Simon Olding, the recently-retired director of the Crafts Study Centre at the University for Creative Arts in Farnham, has died aged 68 after a nine-month battle with cancer.

Professor Olding was born in Exeter and studied English at Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, followed by a PhD in Edinburgh. He began his museum career as a graduate trainee at the Glasgow Museums & Art Gallery and later became the director of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth.

In 1989, he married Isabel Hughes, whom he first met when he spilled a cup of coffee on her.

Almost a decade later, in 1998, he became the director of heritage policy at the Heritage Lottery Fund and four years after that he was appointed director of the Crafts Study Centre. In 2004, Prof Olding was made the professor of modern crafts of the University of the Creative Arts.

His opening show at the UCA exhibited the ceramicist Dame Magdalene Odundo, who would go on to become the UCA’s vice-chancellor. He went on to showcase a wide variety of artists in ceramics, textiles and other crafts, which his daughter, writing in The Guardian, said “enriched the study and understanding of contemporary work”.

In 2017, Prof Olding co-curated Things of Beauty Growing: British Studio Pottery, alongside Glenn Adamson and Martina Droth. The exhibition, shown at the Yale Center for British Art in the US and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, was celebrated for its “expansive scale and stunning catalogue”, said his daughter.

Prof Olding was diagnosed with cancer in May last year, and had hoped to work on a final exhibition with Dame Magdalene. “This was not to be,” added Madeleine, “although days before he died he completed a history of the New Craftsman gallery in St Ives, which is due to be published later this year.”

He is survived by his wife, Isabel, their two daughters Madeleine and Mabel, his sister Bryony and twin brother Mark.

Victoria Kelley, director of research and innovation at UCA, speaking on behalf of the university, said: “Simon Olding’s colleagues at the UCA benefited enormously from his scholarship and expertise.

“He nurtured generations of PhD students at the university and supported colleagues as a mentor and a fellow researcher of huge standing.”