Lionel Burman obituary

Other lives: Museum curator with a knack for assembling artistically creative displays and exhibitions

My father, Lionel Burman, who has died aged 94, was a museum curator and conservationist who worked mostly in Liverpool and the north-west of England. His museum displays were often ahead of their time and he also played an important role in the conservation of Liverpool’s social history.

Lionel was born in Hampstead, north London, to Jewish parents, Winnie (nee Cohen) and her husband, Leonard, a textiles buyer. At the outbreak of the second world war he and his four siblings were evacuated to Birkdale in Lancashire, while his father was drafted into military intelligence in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.

Lionel attended King George V school in Southport, where he excelled at drawing, painting and sculpture. He then continued his studies at the Liverpool School of Art before being called up on national service in the RAF, operating as a navigator in a Mosquito combat aircraft, flying over the rubble of Europe at the end of the war.

The exhibition The Art of the Potter, curated by Lionel Burman at Liverpool Museum, 1993
The exhibition The Art of the Potter, curated by Lionel Burman at Liverpool Museum, 1993 Photograph: from family/unknown

After returning home, he went on to teach art in various schools in Liverpool, Oldham and Manchester. It was while he was in Manchester, in 1958, that he met Sandra Moss at a Jewish social club, and they married in 1965.

Soon afterwards they moved to Barnard Castle in County Durham, where my father went to work as a curator at the Bowes Museum. In 1971, he got a job at Liverpool Museum, as head of the department for decorative arts. He was tasked with setting up a decorative arts gallery in the museum, an ambitious and expensive project at the time. In some of his displays he began to use interactive computers, which was pretty much unheard of in the 1980s.

It was also during this period that he and his team would perform acts of “rescue archaeology”, after hearing news of some demolition or clearance at a historical urban site. This would lead to them saving many pieces of pottery and shards of ceramics. Such interventions played an important part in preserving some of Liverpool’s social history.

My father loved his work in the museums, galleries and in academia, and his passion was infectious on those around him. He worked in Liverpool Museum until his retirement, in 1992, aged 64, after which he took on a fellowship at Liverpool University, regularly lecturing on the decorative arts, especially ceramics.

He was a director of the Bluecoat Display Centre, a craft and design gallery in Liverpool, and helped out with arranging displays at the city’s Walker art gallery and at Chester Cathedral.

He also continued to write academic papers on the arts as well as semi-biographical short stories based on his early postwar life, and spent much time campaigning online for the left-of-centre political matters that he cared so much about.

He is survived by Sandra, me, his grandson Zach and his brother Michael.

Daniel Burman

The GuardianTramp

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