Dieneke Ferguson photographed by Barbara Chandler

Hidden Art founder and "visionary" Dieneke Ferguson dies at 70

Dieneke Ferguson, the founder of Hackney non-profit and design organisation Hidden Art, has died from ovarian cancer at the age of 70.

Ferguson passed away on Monday 21 September 2020 at London's Homerton Hospital.

Described by design writer Barbara Chandler as "visionary, endlessly resourceful, energetic, powerfully persuasive and eternally optimistic", Ferguson was devoted to bringing the work of British creatives to a wider audience.

Dieneke Ferguson photographed by Barbara Chandler
Dieneke Ferguson was the founder of Hidden Art

Hidden Art, the non-profit she co-founded in 1993, was dedicated to supporting local design in Hackney, a borough of east London.

Her passing is mourned by many designers and creatives, who are posting tributes on Chandler's Instagram.

"Dieneke had such a positive influence on my starting years as a designer," said interiors designer Nick Fraser. "She created so many opportunities for designers and makers to thrive but more than this she was kind, modest and generous."

"Dieneke was pivotal in helping and believing in me at the start of my career," agreed designer Tom Raffield, who built his own house with his partner in Cornwall.

"I will never forget how selflessly she helped me (and many other emerging designers) carve out a career doing what we love."

Born in the Netherlands in 1950, Ferguson spent much of her life in the UK.

Together with David Dewing, then director of Hackney's Museum of the Home, Ferguson set up Hidden Art as a collective of designers to collaborate on studio shows – providing hand-drawn maps to show people how to navigate around east London.

Originally called The Hackney Contemporaries, then Hidden Art of Hackney, the organisation introduced the work of British craftspeople to an international market. Ferguson raised money, secured grants, and represented Hidden Art at shows such as 100% Design and Milan design week.

Ferguson was married to Manuel Ruiz-Adame (pictured at top), and after they divorced he remained a friend and partner in the business.

She was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, in her 50s and underwent many rounds of chemotherapy and stem cell treatment. The cancer was incurable and in 2011 she was given a year to live, but Ferguson was able to stabilise her condition through experimental dietary supplement and her case was written up in the British Medical Journal.

On Hidden Art, Ferguson said she helped self-fund this treatment through renting her home on Airbnb. A keen early adopter of the platform, she was selected by Airbnb in 2016 to be a part of the Olympic Torch relay in Brazil.

Hidden Art lost its funding in 2011, although Ferguson still maintained the website as a portal to Hackney design with a dedicated online shop until her death.