I have just been to Gillian Naylor’s memorial event in the Lecture Theatre of the RCA in which her former students and friends reminisced about her influence. Her first book was on the Bauhaus, published in 1968 to coincide with an exhibition at the Royal Academy. Why, I wondered, was the Royal Academy, then universally regarded as a bastion of traditionalism, celebrating its bicentenary with an exhibition on the Bauhaus ? Most people remembered Gillian, as do I, most vividly on foreign study trips: 1986 and 1987 to Prague, to the Museum of Applied Arts with Milena Lamarová; 1988 to East Berlin with Jeremy Aynsley; 1989 to Stockholm (at least that’s my memory). Gillian looked seraphic surrounded by monuments of national romanticism.
On the day of a memorial event at the Royal College of Art to commemorate – and celebrate – the life of the late Gillian Naylor, a former Senior Tutor in the Department of Cultural History, I am posting an edited version of what I said about her at her funeral in Brighton, because, rather shamefully, none of the national newspapers have published a full obituary of her (for those of you who like short posts, this does not qualify):-
I got to know Gillian Naylor (or Gill as I think I never quite dared to call her) when I was appointed as an Assistant Keeper in the Education Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in October 1982 to act as her shadow in the organisation and running of the joint V&A/Royal College of Art Course in the History of Design. The first cohort of students had already been accepted and, indeed, had already arrived in the set of rooms which had been allocated to them off the so-called British primary galleries. Gillian had been recruited a couple of years or so previously as Senior Tutor in the Department of Cultural History at the Royal College of Art, moving there from Kingston Polytechnic. I always felt she thought that I had drawn the long straw, because my job only entailed overseeing the joint course, whereas hers and Penny Sparke’s also involved a great deal of teaching of students in the applied arts departments of the Royal College. Gillian always had a slightly careworn air: hardworking, deeply conscientious, infinitely patient, always available to talk to students, counsel them either on their work or on other aspects of their lives. We all knew that there was a tragedy in the background of her life, without quite knowing what it was, and it was only much later that I learned – not from her – of the death of her only son, Tom, from drowning when he was seventeen. Continue reading