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17 Apr

A Remarkable Advocate for Guernsey

Interview
Brian White and family

Brian White was, in many ways, a man ahead of his time. He was instrumental in the creation of Candie Museum in 1978, where a gallery was named in his honour in 2004. Brian’s daughter, Meg White, shared some memories of her father and told us why he would have appreciated Art for Guernsey.

In his 95 years, Brian White was an army captain involved in the Normandy landings during WWII, a douzenier for St Peter’s parish and secretary of the States of Guernsey Ancient Monuments Committee. It was during his time on that committee that Brian helped to transform Guernsey’s museum service – but he never stopped advocating for the island and insisting that only the best would do.

“When Dad saw the advertisement for the job at the Ancient Monuments Committee in 1968 he thought ‘oh, that’s for me’, and that was the time when everything came together,” recalled Meg. “He was horrified by the Lukis & Island Museum, which was up at St Barnabas where they had the archives. The roof was leaking, he said there were about 20 pots to catch the drips.”

Determined that Guernsey deserved something better, Brian arranged for the committee to join the Museums’ Association and started to look for a more suitable site. After much research, he decided that it would be easier and cheaper to build from scratch at Candie, although the old bandstand was incorporated into the new design. When it opened in 1978, shortly before Brian retired, the Guernsey Museum received the accolade of being named European Museum of the Year.

In December 2004 Peter Sarl, then Director of Museums, wrote to Brian and asked: “In view of your years of hard work helping to create the museum as we know it today, we wondered whether you would be happy for us to name one of the galleries after you.” Meg has kept the rough draft of her father’s reply, which begins: “I was delighted to read your generous offer to give my name to one of the galleries. My wife and family join with me in sending you and your committee our sincere thanks for this recognition.”

In a speech at the opening of the Brian White Gallery, Brian related the frustrations he had encountered: “The years I was with the Ancient Monuments were a challenge and hard work. There were so many foundations to be laid, windows and doors to open. Islanders seem to be divided between those eager to take risks and reach for the sky and others who have a preservation mentality. A museum service has to combine both elements but the philosophy I tried to follow was one of regeneration, finding new uses for heritage sites and trying not to wreck them.”

Brian felt that the preservation of the old bandstand played a part in both maintaining a tradition and inspiring the next generations. He urged: “They begin with you and if my experience is worth anything – you will have to fight. Take courage, when it comes to it, few will take you on. ‘Only the best is good enough for Guernsey.’ Dare anyone deny it in public? It works like a treat. Try it out.”

Brian would have fitted in well at Art for Guernsey.

Meg said: “He would have been proud to see Renoir in Guernsey, 1883 at Candie, because he did try to get the States to back buying a Renoir that came up for sale, which was at Moulin Huet, but they wouldn’t go for it, even though it would have attracted tourists – it’s just so short sighted.” He also believed that there should be collaboration between the Channel Islands, and in 1998 lobbied for the formation of a Channel Islands International Festival “‘to further the concept and the spirit of an united Europe and to work for peace, understanding the solidarity within the continent, by the promotion of intercultural familiarisation through productions and events.”

Education was also close to Brian’s heart. “Within six months of starting at Ancient Monuments he had to put together an exhibition celebrating the bicentenary of Sir Isaac Brock, and he really got the schools involved,” said Meg.

After receiving the first issue of the Art for Guernsey Magazine, Meg felt inspired to kindly give a donation to the charity. She explained why: “Dad was a keen artist himself, and he was keen on seeing something really high quality from a child-learning point of view. I think that it’s important for the next generations for art to be alive and focused and relevant, and I feel that in the hands of this organisation things are really moving, there is enthusiasm, a focused imagination and a willingness to drive things forward, which has to be quite a bit of hard work as well. And I’d like to see it going forward on the foundations that have been laid.”

The Brian White Gallery is a fitting tribute to a much-loved father and grandfather. His granddaughter Katharine Johnson, née White, gave an insight into the Brian the family and the island community were privileged to know: “Grandpa was my all-time hero. He was an artist and a poet, and had a gift of looking at life from a different, more considered angle than most, which was compelling and inspiring.”

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