Ian Tregarthen Jenkin

Pillar of the Slade and co-founder of the Open College of the Arts
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The Independent Online

Few people have contributed as much and as self-effacingly to art education in the last half-century as Ian Tregarthen Jenkin - at the Slade School of Fine Art, Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and the Royal Academy Schools.

Ian Evers Tregarthen Jenkin, arts administrator and educationist: born Great Malvern, Worcestershire 18 June 1920; Secretary and Tutor, Slade School of Fine Art 1949-75; Principal, Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts 1975-85; OBE 1984; Curator, Royal Academy Schools 1985-86; Director, Open College of the Arts 1986-90, President 1989-91, Vice-President 1991-2004; died Aston Tirrold, Oxfordshire 5 September 2004.

Few people have contributed as much and as self-effacingly to art education in the last half-century as Ian Tregarthen Jenkin - at the Slade School of Fine Art, Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and the Royal Academy Schools.

When most welcome a leisurely retirement, Jenkin co-founded the Open College of the Arts and worked hard to establish its courses. In addition, he was quietly associated with numerous organisations ensuring that artworks were cared for, that facilities existed for their appreciation and that future artists would be best educated.

Ian Tregarthen Jenkin was born in Great Malvern, Worcestershire, in 1920. His father, Henry Tregarthen Jenkin, was a civil servant involved in education, his mother, Dagmar, a strident entrepreneur. Her efforts as property developer, inventor of the first invisible suspender and creator of board games ensured that she, her husband, Ian and his two sisters, one a twin, enjoyed one of the biggest Worcester houses and mixing with county society.

From as early as he could remember, Ian was passionate about form, construction, light and the ability of the mind and hand to craft representation of concepts or things. After Stowe School, he attended the Slade School of Fine Art briefly in 1938-39, then went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, to read Economics.

From 1939 to 1946 Jenkin was commissioned in the Royal Artillery. Initially he helped defend the east coast against possible invasion, then went to Trinidad, preventing enemy access to the pitch lakes. Gunnery duties damaged his hearing and he was awarded a disability pension.

At Stowe, Jenkin had had a self- portrait accepted for a London Portrait Society exhibition in 1938. On demobilisation, after completing his degree at Trinity, he entered Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts to be a painter. He was there from 1947 to 1949, during one of the school's most exciting times, taught by B.A.R. ("Sam") Carter, Vivian Pitchforth, Michael Salaman and William Coldstream.

After two years, by which time he felt that his abilities would always be inferior to those of many talented peers, making the life of a professional artist unrealistic, Jenkin was invited by Coldstream to join him at the Slade School of Fine Art. Coldstream had been appointed Slade Professor, and wanted Jenkin to be secretary and tutor. They remained until they both retired in 1975, an illustrious period during which the Slade expanded and English art education was remodelled.

During the Second World War the Slade had been evacuated to Oxford. Coldstream and Jenkin initially surveyed the old London premises in a parlous state of "post-war muck", rubble everywhere and needing decoration. They collaborated all summer to turn things round before the autumn term. Then Coldstream had to blend long-serving staff with the new blood he deemed essential, for the 1949-50 session appointing seven new men, John Aldridge, Sam Carter, Tom Monnington and William Townsend, and younger ones - Lucian Freud, Andrew Forge and Patrick George.

Over the years, the sometimes eccentric Coldstream relied heavily on Jenkin as his ideal adjutant. The Slade Professor was a dedicated painter and hectically busy committee man, whose health early in 1961 broke down under the strain. In such crises, Jenkin was one of a small group able to cope. When prospective students had to be interviewed; a new four-year diploma or the higher diploma or postgraduate courses had to be devised and ratified; when Coldstream was preoccupied with the 1960 and 1970 Coldstream reports that would remodel national art education; and when, at the time of the widespread student action at art schools such as Hornsey, a staff-student committee needed to be created, Jenkin initiating it and becoming its chairman - in such situations he was the support on which the Slade Professor could depend.

When, after his breakdown, Coldstream sought a flat, it was Jenkin who was asked to find one. When gatherings were arranged to celebrate Coldstream's knighthood in 1956 and his 50th birthday, in 1958, Jenkin was among the select guests.

Patrick George, then on the staff and later Slade Professor, says that Jenkin's "admirable" qualities as Secretary and high profile could lead to misconceptions about the hierarchy:

Bill Coldstream needed someone to clear things up for him and keep them in order, which Ian did. However, this situation made many students think that Ian was the boss, because he was much more like the boss. At interview, Bill would be enquiring about which bus they came on or helping them tie up the parcels of their work, then when they left they would say, "But I never saw the professor!", believing it was Ian.

From childhood, Jenkin loved country life, wildlife and farming. For over 40 years he had a smallholding just outside Bray, in Berkshire, where he kept cattle, predominantly Herefords. His nephew Piers Marmion recalls:

He would catch the train from Maidenhead to go up to the Slade, sell eggs on the train in the first-class compartment, lunch at the Athenaeum with various high and mighty people and would then go back and finish the harvest. In the summer he would be up at five, baling on his own.

Jenkin eventually came to resent the title Slade Secretary, which he considered inadequate to his contribution and is understood, without success, to have tried to have it changed. He was to get his chance to run his own school in 1975, when he became Principal at Camberwell, succeeding Leonard Daniels. During the decade until he retired in 1985, Jenkin made dynamic changes. These included introducing new departments, such as paper conservation, now with an international reputation, creating student accommodation and establishing a fund to help young artists.

Jenkin had been Curator at the Royal Academy Schools for only a year when he was invited to help create the Open College of the Arts - extending art education to those who traditionally would never have received it, such as prisoners, patients and pensioners. The college, co-founded with Michael Young (Lord Young of Dartington), began operations in 1986. Jenkin was its first director for three years, from a tiny administrative base arranging the first correspondence courses, then was President, and from 1991 Vice-President.

All this left little time to paint. "I did not see him oil painting for the last 20 years," says Piers Marmion:

He always had an easel up with a painting on it, but it was never touched. Instead, he would use his talent to amuse nieces and nephews, as a cartoonist and sending them picture letters when they were at school.

Patrick George recalls Jenkin's facility with a pen - "With one hand he could write in the proper way extremely clearly, but also write backwards."

In 2002 Jenkin recorded 20 hours of interviews for the National Life Story Collection at the British Library.

David Buckman