Obituary: Peter Barker-Mill

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The Independent Online
Peter Claude Vaudrey Barker-Mill, artist and philanthropist: born Bordighera, Italy 28 December 1908; married 1937 Elsa Dun (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1950), 1952 Caroline Scott Plummer; died Bristol 5 June 1994.

PETER BARKER-MILL was an artist and a generous patron of the contemporary arts.

His childhood at Mottisfont Abbey, in Hampshire, in London and in Italy, his education at Harrow, Sandhurst and two years in the army in India, Egypt and Singapore formed an unconventional prelude to his subsequent training as an artist and designer, attending the progressively run Grosvenor School of Modern Art, in London, and the Academie Andre Lahote, in Paris.

Barker-Mill was commissioned by Christopher Sandford to make wood engravings for Golden Cockerel Press books, the first in 1937 and others after the Second World War. His involvement with film included work with the documentary film-maker Cyril Jenkins and led to his war service involvement in the Civil Defence Camouflage Unit. In 1944 he joined a small unit that went to the Ministry of Town and Country Planning and was responsible for models of the proposed developments under the Abercrombie Plan for London and the Thomas Sharp plan for Durham. These experiences influenced his commissioned murals from 1961 until 1981, in which he used a variety of materials, including the development of new techniques with pigments and dyes integrated with plastic laminates. His work included a war memorial for the Tank Corps at Bovington, in Dorset.

From the early 1970s he increasingly devoted his time to his painting which developed from landscape-related work to abstraction that was a celebration of pure colour. In 1989 the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol, showed a retrospective exhibition of his work and published an excellent illustrated catalogue.

Barker-Mill was a quiet, unassuming and most generous patron of the crafts and the arts. This was reflected in his attractive house and garden at Wookey Hole, in Somerset. His imaginative collecting, particularly of contemporary painting, sculpture and fine crafts was on a modest scale. There were few of his own works to be seen and his generosity was more focused on helping others.

He was involved with the development of the recognition of the crafts in Britain in the 1950s and was an early member of the Crafts Council. He subsequently financially assisted a group of craftspeople working near Glastonbury, was a generous contributor to the large-scale building programme of the Bristol Old Vic and, most recently, to the ArtSpace Studios co- operative in Bristol. A lover of nature and landscape, Barker-Mill gave a wooded valley to the Hampshire Nature Conservancy and helped to acquire and fund various locations on Mendip for the Somerset Nature Conservancy.

In 1965 Barker-Mill became the first Chairman of the Arnolfini Gallery, and for over 20 years its principal benefactor. He made possible the scheme for the conversion in 1975 of the magnificent former tea warehouse on the Bristol harbour waterfront to house the Arnolfini. This work was subsequently recognised by conservation awards and featured on one of four pictorial stamps on the theme of Urban Renewal issued by the Post Office in 1988. He also endowed the Arnolfini Collection Trust to acquire contemporary art which would subsequently be given to public collections including the Bristol and Southampton City Art Galleries.

Few of the artists and performers, or the hundreds of thousands of people who enjoy the exhibitions, films and live events at Arnolfini, are aware of Barker- Mill's role and it was a sad irony that he should have died a few days before the planned inauguration, by the Chairman of the Arts Council of England, of an engraved stone in the Arnolfini Building to commemorate the encouragement, patronage and generosity shown by Peter Barker- Mill and his wife Caroline.

(Photograph omitted)