Edward Bird, 1945-2009

April 16, 2009

Edward Bird, a leading figure in art and design education, has died.

He was born in Leicester on 24 September 1945 and was brought up there. After studying ceramics at the Loughborough College of Art and Design in the late 1960s, followed by a postgraduate course at North Staffordshire Polytechnic, he embarked on a varied career as a chartered industrial product designer and consultant. He helped to resolve the technical problems on the classic ranges produced by the celebrated Portmeirion Pottery and he was also responsible for the design of sanitaryware at Armitage Shanks.

Such wide-ranging hands-on experience - and a fund of stories about his adventures among the leading designers of his youth - proved very useful when Professor Bird moved into teaching, with posts at Lancaster, Shrewsbury, Salford and Huddersfield schools of art and design. He transferred to what was then Wolverhampton Polytechnic in 1989 as principal lecturer in woods, metals and plastics. He was later to become reader in charge of three-dimensional design and then professor in design education in 2002.

His 20 years at Wolverhampton saw the notable expansion of MA and PhD courses, and Professor Bird became the first staff member in the School of Art and Design to gain a PhD. His research focused on the creation of the original British schools of art - from their architecture to their syllabuses and teaching materials - in the aftermath of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Until shortly before his death, he was still working on the diaries of the central figure in this initiative, the Victorian civil servant Sir Henry Cole.

Beyond his own teaching and research, Professor Bird was closely involved in building partnerships with the School of Engineering and in establishing a research fellowship that enabled the Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society to publish a unique gazetteer of British architectural ceramic sites. He also shared his wife's passion for Lipizzaner horses.

John E. Brierley, former subject leader and divisional co-ordinator for woods, metals and plastics at the University of Wolverhampton, remembers a man of great integrity whose organisational skills were crucial in the transition from polytechnic to university and whose "professional love was research, and how it might inform teaching and the next generation of designers. But what I value the most is the clear fact that he gave to me and never wittingly or unwittingly took from me."

Professor Bird died of a pulmonary embolism on 13 January and is survived by his wife Susan. A memorial students' award is being planned in his name.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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