Jenny Vernon obituary

Other lives: Museum curator and geographer expert in the Inuit of Arctic Canada

My friend Jenny Vernon, who has died aged 75, was a museum curator who worked at Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire and later became keeper of Lincoln Castle. But she also had a keen interest in, and knowledge of, Arctic Canada, which she nurtured throughout her adult life.

Jenny was born in Bromley, Kent, to George Vestey, a metallurgist, and Violet (nee Grant), a clerical worker. She spent most of her childhood in Hertfordshire, where she went to school in St Albans. After studying geography at Manchester University she landed a job in 1966 as a geographer with the Canadian government, carrying out field work in the maritime provinces and publishing reports on settlement patterns.

In 1968, while doing a master’s degree at McGill University in Montreal, she was invited to spend two summers in Igloolik, northern Canada. There she visited every family in the community as part of her research, fell in love with the area, and began to understand enough of the Inuktitut language to be able to “stutter a few sentences”.

After travelling through the US and Mexico (1970-73), she helped to survey settlements along the Baffin Island coast in Canada, and was excited to be offered work with the advocacy organisation Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (now Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami). However, during a visit to her parents in England, she received a telegram withdrawing the offer. With no job lined up in Canada, she had to look for work back home.

Moving to Lincolnshire, for the next three years she was employed as a factory worker, a farm labourer and a hospital cleaner. In 1976 she married Neil Vernon, a British oil rigger whom she had met on a visit back to the UK and who had joined her in helping out with the Baffin Island survey work.

She then gained a teaching certificate from Grantham College and taught geography there from 1977-79 before joining the Lincolnshire museum service, working on short-term contracts on various projects until she was appointed curator at the medieval oak-framed Gainsborough Old Hall. There she introduced re-enactments, living history events and craft fairs, and raised visitor figures from 12,000 a year in 1984, when she arrived, to 44,000 in 1991, when she left. After two further years as keeper of Lincoln Castle she retired in 1993.

With her working life behind her, Jenny became an ordained Buddhist and, after she and Neil had divorced, lived in a Buddhist centre in Sheffield while teaching at several Buddhist institutions across the Midlands. Later she returned to lay life to care for her mother until her death in 2008.

Throughout this time Jenny kept up her interest in the Canadian Arctic, and in 2011 she did some work with the social anthropologist Nancy Wachowich, which led to contact with some of her old Arctic friends. At the time of her death she had been in touch with members of Isuma, the Inuit artist collective, to discuss how to make her considerable Arctic archive available to the people whose lives and history are reflected in it.

Judith Holt

The GuardianTramp

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