Tributes paid to former principle of Hampstead Arts School

Diana Constance was a “real fighting New Yorker”, tackling subjects like Aids and the Falklands War through her art and rescuing Hampstead Arts School from the brink of collapse.

Mrs Constance, who lost her battle with liver cancer on November 28, has been described as one of the last Hampstead artists of the Sir Henry Moore legacy.

She passed on her passion and expertise to younger generations during her stewardship at the Kidderpore Avenue school, from 2003 to 2011.

Mrs Constance was born in New York on November 5, 1934 and won a scholarship to The Arts Students League of New York. She married her first husband, a nuclear scientist, in New Mexico, where she also studied painting and wood sculpture before moving to Rome where she spent “five idyllic years”.

After divorcing her husband, Mrs Constance moved to Hampstead where she joined the Hampstead Arts School as a teacher when Jeanette Jackson owned the school.

Artists such as David Carr also served as principles before Mrs Constance took over the reins.

Mrs Constance’s most important and widely-received work was an exhibition of harrowing paintings showing Aids victims from Africa.

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The exhibition was sponsored by the Church of England and toured Britain and Germany, featuring at the Dom Cathedral in Frankfurt, where it was the focus of important conferences.

Her second husband of 29 years, John Crossland told the Ham&High: “She really went into bat on this issue and it was very brave of her to do so at the time. It was important to her because she had a very, very strong moral sense and felt it needed the right kind of attention.

“It caused quite a stir at the time, with a lot of galleries saying they didn’t want these disturbing paintings. But she saw it as a humane act to draw attention to it and she didn’t pull any punches in her artistic interpretations.”

She also painted two works in protest of the Falklands war, one of which still hangs in the boardroom of Bradford University today.

When Mrs Constance, who lived in Belsize Park Gardens, took over the running of the Hampstead Arts School in 2003, it was close to going under.

Mr Crossland, who worked on the Times newspaper for almost two decades and is also an artist, said: “She took it over when it was in dire financial straights.

“She was an absolute rock and a compass in taking it forward. She was determined she was not going to let the school go under, even persuading some of the teachers to donate a week’s worth of their salary to keep the school open.

“It was almost entirely her efforts which pulled it through and it has gone from strength to strength since.

“She was a real fighting New Yorker. She was just wonderful.”

Current principle Isabel Langtry said: “Diana was a big personality who could reduce you to tears of laughter, whose piercing eyes saw everything.

“She was much loved by her students and staff, who report that they can hear her footsteps around the school and her voice saying ‘remember the tone’.”