Vanda Foster, Curator of Gunnersbury Park Museum, retired at the end of June. She was given a very affectionate send off with a tea party in the old Kitchens of the Large Mansion attended by many staff, volunteers, friends and colleagues. The staff presented her with plants and handsome pots for her garden and a wonderful replica Victorian photo album depicting staff, volunteers and colleagues dressed in appropriate bonnets, mob caps and other historic costumes! The Friends gave Vanda a framed sample of a beautiful hand-printed wallpaper by Marthe Armitage, which seemed appropriate as the work of a local craftswoman depicting a garden in the style of the Willow Pattern.
Vanda was born in Ealing and brought up in Abinger Road in Chiswick. She studied for a BA Hons in English Literature and the History of Art at the University of Leeds; she studied for a professional qualification, the post-graduate Diploma in Museum Studies at Manchester University and qualified as an Associate of the Museums Association. Vanda’s specialist expertise is in historic clothing and textiles and her first post as Assistant Keeper, then Keeper of the wonderful Gallery of Costume, kept her in Manchester from 1974 to 1979. During this time she published an article on the influence of the clothing of Dolly Varden from Barnaby Rudge for The Dickensian 73 in 1977.
Taking up the post of Senior Assistant Keeper, Costume and Textiles, Vanda left Manchester for The Museum of London where she worked from 1979 to 1981. While she was bringing up her children, Vanda acted as museums consultant for the Russian Costume exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery in 1987 and began writing books. Bags & Purses (Batsford) appeared in 1982, Crinolines & Crimping Irons (Peter Owen) was written with Christina Walkley and published in 1985 and A Visual History of Costume: The 19th century (Batsford) came out in 1992.
Next Vanda took several part-time and temporary posts working locally. In 1992 and 1993 she was part-time Temporary Museums Officer, working for LB Ealing at Pitzhanger Manor, and in the spring of 1993 part-time Education Interpreter at Gunnersbury Park Museum. During 1994 she worked part-time, again for LB Ealing cataloguing the Martinware Collection at Southall Library. During April to September 1997 she was a volunteer and then a part-time casual worker at Gunnersbury Park Museum, before leaving to spend a year as part-time Museum Officer at Pitzhanger Manor.
From December 1997 to June 1998 she was part-time Assistant Curator of Gunnersbury Park Museum and then Deputy Curator at Gunnersbury until 2006. She was designated Acting Curator until 2010 when the second of the contractors which ran Gunnersbury Park Museum finally recognised that she was running everything (without a Deputy because of continuing cuts to Gunnersbury’s budgets).
During her career, Vanda Foster has been Secretary of The Costume Society, Secretary of The Group for Costume and Textile Specialists in Museums, Treasurer of the West London Museums Group and a trustee of both the Howard Trust and of the William Hogarth Trust.
Vanda’s long connection with Gunnersbury spanned more than 20 years. She has remained unfailingly cheerful, keeping the Museum going through some very hard times. Nevertheless she brought in a series of grants to help develop the Museum and its collections, especially working with a range of minority communities in Ealing and Hounslow. She was as likely to spend her day researching a new special exhibition as she was to be implementing the Museum’s emergency drill, the latter being a rather grand way of describing skills which ranged from rescuing a painted ceiling when a first floor tenant’s washing machine overflowed or positioning buckets during a downpour after roof lead had been stolen. In recent years, there has been no park manager based at Gunnersbury so Vanda also dealt with all sorts of problems and crises as the most senior manager on the spot representing the contractors, Laings or Carillion. The Friends have found her a delight to work with, welcoming when we offered help or advice, thoughtful when we discussed ways of funding new acquisitions or specialist equipment for the Museum, and we believe that without her intelligent input, the proposals for the future of the Museum which underpinned the HLF grant application would not have succeeded.