She was, alone, the person prepared to know about each object, the part it played in the overall scheme of decoration and how it related to the remainder. She informed every decision that was later taken to preserve the core collection from several thousand objects.

She was fastidious enough to be offended by a bad fit within a decorative scheme or, equally, by bad planting. She baffled everyone at Thoresby by complaining of the tea roses planted on the terrace which were of obvious vigour and unprecedented display. "They are tea roses only hybridised after 1945 and quite out of place in a parterre designed by Nesfield in 1868." But she was never a bore or pedant. Because her purist tendency was the product of her enthusiam and excitement in the subject she carried the audience with her.

She left Thoresby before the roses had been replanted to join an English Heritage team that was bringing Brodsworth, near Doncaster, back to life after its period asleep. This meant applying the same skills and discretion to build up, to get the fabric cleaned and replaced, to see the spirit of the place emerge again.

Lincoln was an obvious next step. There she made a temporary, freelance assignment into a permanent role. Although her work was chiefly administrative she was, at the least, unusual in having no higher qualifications at all. She had received an education and lifelong values, if few exams, in her convent schooling at St Hilda's, Whitby, while growing up in the North East.

After coming on to the staff at Lincoln she led an HND course and later set up a new research department, the "Centre for Conservation Studies". It was perhaps an obvious choice when De Montfort wanted to take the new school up in the world they should ask Garnett to create from nothing the international links and to set up the student exchanges that would prompt the cross- fertilisation arts education depends on. Through that she found friends in Europe and India and would, had she lived, no doubt have extended this range throughout the world.

She always treated new interests and tasks as a means to make new and proper friendships wherever she landed. This was not a planned career cut short by the cancer that hunted her for 12 years but a journey from one interesting place to another with plenty to get on with as she went. Outside her paid work she was taken up with causes centred on the arts and architecture, although her membership of the Diocesan Synod hardly fits that definition and, here also, in spite of her own modest assessment of her abilities others saw fit to push her into the lead.

At home in Norwell, a small red-brick village north of Newark, where she came in 1977 with her husband, David Garnett, they gave creative life to many of the interests and principles they shared. They showed how a proper knowlege of plants and their history can lead to an infinitely more stimulating effect than the ignorant motivated only by a sense of colour or immediate impression.

Hugh Matheson

Elizabeth Pamela Stock, arts administrator: born Newcastle 14 October 1944; married 1971 David Garnett; died Norwell, Nottinghamshire 15 January 1999.