This article was previously published in the special edition, ALUMNAE (December 2018).
Few have been so devoted to The Courtauld, so consistently or for so long, as Jane Ferguson. Alongside art history and a prolific philanthropic career, Ferguson has been instrumental in developing a productive community around The Courtauld and its alumnae.
Having heard of The Courtauld while studying for her first degree at McGill University in Montreal and admired its reputation for art history, Ferguson first joined the Institute working for the Slide Library at Portman Square, where she mounted slides and operated the manual Leitz projectors in lectures and seminars. The now outmoded role of projectionist not only provided visual evidence for students, but also exposed Ferguson to an enormously diverse range of art.
Soon returning to her own formal education, Ferguson stayed at The Courtauld to study the Early Modern Abstract (1912-39) as an MA student, before marrying and spending a decade abroad. Once her youngest child had started at school, however, she returned to offer her services again. In 1989, she and Professor Michael Kitson established the Courtauld Association in the hope of keeping in contact with former students, who had been rallied for the move to Somerset House, and making the most of them in the future.
The first effort of the Association was to provide news of alumni and alumnae, which eventually developed from a four-page bulletin to the 32-page Courtauld News covering the Institute as a whole. Only one of the two annual issues was provided for by a donation, and it was to fund the second that Ferguson initially founded the Courtauld Book Sale. When the Institute recognized the worth of the newsletter and started to pay for it, proceeds from the Book Sale were diverted instead to a travel bursary for MA students – having studied at The Courtauld with no external funding, she understood how difficult it could be for postgraduates and has focused her generosity on this group.
The Book Sale, though not without some degree of mayhem, has proven a great success. Established in the midst of fear that computers would replace the printed word, enthusiasm for books has been undimmed by the digital world – the only challenge has been sourcing good books to be offered to students and academics at a reasonable price.
Over a career at The Courtauld, Ferguson has worked with almost every part of the Institute, from academics to librarians and conservators and more. In 2002 her husband, Nicholas Ferguson, was appointed Chairman of the Board of the newly independent Courtauld Institute of Art. After ten years, both Nicholas and Jane retired from their formal roles at The Courtauld, though their quiet altruism here and elsewhere has continued. In a wide variety of roles, from the Slide Library to the Courtauld Association, she has made an immeasurable contribution to the Institute and very much belongs in the front rank of its loyal and long-serving members.