Obituary: Barbara Grigor
Wednesday 19 October 1994
IT WOULD be easy but quite wrong to say that the death of Barbara Grigor left Scotland a poorer country. In her short life - she was only 50 when she died - she enriched and embellished and stimulated Scottish culture in countless ways. That she died so young was very cruel. The many thousands who knew her or were touched by her work can only mourn with her husband Murray Grigor, the film-maker who was her partner in so many bold and original enterprises, and with her daughters Phoebe and Sarah. But she left Scotland a wiser, more sophisticated country, and its artists more confident about their place in the world.
She was the child of Rudi and Leni Sternschein, Jewish refugees from Austria. From that background she brought not only her looks - a melting Viennese beauty, which reminded me of the late Lilli Palmer - but an intellectual energy, a Central European delight in the fun and sparkle of new ideas which did not stop at talk, as so often happens in Scotland, but would not rest until ideas had become a reality: an exhibition, a film, a theatre production and then - almost invariably - one of those high-octane parties which she and Murray would throw in their old stone house at Inverkeithing, across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh.
With Murray, whom she married in 1968, and Lynda Myles, she took part in the capture of the Edinburgh Film Festival in the late 1960s by a group of dazzling radical intellectuals in their twenties, and helped to transform it into a carnival of new ideas about film which set fashions throughout Europe. As a partner with Murray in the film company Viz, Barbara learned all the skills of organisation, the marshalling of support and money, which complemented Murray's own hurtling torrent of ideas. Her interest in other arts, especially sculpture, led to the first big retrospective exhibition by their friend Eduardo Paolozzi at the 1984 Edinburgh Festival and to a pioneering film which revived the half-forgotten achievements of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Barbara Grigor set up the Landmark Sculpture Trust, which in the last 20 years enlisted most of Scotland's best artists, and then the Scottish Sculpture Trust, which she chaired and which sent work to exhibitions all over Europe. It was Barbara's energy which brought forward the startling gifts of artists like George Wylie and George Rickey, and which broke through many obstructions to get a marvellous bronze memorial to the poet Hugh MacDiarmid put up near his home town of Langholm, in the Borders.
Above all, Murray and Barbara Grigor held a mirror up to Scotland and forced the nation to laugh at what it saw. Their famous 'Scotch Myths' exhibition in 1981 charged straight at the grisly tangle of sentimental kitsch which passed for the national self-image, the complex which the political thinker Tom Nairn called 'the Tartan Monster'. It was followed by a heretical 'Scotch Myths' Hogmanay show on television, and the Monster has been weakened and derided ever since.
Brought to this summer's Film Festival in a wheelchair, Barbara fought her cancer with wonderful courage to the end. Her warmth and her gaiety can never be replaced. But she was very much loved, and she left Scotland a richer place than she found it.
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