In Memory of Ivan Zmertych

Ivan ZmertychIt is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Mr. Ivan Zmertych, former lecturer in art and architectural history.   In January 2016, Ivan was honoured by the university as an Honorary Fellow. The tribute commemorating this occasion follows:

“Having been born in western Hungary in 1933, Ivan lived the majority of his early life under Soviet occupation.  His early ambitions were to be a concert pianist but those ambitions faded at the end of the Second World War when the new state apparatus took over the schools.  Because his family were not regarded as pro the new administration, he lost his access to a piano and was not allowed to move on to a music academy.  Instead, he turned his attentions towards architecture.

After Moscow’s brutal repression of the 1956 Revolution, at the age of 23 Ivan escaped from Hungary and established himself in London.  He progressed his studies in architecture and, at the University of London’s Goldsmiths’ College, in Art History.  He was offered a scholarship to The Courtauld Institute but didn’t take it up.

Ivan worked as a junior architect for a number of large and prestigious London architectural practices including Ronald Ward, the practice responsible for designing the first London ‘skyscraper’.

At this point he met and married Mari a fellow Hungarian living in London.

Somewhat disenchanted with life as a junior architect, overworked and underpaid with little scope for creative opportunities, Ivan began looking for alternative opportunities.  A friend of his at Goldsmiths, the young art historian Catrine Clay, suggested that he might consider teaching.

Catrine had recently become a founding member of the faculty at a brand new educational enterprise called Richmond College, and she knew that they were gradually expanding their offerings and were looking for art teachers.  Ivan applied and was offered courses in drawing and English art and architectural history.  He joined the college at the beginning of the third year of its existence. Ivan, Catrine Clay, and Noaline Kelly were the Art Department, supplemented the following year by the soon-to-be- famous stained glass artist Alan Younger.

In addition to teaching at the College, Ivan was engaged by AIFS to run study travel programs abroad.  These were arduous!  They often involved taking several coach loads of American students and adults on six week long art-related tours through as many as six countries, giving art history lectures in the stop-over cities, and generally keeping the older members of the group from having heart-attacks in the Roman heat.

When John Dickerson joined Richmond in the mid 1970s and set about establishing new and coherent BA programs in Art History and then in Studio Art, Ivan played an important role.  He was at the centre of a considerably expanded art faculty and range of courses.  He became the cornerstone of the concentration in Interior Design within the Studio Art Degree, teaching taught two levels of Technical Drawing and three Upper Division courses in Interior Design and Interior Architecture.

Although Ivan has taught for other American programs in London, Richmond has always been close to his heart and his contribution has been much greater than simply his role as an instructor.

In addition to his impressive knowledge on a wide range of subjects, it was his personal warmth and evident concern for the wellbeing of his students that made him so special.  He became a substitute father figure for generations of Freshmen who were struggling with the emotional conflicts of being away from home and family, and immersed in a foreign culture for the first time.  It is no exaggeration to say that there are dozens of Richmond graduates out there who would have left the university during their first year if Ivan had not been sympathetic to their situation and set them on the road to becoming acculturated and to prosper.

Many alumni I talk to about their years at Richmond speak of Ivan with heartfelt gratefulness, respect and love.  I recently received an email from an alum who wrote:  “One thing that remained always consistent with Ivan, was that he always, regardless of the time of day, semester, or weather, makes time for you. He stops and leaves everything else aside and is really there for you whenever he sees you. That really meant a lot to me, and to all of us.   As he takes value in being present in its truest sense, he always showed us that every opinion is valid. Even when the entire contemporary art world was raving about the latest Turner Prize winner, he wasn’t even remotely hesitant to differ.  His stance also taught us that every observation is worth attention.”

Ivan continued to teach at Richmond until he retired in 2010.

In addition to being a committed teacher and mentor, Ivan is a devoted family man with two wonderful daughters and three grand children.  Nowadays he gets to spend more time with his books and music, but still travels regularly to the USA and to Budapest and enjoys a strong espresso with his sugar!

If you want to know about the structuring of Gothic vaults, the achievements of the under-valued Hungarian Impressionist movement, axonometric projection, or about the finer points of Schubert sonatas, Ivan is your man.   But his friends and former colleagues here remember most his endearing warmth, great patience, sympathy, liberalism, love of art and his unfailing generosity.

Above everything else Ivan is a great human being who has enriched all of us who worked with him or studied under his guidance.  He richly deserves this honour that the University is bestowing upon him this evening.”

  • Speech delivered by Professor Mary Robert on the occasion of the conferment of Honorary Fellow of Richmond, the American International University in London, to Mr. Ivan Zmertych.  28th January 2016