I’ve just been to the funeral of Gillian Naylor, with whom I worked very closely all through the 1980s when I was at the V&A and she was Senior Tutor in the Department of Cultural History at the Royal College of Art. It’s odd how much one finds out about someone, but only after they die when friends from different stages of their life come together. She read modern languages at Somerville in the early 1950s, then worked for Design Magazine in the late 1950s. The shocking aspect of her life was that she had to resign from her job at the Council of Industrial Design when she became pregnant in 1962. The father of her child was never revealed and the great tragedy was that her son Tom drowned in the Thames on his seventeenth birthday. This must have been in 1980. They played In Paradisum from Faure’s Requiem which had been played at Tom’s funeral and we then carried her coffin through the Crematorium to another chapel. I couldn’t understand why the coffin was so heavy. It had apparently been filled with Tom’s books.
5 thoughts on “Gillian Naylor (1)”
The sadness at hearing of Gillian’s death is – happily, to a larger extent – offset by the still-luminescent memories I have of her during my time as one of her students on the V&A/RCA Design History Course. On more than one occasion – perhaps during a discussion (never a lecture), say, on her researches into life at the Bauhaus, she’d have a mischievous glint in her eye that seemed (to me, at least) to hint of unspoken anecdotes far more salacious than the casual aside that most of the students and staff there reeked of garlic as a consequence of them desperately trying to inject a little flavour into an otherwise unremittingly drear diet.
The abiding image I have of her as I write is seeing Gillian sitting on the steps of the Craft Council, smiling beatifically as she drew, with unhurried and undisguised pleasure, on a cigarette in the warming morning sunshine in Islington; the very personification of utter contentment.
By her generosity of spirit and gentle encouragement she ignited within me – and, I’m sure in countless others – a thirst for academic enquiry and a zest for the wonder of journeys yet to come.
Dear Clive, I was very touched to get your memories of Gillian. When I went to her funeral, I had completely forgotten what a fervent smoker she was. Everyone else remembered her puffing away fervently in her office at the RCA. We probably didn’t allow her to smoke at the V&A. What they remembered was how she dragged with such pleasure on a cigarette right to the ashen end.
I was lucky to be a student of Graphic Design at Kingston when Gillian was an Art History tutor at the college. She was an absolute joy. Many happy hours listening to her lectures and even more happy times in the bar. Fabulously naughty, wonderfully nurturing. A week rarely passes when I do not think of her with gratitude and recall much laughter, much fag cadging and great light-hearted but serious talks about art and design history with her and the other wondrous characters in the department, Bastian Valkenburg and Paul Knabenshue. We kept in touch after I left college, but with the casual idiocy of youth I gradually lost touch with her, which I have always regretted. A wonderful teacher and friend. I remember meeting young Tom at her home in Sussex and how ghastly it was when he died. I was talking about her earlier today when with a friend at the Richard Hamilton show- at college we had a documentary shown us about the young darlings of the early pop period art world and one sequence showed various artists, including Hamilton, at a party and there, enthusiastically gleeful, dancing in the background was Gillian, needless to say, she had stories to tell in the bar afterwards, one always suspected there were many more untold!
It is February of 2015 and I have just heard of Gillian Naylor’s death. As an American independent furniture maker for a bit over four decades, and one trained through apprenticeship and not the design school route, I am indebted to her perspectives on the personalities and objects that inhabit my world. I will reread The Bauhaus Reassessed this week to honor her insights. She remains in my heart.