4B Text

Trevor Thomas was born in Gwent on June 8th, 1907 into a South Wales colliery family. A child with a considerable talent for acting and singing, he was nurtured by his mother and his formidable grandparents (bottom right). Clever and with an acute visual memory, Trevor won a scholarship
to the county school and then another to the University of Wales at Aberystwyth. Ambitious and idealistic, he studied Human Geography and Anthropology. He also spent considerable time acting, singing (although, it transpires, he was partially deaf) and making relief prints, such as that of the 1929 entrance to the old College (centre left). He was fascinated by Anthropology and became an assistant to H. J. Fleure, the charismatic Professor at the University (see Aberystwyth museum,
bottom left), whom he followed to the University of Manchester as a lecturer and assistant.

In 1931, aged 24, he was appointed the youngest Keeper in the Liverpool Museum, heading the Department of Ethnology and Shipping, where he remained until 1940. Trevor was a highly effective communicator, with his soft Welsh accent and undoubted good looks (centre). This came to the fore in Liverpool where he found time for interests outside of work. He continued to sing and play the Welsh harp (centre right) and he made up and illustrated books of Welsh Folk tunes with intricate pen cover drawings (top left). He designed stage sets and costumes, acted and danced successfully in amateur productions throughout the city.

At the museum he built an impressive reputation for innovation, publishing widely. He wanted to use his artistic sensibilities and ideas about his subject matter to make the objects in his care more accessible. Experimenting with exhibition design, he used colour, shapes and form to help explain objects to the lay person. Photography and models were also part of his tool kit, which eventually won international acclaim and the encouragement of influential critics such as Herbert Read. As a result of this groundbreaking work on museum display, Trevor was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Museum Fellowship in 1938-39. He fell in love with America, travelled widely there and learnt not just about the latest thinking on museum display, but also about contemporary art. Two exhibitions at New York’s recently opened Museum of Modern Art made an important impression: a contemporary German art exhibition ‘Bauhaus 1919 – 1928’, followed by ‘Art of our Time: 10th Anniversary Exhibition’. His time in America and the close relationships he made there, were to stand him in good stead in the future.

The outbreak of war found Trevor still in New York, at the World’s Fair. Although the consular advice was to return to Britain as quickly as possible, Trevor was asked to design an exhibition in Santa Fe and did not leave America until March 1940. He returned to Liverpool and his work at the museum, arriving in the middle of the city’s first daylight air raid. He was found unfit for military service because of his deafness. Shortly after his return, the Museum and much of his work was wrecked by a fire, caused by a German bomb, and there was no longer a job for him.

Trevor Thomas was a complex and interesting man, greatly admired by both his colleagues and his many close friends. Later in life, in unusual circumstances, he came to marry (top right). His wife Sheila had been thoroughly charmed; she was fifteen years his junior. They shared a deep love of music.