Obituary, John Hostler, artist, lecturer and passionate advocate for art education 1945-2024

John Hostler was born in 1945 in Stakeford, near Ashington, Northumberland. At that time Stakeford was a thriving mining community centred around the nearby Cambois and Sleekburn collieries which had been extracting coal from under the nearby North Sea since the late 1890’s. John’s grandfather had been a miner but was determined that his children would not follow him underground and instead, worked hard to ensure his children got a good education and the chance of a different life. This same encouragement to study and explore the world was passed down to John.

The nearby town of Ashington was home to a group of artists known as the Pitman Painters, who in much the same way as L. S. Lowry had captured everyday life around the mills of Manchester and Salford, chose to paint and capture what life was like above and below ground for the mining communities of Northumberland. The Pitman Painters were local heroes, and John remembered being taken to see their exhibitions as a boy, and the pride they generated for the North East. John’s love of art was obvious from a young age. According to his mother, he spent hours lost in a world of sketching and drawing little comic strips - possibly where his infamous affection for Mickey Mouse and Bertie Bassett also began. Later, in the 1950s, as a teenager at Bedlington Grammar School, John’s creative interests spread to music - a passion that stayed with him all his life.

In 1963 John gained a place at Leicester College of Art on the Diploma in Art & Design course (Dip AD). This is where John found himself as an artist and where his lifelong commitment to art education began. It is also where he met his wife Rita, who was studying Ceramics. They were married in 1967, and that year John was appointed Lecturer in Sculpture at Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University).

In 1978 John became Course Director for the Foundation Art & Design Diploma at the Lanchester Polytechnic. The course recruited around 80 students annually and had a high

placement rate for progression to degree courses. John’s office door on floor 4 of the Art and Design Building was always open and past students remember him as an open and supportive, teacher with a strong sense of humour and a general ‘it can all be sorted out’ approach.

The political environment of the 1980’s produced many threats to Art & Design Higher Education and in particular to the Foundation Diploma in Art & Design provision nationally. During that time John became the local chair for the NSEAD in order to pursue his deeply held conviction that everyone from any background should have access to art and design education, and to promote the importance of art within education and raise the bar of teaching standards. This involved a lot of external examining, consultancy and advisory work and John travelled to many other art schools in the UK, where he made numerous great friends who shared his passion for art education. John was a fantastic advocate for these courses and the special educational experience they offered and much respected by others in the sector.

During this period John was a key member of the Art and Design Admissions Registry (ADAR), the administrative body concerned with admissions to higher education courses in art and design outside universities which operated for thirty years before being absorbed into the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). He was also part of the committee that guided the merger between ADAR and UCAS in 1996. Most major branches of British higher education had merged their admissions systems in the new UCAS scheme in 1992 following the redesignation of the polytechnics as universities, but Art and Design admissions presented particular problems since they worked to a later timetable as a result of the important role Foundation Art & Design courses had in developing a student's proposed specialism (painting, sculpture, graphic design and so on) prior to admittance to a degree course and via an interview with portfolio format.

When the remaining funds from ADAR were transferred to the Higher Education in Art & Design Foundation (HEAD Trust) a charity dedicated to the advancement of public education through the appreciation of art, craft, and design, John became a trustee of that body and skilfully represented the needs and contribution of UK Foundation Diploma in Art & Design courses.

In the late 1990s John moved from being a course director to leading Coventry School of Art & Design’s overseas promotion and recruitment. One of his special achievements in that period was to initiate and organise the landmark touring exhibition States of Grace in Syria in 2000, taking the first show of British artists into that country for thirty-five years and then curating a reciprocal exhibition of contemporary Syrian artists at the Herbert Gallery Coventry. These ground-breaking exhibitions heralded a new era of cultural exchange in a period when the situation in Syria was more stable and optimistic. Many of the Syrian students who studied at Coventry University became friends, and their art still hangs on the walls of the family home.

John lived in Lillington with his wife Rita for fifty-seven years. Parts of that village date back over a thousand years and when John took early retirement from Coventry University in 2005, he joined the Lillington History Society and contributed to many of their research projects, including helping document all the gravestones in the churchyard that is now his final resting place. In retirement he was also free to explore more personal pursuits including returning to the North East to research his family tree.

John Hostler was a passionate and committed art and design educator who made a significant contribution the national provision through his work on Foundation Diploma’s in Art & Design. He was a greatly loved and inspirational teacher to so many students – warm and generous, but also challenging and energising. He was absolutely committed to opening opportunities to higher education and to the social and cultural transformations that an education in art and design can enable. This passion led to successive generations of his students achieving far more than they could ever have envisaged and being deeply grateful for the time they spent with John.

Friends, family and mourners have contributed generously to the NSEAD in his memory. John is survived by his wife Rita, his two sons, Tom and Ben and three grandchildren Oliver, Kitty and Erin.




Jill Journeaux and Tom Hostler