Ex-director of Horniman Museum dies aged 89

David Boston, who has died aged 89 was for 28 years director at the Horniman Museum – he also helped secure, in 1985 when its funder, the Greater London Council, was scrapped by the Conservative government.

He managed to get direct Government funding, giving it national museum status.

The Horniman’s collections began in the drawing-room of a millionaire tea importer, Frederick Horniman, who wanted “to bring the world to Forest Hill”, then a genteel leafy Victorian suburb of large villas.

There are works of art, musical instruments, costumes, jewellery and weapons, in 1901 rehoused in a purpose-built building.

By the time Boston arrived in 1965 the collection – now of 350,000 objects – was too big for its building.

He found storage in Greenwich, where much of it is still housed.

This allowed space for temporary exhibitions and teaching.

The museum’s Victorian conservatory was moved from the Horniman family home in Croydon and rebuilt in the museum’s gardens, with the support of the comedian Spike Milligan.

A year after arriving at the museum, he organised the creation of an intricate sand painting by Fred Stevens, a Navajo artist and medicine man.

Traditionally such works would be destroyed as part of the ritual, but Boston managed to persuade Stevens that his painting should be preserved for the museum collection – and then had to work out how.

He wrote later that it remained his favourite museum object.

Mr Boston was born in Salisbury and educated at Rondebosch, Cape Town.

He read History at Selwyn College, Cambridge before becoming Keeper of Ethnology at Liverpool Museum and then Assistant Keeper of New World Archaeology and Ethnography at the British Museum.

He was appointed curator – later director – at the Horniman upon Otto Samson’s retirement in 1965 and led it until his retirement in 1993.

He was twice vice-president of the Royal Anthropological Institute (serving twice as Vice President) and on the committee of International Council of Museums and the UK’s Museums Association.

During his directorship of the museum, collections from field workers increased significantly.

He also steered through professionalisation of the ethnography department.

A tweet by the Horniman said: “We are saddened to hear that David Boston, who was director of the Horniman from 1965-1993, has died.

“David’s geniality and enthusiasm for the Horniman’s work were a constant, and he remained interested and in touch with us until recently.”

Main Pic: The Horniman Museum



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