Some reminiscences of Judith Chantry from Jane Eagan

For the younger conservation professionals, I thought it might be nice to share some memories of the Chantry Library and Judith Chantry by those who knew and worked with her. For background to the Library and Judith, please see our website and the feature on Icon’s website here which includes a timeline of the library’s history.

I used the Chantry Library extensively when I was a student at Camberwell on the MA course from 1993 to 1995. I was lucky enough to do some summer work in Oxford and learned quickly that a visit to the library (then housed in the Ashmolean Museum) could be booked with Judith Chantry. I knew very little about Judith, how instrumental she was in the work of the Institute of Paper Conservation, that she had trained as a librarian, and that she had a very dry sense of humour. On my arrival Judith was lovely, put the kettle on, and wanted to have a chat about what I was reading. She warned me that the library was small, outside her window she had a thriving papyrus plant which she was very proud of. She was impeccably dressed, always in a skirt, often accessorized with a rather dashing scarf and her hair in a lovely chignon. She had a calm presence, wore her experience and knowledge lightly, and was hugely helpful and encouraging to a student conservator. I was interested in boardmaking, and she very kindly lent me Edo Loeber’s Paper Mould and Mould Maker, for which I was extremely grateful (PaH/Lo). (If you don’t know this work and are interested in papermaking, I encourage you to have a look.)

For 20 years, from 1979 to 1999, printmaker Barry Cottrell worked in Judith’s paper conservation studio at the Ashmolean Museum. Barry is an artist working in copper engraving, and for years supported his artistic work by cutting mounts for the Ashmolean. Barry shared Judith’s studio, cutting beautiful mounts by hand with his Dexter mount cutter. He recalls her kindness and support and has shared a photo of Judith in 1986, taken at an opening party for the exhibition of work by John Bensusan-Butt and Lucien Pissarro in the Ashmolean’s Eldon Gallery. Lucien Pissarro was Bensusan-Butt’s uncle by marriage and became his adviser and teacher throughout his career.

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Barry Cottrell (left) with Judith behind (right) at a launch party at the Ashmolean in 1986

Barry carries on making beautiful engravings, using the burin as his main tool, and producing the ‘driven line’. One of his early prints, ‘His Master’s Dog’, inspired by the work of the fifteenth-century ‘Master of the Housebook’, is in the Ashmolean and British Museum print collections. It was printed on heavy watercolour paper made by the Two Rivers Paper Company of Somerset, still working today. You can read more about Barry’s work here and about Two Rivers Paper here.

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‘His master’s dog’ by Barry Cottrell (1986?)

Barry’s recent work includes the engraving ‘Satyr with conch holding a small ewer’, inspired by an engraving in the V&A by Italian engraver Enea Vico in 1543, depicting a satyr with a conch on top of a very large ewer, and his ‘Polka dot Madonna’ in 2020.

If anyone has memories of Judith they would like to share please contact us!

Jane Eagan

Head of Conservation and Preservation

Oxford Conservation Consortium

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