Obituary: John Newick

Click to follow
John Clifford Newick, teacher: born 30 November 1919; Lecturer in Art Education, Institute of Education, London University 1967-85; died Bath 5 March 1994.

SOON after starting work 40 years ago as an art teacher in a secondary school I came across John Newick's book Making Colour Prints: an approach to lino cuttings, which had been published by the Dryad Press in 1952. I had made prints during art-school training; but in these unassuming pages found the craft explained so simply and yet so inspiringly that I now see my encounter with it as the real beginning of my education in printmaking. Twenty years later I met the man himself when I became his colleague in the Department of Art and Design at the Institute of Education, London University. His integrity was at once evident: he radiated that same combination of quiet conviction and passionate commitment to art that animated his writing.

By the time I met him in 1976, Newick had been art master at Sidcot School, in Somerset, had trained student art teachers at Birmingham School of Art, had travelled widely in Africa (where he taught at Kwame Nkrumah University, Ghana, and Makerere University, Uganda) and had taught twice both at the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford, and at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Whilst in Ghana he had worked on a revised edition (1964) of Clay and Terracotta in Education. In 1973 he had edited (with Dick Field) and contributed to the influential The Study of Education and Art (1973).

Newick had taken up his post at the Institute of Education in September 1967, and taught there until 1985. He was Course Tutor to the Diploma in Art Education, a pioneering venture in advanced studies, and was subsequently Course Tutor to the Postgraduate Certificate in Education for intending specialist teachers of Art and Design. His last two years at the institute were on a part-time basis. Typically, he welcomed this arrangement since it would, he said, give him more time to prepare his teaching thoroughly.

Although he had a great love for art, the subject seemed increasingly to become a vehicle for mutually enriching personal encounters between teacher and student rather than the transmission of knowledge about art (though, in fact, this was never out of sight); and as a result he was sometimes misunderstood. This was a risk he was willing to take. He had strong convictions to which he adhered with gentle, determined courage. He was a pacifist and during the Second World War had accepted work as a cowman (he would have gone to prison) and later as second master at Purtonstock Preparatory School in Wiltshire - he gained the appointment because he could teach riding.

At the Institute of Education, Newick was an utterly dedicated tutor. Not infrequently he would sacrifice his weekends to go through draft dissertations with one of his research students. He was that rarity in university teaching: the ever-available mentor. His advice and criticism were given with a courteous forthrightness, the sincerity emphasised by a direct gaze of sometimes disconcerting intensity. He had the gift of making all his students feel that their efforts, however fumbling, were worthy of his respect.

Such was his fierce commitment to their needs that personal academic advancement (which, notoriously, seems to come more readily through publication than through dedicated teaching) evaded him. He remained at Lecturer level - the level at which he was appointed in 1967 - until his retirement in 1985. His real monument is the achievement, gratitude and affection of his many students; his epithet the honourable and simple title: teacher.