Obituary: Helen Lowenthal

George Ireland
Wednesday 14 April 1993 23:02

Helen Olga Lowenthal, educator: born Belfast 21 June 1904; co-founder, Attingham Summer School Trust 1951; Course Director, Attingham Summer School 1952-76; Education Officer, Victoria and Albert Museum 1953-69; first Vice-President of the National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies, 1967; OBE 1970; died London 30 March 1993.

HELEN LOWENTHAL established an exceptional reputation for her contribution to the growth and quality of extra-mural arts education in this country and abroad. She was a co-founder, with Sir George Trevelyan, of the annual Attingham summer school for the study of British country houses, and a driving force behind the formation of the National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies.

Scholars, art historians, museum staff and students from all over the world - most notably the United States - who have attended Attingham over the past 40 years have returned home from the intensive three-week course with a deeper knowledge and appreciation of European arts and civilisation. Membership of NADFAS - founded in 1967 at Lowenthal's home in London - provides thousands of people from all walks of life in Britain with a kind of education in the arts to which they would otherwise have no access.

During the 1960s, at a time when scholars and museum curators from behind the Iron Curtain had virtually no contact with the West, Helen Lowenthal campaigned successfully to sponsor at least two Eastern Europeans for Attingham each year.

A handsome, determined woman from a cosmopolitan background, she was the daughter of a German-Jewish linen merchant in Belfast. Lowenthal maintained an international outlook all her life. Combined with a flair for languages and a knowledge of art history - she studied at Bedford College, London, and the Courtauld Institute - her natural aptitude for teaching resulted, in the post-war years, in a successful series of British Council lecture tours in Germany, France, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, as well as America.

It was a remark made to Helen Lowenthal during a lecture tour of America in 1951 that provided the inspiration for Attingham, which first took place the following year - in Shropshire at Attingham Park. The list of alumni who have since then attended the annual summer school, and newer week-long courses, contains the names of people who have subsequently gone on to hold posts in almost every important museum and art gallery in the United States and Europe, East as well as West.

Until her retirement in 1969, Helen Lowenthal was for 16 years Education Officer at the Victoria and Albert Museum and for many years an active trustee of the residential crafts college at West Dean, in Sussex, where the Attingham school is now based.

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