Charles Ryder: A Life in the Arts

I am a freelance designer specialising in print and website design for artists, musicians and arts organisations. My professional background is in museums, galleries and universities.

I have designed fine and decorative art exhibitions for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Collection and the Frick Collection in New York, and the Museum of Islamic Art of the Kuwait National Museum.

My museum and gallery work in the UK includes exhibitions for English Heritage, the National Museums & Galleries on Merseyside, and the National Trust.


black and white view of the prairie with Fountain Valley School in the middle distance against a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, 1951

Fountain Valley School, ca. 1951

I was born in New York in 1947 and grew up in northern New Jersey. My father, an orthopedic surgeon, came from the Rocky Mountains, my mother, a nurse, from the shores of Lake Erie in western New York State. We loved books and music in our house. My parents gave legendary parties.

But to get away from the stifling atmosphere of the suburbs I attended Fountain Valley School, a progressive boarding school set on the rolling prairie near Colorado Springs, Colorado. An Honor Role student, I edited the school newspaper and was captain of the Track (Athletics) team.

I returned to the East Coast for my undergraduate degree, studying psychology, and later fine art, at Middlebury College in Vermont. I was greatly influenced by the teaching and the work of painter and printmaker Professor Bruce Muirhead. I graduated from Middlebury with highest honours in 1970.

New York

2-story columns and portico entrance to Avery Hall

My education continued at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture and Planning, where my professors included Aldo Giurgola, Robert Stern, Kenneth Frampton and Rem Koolhaas. At Columbia I published a samizdat newsletter and produced a one-off Dark Side of the Moon lecture series. Speakers included Julie Marino (née Dubro), Steve Bass, Gary Jacquemin and Minoru Yoshida (see below), Cynthia Rock, David Marino, and Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis. The Koolhaas/Zenghelis lecture was the first public presentation in America of the ideas that would be published three years later as Delirious New York.

My professional career got underway with a series of freelance jobs building architectural scale models, notably for Davis Brody Bond, where I learned much about the practice of urban architecture. At Davis Brody I worked with Gary Jacquemin, a founding member of the independent design consultancy Concept: International Visionaries, based in a former textile loft at Bleeker and La Guardia Streets in Greenwich Village. I worked with Jacquemin and his colleague Minoru Yoshida on a number of architectural and artistic projects, gratefully embracing the rational/ecstatic avant gardism practiced at Concept, where everyone worked hard and had great parties.

Minoru Yoshida, performance documentation. Image courtesy Ulterior, New York

My expanding professional network led to a job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, first as a model maker for design of the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing (currently undergoing renovation), then as staff designer working on exhibitions, permanent installations and master plans. I was an assistant designer for the New York installation of Treasures of Tutankhamun, and designed 5,000 Years of Korean Art, and Renaissance of Islam: Art of the Mamluks. I also worked freelance on the side, creating exhibitions for the Guggenheim Museum, the Frick Collection, Yale University Art Gallery and the Smithsonian Museum Travelling Exhibition Service.

Scale model of the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, MMA, New York

Presentation model, The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


I left the Met to design the Museum of Islamic Art of the Kuwait National Museum for Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah. The project team of 75 museum professionals led by Dr. Marilyn Jenkins-Madina created a new permanent installation of Sheikh Nasser’s collection in record time, building the exhibition, and cataloguing, conserving and installing 750 objects in 10 months from the start to the opening in February 1983. A second phase was completed in 1985. The installations were destroyed in the final days of the first Gulf War, though most of the collection was safe in Iraq, having been seized and taken to Baghdad soon after the invasion of Kuwait.

Interior of window-style showcase

Showcase, Museum of Islamic Art of the Kuwait National Museum

The first three minutes are of particular interest.

London | Rome | The Middle East

I was able to fulfil my lifelong ambition to live in Europe by virtue of the international travel and professional contacts deriving from the Kuwait project. I settled in Brixton, London in 1989, working as an associate at museum designers Jasper Jacob & Associates (JJA) and doing freelance work for Plowden & Smith, London’s leading art restoration, conservation and installation service.

At JJA I headed up the design team for Riyadh Yesterday and Today: The Saudi Experience, an immense and distnctly non-museological cultural exhibition staged by the Municipality of Riyadh at Olympia, London, and the Grand Palais, Paris.

21 maquettes of neo-Classical sculpture in a frieze arrangement

Walker sculpture maquettes: class photo

Commissions on my own account followed, including the gallery of European Sculpture 1750-1920 at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, the History Room at the Iveagh Bequest Kenwood for English Heritage, A Picasso Bestiary for the London Borough of Croydon, and Virtue and Vision: Sculpture and Scotland 1540-1990 for the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh. In the run-up to the Millenium, I was a consultant to Zaha Hadid Architects, as a member of the team developing the Millennium Dome Mind Pavilion.

In 1990 I was awarded a a Sargent Fellowship by The British School at Rome for the study of sculpture display in the Vatican and Capitolino Museums. During the four-month residency I toured Yugoslavia (as was) at the behest of the United States Information Service, lecturing and advising in national and municipal museums from one end of the country to another.

In 1999, at the invitation of Prof Bruce Russell, I became a research fellow at the Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston University London, managing the gallery’s programme of exhibitions, concerts and educational events. Notable exhibitions included one-person shows for Martin Pace, Chris Jennings, Charlotte Moore, and Dagmar Glausnitzer-Smith, and 5 x 20, a survey of abstract painting, as well as collaborations with Grand Valley State University in Michigan, and British Petroleum (exploring art and science). My biggest project at Kingston was 70/2000: The Road to Meikle Seggie, a huge exhibition honouring the legendary arts entrepreneur Richard Demarco on his 70th birthday.


man drawing a still life

When the job at Kingston came to an end, I returned to freelance practice, designing websites and exhibition catalogues, teaching, and curating (up to early 2009) transit station, a touring international live art "exhibition as event", devised at the Picker Gallery in 2003 by Dagmar Glausnitzer-Smith. transit station events unfolded in London, Berlin, and Edinburgh, and Copenhagen, featuring curated performance pieces by 60 international artists.

I served for a time as Curator for Art & Culture at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s biggest science project in 60 years. I assisted the artist in residence scheme, devising a programme of artistic and cultural events, and developing funding strategies and long-term partnerships in the arts and sciences.


I commute between the UK and my holiday home in France, maintaining a lively freelance design practice in England, catering to artists, musicians and cultural institutions.

CR 2008-2019