3D designer at the British Museum, 1975 to 2013
Our colleague, Geoff Pickup, who died aged 71, designed many popular exhibitions and important permanent galleries during his 38-year career at the British Museum.
Born in Wembley in 1951, he attended Cheshunt Grammar School in Hertfordshire before training as an architect at University College London Bartlett School of Architecture. He then worked as an assistant for several well-known architectural firms before joining the museum in 1975.
As an assistant 3D designer in the museum’s rapidly expanding design office, he first worked on part of the 1976 exhibition Nomad and City, the first immersive exhibition – recreating the atmosphere of places – at the Museum of Mankind in Burlington Gardens, home of the Ethnography Department. from 1971 to 1997.
As a 3D designer, he worked with curators, graphic designers, editors, technicians and entrepreneurs to design six more exhibitions there, including another immersive exhibition for the 1982 Festival of India, Vasna: Inside an Indian Village. , for which he traveled to India to undertake background research and collect props; and the 1990 exhibition, Images of Africa: Emil Torday and the Art of the Congo 1900-1909.
In Bloomsbury, the most memorable of the 12 exhibitions he designed are: The Golden Age of Venetian Glass, 1979, Süleyman the Magnificent, 1988, and The Making of England: Anglo Saxon Art and Culture, 1991.
Under David Wilson, director of the British Museum from 1977 to 1992, the remit of the Design Office widened in the mid-1980s to cover responsibility for the public face of the museum: advertising, public spaces and galleries, and to establish a style home. Geoff’s design skills and knowledge of window construction were directed towards the design of permanent galleries.
He first designed part of the suite of Greek and Roman galleries on the upper floor, followed by two galleries for the Eastern Department at the time: the John Addis Islamic Gallery in 1991 (now closed) and the Korea Foundation Gallery, 2000.
With the Ethnography Department collections returning to Bloomsbury, Geoff designed the JP Morgan Gallery North America, the Sainsbury Africa Galleries basement and the Wellcome Trust Gallery: Living and Dying. These galleries remain and are his memorial.
Geoff was known for his enthusiasm, endless patience and attention to detail. One of his university colleagues said of him that he taught him what it meant to be a curator presenting the collections, because he studied the context of each exhibition and knew how to arrange the objects in relation to the others, always wondering what was the message to convey. conveyed to visitors.
He spent hours of his time adjusting the lighting of objects to achieve optimal results. These skills have inspired many young designers. He has also lectured in museum studies courses at various institutions in the UK, including the Museums Association, and overseas. In the early 2000s, the museum’s policy changed from supporting an in-house design center to outsourcing the design of most temporary exhibitions, galleries and public spaces.
As a senior designer, Geoff’s remaining years were spent in the museum’s Capital and Estates department involved in project management. But on retirement in 2013, he formed a small consultancy with two former colleagues and, taking over design, was lead designer for a new gallery of pre-Columbian art in Santiago, Chile, which opened. in 2014.
Although he was more of a private man, Geoff had many friends and contacts. Much of his free time was spent energetically visiting museums and exhibitions. He had broad interests including architecture, chamber music, opera, print collecting and contemporary ceramics. Museum designer par excellence, his talents, knowledge and expertise will be greatly missed.
Margaret Hall was head of design at the British Museum from 1964 to 2001 and Geoffrey House was head of the institution’s public services from 1987 to 2003.