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Christine Woods

Christine Woods will be long remembered for her impact as Curator of Wallpapers at the Whitworth Art Gallery, a position she held from 1987–2012. She not only cared for the Gallery’s collection of historic and modern wallpapers but was the moving force behind the establishment and promotion of the University of Manchester as a centre for the study of this subject. With the in-house conservator, Nicola Walker, she also developed new strategies for the storage, access and display of wallpapers. As the only full-time wallpaper curator in the country, she rightly came to be regarded as representing Britain in this arena, both in Europe and elsewhere around the globe.

Christine achieved this by lecturing widely, by organising numerous exhibitions and displays, by contributing substantially to the literature at all levels and by ensuring that the Whitworth stood at the forefront of research and development relating to the storage and display of wallpapers and wallcoverings of all kinds. Many of her lecture titles captured something of her keen wit and sparkling intelligence. There was ‘Getting into Leather’ for Antique Interiors International(Autumn 1997, pp.12-17) and ‘Earning an Honest Bob: making ends meet in the wallpaper trade’, a conference paper delivered in 2005 at the V&A Museum. Some were especially popular, including ‘My wallpaper is killing me’, delivered on at least eight occasions between 2007 and 2015; the audiences ranged from antiques societies and New Embroidery Group in the UK to the IGI (Industrial Grade Innovation) Technical Conference in Osnabruck, just one of the overseas events to which she contributed.

Her ability to communicate with such diverse entities owed everything to her background. With a BA(Hons) in Textiles from West Surrey College of Art, Farnham, and an Art Teachers’ Certificate from the University of London Institute of Education, from 1973-85 she had served as Senior Technical Assistant at Middlesex Polytechnic, for much of this time not only meeting the demands of staff and students and lecturing elsewhere, but also continuing her own education, latterly as a PhD candidate researching the British Silk Association and Sir Thomas Wardle. In 1985 she became Archivist at Arthur Sanderson & Sons Ltd, just in time to curate their 125th anniversary exhibition and write the accompanying catalogue. Here too, crucially, she immersed herself in learning about their production processes, gathering a good understanding of all of these, including block printing. Thus, on arrival at the Whitworth she was that rarity: an insider in every respect. Attuned to the needs of students as much as lecturers, conservators as well as curators, and industrial design studios together with their corporate bosses, Christine became the central conduit through which exchanges flourished.

One expression of her energetic dedication to “spreading the word” was her key role in the foundation in 1986 of the Wallpaper History Society (WHS), for which she served as Chair and, from 1990 until 2016, editor of The Wallpaper History Review. Her legacy remains not only in the WHS, but equally in the Textile Society, for which she played the essential role of founding Secretary from 1982 and member of the editorial board until 1988. It is no exaggeration to say that her combination of superb organisational skills and wry goading set the Textile Society on sound footing.

In all these achievements Christine was above all, an egalitarian. She was generous and kind to all, whether the most senior of professionals or the most proletariat of curious visitors to the Whitworth. Her scholarly interests over the past two-plus decades were equally even-handed, often focused on the less fashionable wallpapers, when a curator of her standing might be expected to pivot their research only around ‘high end’ products. Her contribution to The Papered Wall (Thames & Hudson 1994 and 2005) documented ‘Proliferation: Late 19th Century Papers, Markets and Manufacturers’ as no one else could. One consistent topic was washable mass-produced wallcoverings, called sanitary papers, much to the amusement of some wallpaper connoisseurs. Undeterred, her spirited defence of such topics is captured in the title, ‘Artistic andsanitary: wallpapers in a spin,’ this time for a National Trust audience at the V&A in 2000. Twelve years later she boldly presented ‘The Challenge of Cheap Paper’ to the International Paper Historians’ congress in Basle (published in the IPH Yearbook, Vol.19, 2012).

Despite her prolific output of exhibitions, publications, conference papers, gallery tours and study days, what is most memorable about Christine was her warmth and the capacity to bring people from different arenas together. She brought to her tasks a determination to succeed and an irresistible combination: brilliance of mind and brilliance of smile. She is sorely missed.

Christine Woods (23 November 1946–9 May 2022) is survived by her husband, David Greysmith.

Obituary by Mary Schoeser, wallpaper historian and Honorary President of The Textile Society, for the society's journal, 'Text', Volume 49, November 2022.


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