Gwen Carr obituary

Judith Massey
·2-min read

My mother, Gwen Carr, who has died aged 85, was well-known for her pioneering work as education officer at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne and later as group education officer for Tyne and Wear Museum Service. In 1994 she received the Gulbenkian award for the most imaginative education work from Lord Gowrie, the then chairman of the Arts Council, at the National Portrait Gallery.

Her approach and philosophy were always to make art accessible to as wide a range of audiences as possible, and to help talented new artists make their mark.

Among the inclusive exhibitions she initiated and curated was Freedom to Touch (1985-86) at Shipley Art Gallery, which included works designed to be physically touched, particularly by children and those with disabilities. The exhibition went on to tour in Stoke and Bradford.

Another was Comic Book: A History of the Comic and Its Creation (1979), which also toured beyond the north-east of England. A world away from the Laing’s traditional collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings, the show broke the mould and attracted a new set of visitors to the gallery.

Gwen was also responsible for starting a Saturday art club for children called Young Friends of the Laing in 1979, co-ordinating an education programme for the British Art Show in 1980 and initiating the Lunchtime Lecture series at the Laing from 1981.

Born in Blackhill, County Durham, Gwen was the elder daughter of the sporting artist Tom Carr and his wife, Sarah (nee Johnson). She won a scholarship to Wolsingham grammar school, County Durham, and passed her school certificate in 1951, as well as her higher school certificate in 1953.

She trained as a teacher at Neville’s Cross College, Durham University, and married in 1956, to Harry Massey. Gwen was an art and PE teacher in North Shields, and ran her own pre-school nursery from home in the late 1960s while raising three children – my sister, Anne, me and my brother, Robert.

The marriage ended in divorce in the 1970s, and Gwen returned to education after a gap of two decades, graduating from Newcastle Polytechnic with a BA (hons) degree in the history of modern art and design in 1977, before being appointed as education officer at the Laing in 1978. She retired from Tyne and Wear Museum Service in 1995.

Gwen is survived by her children, three grandchildren, Louise, Jamie and Amy, and two great-grandchildren, Alex and Daniel.