Jenny Vaughan: An appreciation


ARTIST Jenny Vaughan, who died on April 18, Easter Monday, left a lifetime of impressive, innovative and important work which the vast majority of people will recognize, yet not know by name.

Visit Glasgow’s Princes Square, The House for the Art Lover or Sauchiehall’s Street’s famous Mackintosh Tearoom and you cannot fail to see Jenny’s art. But she was also involved in murals all over the UK, from Devon’s Seal Sanctuary to Gatehouse of Fleet, New Lanark, and Lochwinnoch Visitor Centres, Crieff Hydro, many Scottish bars, hotels and Indian restaurants, private clients in London, America and Japan – and, in the 1970s, discotheques in London. But like many in the field of public art, her contributions go unnamed, unrecognized.

Jenny was also a pioneer, both socially and technically. In the 1970s she created a knitwear company based on Lewis, while in the 1990s she evolved a new way of making iconic gesso panels.

She was born Jennifer Campbell in 1944, to Scottish parents in Bangalore, India. Her father was an officer in the Indian Army. From childhood she determined to be an artist, studying first at Harrogate School of Art, then turning down an offer from London St Martin’s in favour of Sunderland Art School’s art and design course. Dedicated, relentless, prolific, she was also superbly skilful and adept at any technical process.

Her creative spirit tackled all and every medium. As a student she made hats and sold them to Liberty's. Excelling at maths, latterly she was working on colour theory abstractions, saying: "A love of colour underlies all my work. It holds an irresistible and insatiable attraction. Many of my paintings are simply a patchwork of complementary and discordant colours – an indulgence and sheer joy in the manipulation of pigment.”

An unstoppable workaholic, she loved her work. Her daughter Lucy says: "Mum never slowed down because she just loved doing every project, every task, every challenge. All her life she loved creating art."

After college Jenny gravitated to the bohemian hotspot of St Ives in Cornwall, centred on key figures like Barbara Hepworth, Terry Frost and Patrick Heron, and where she met and married Dai Vaughan. The couple exhibited at the influential Penwith Gallery, and were awarded a Porthmeor Arts Council Studio next door to Heron, who even consulted Jenny on colour.

Next came their first business, Magic Murals, working with bands and DJs, decorating discotheques with movement and pattern, culminating in the total interior and exterior of Bumpers Discotheque in Piccadilly, the largest dance venue in Europe at the time. The Vaughans were already in high demand.

Marriage to Dai was creatively fundamental. Her website ( states: "From 1968 all work done in partnership with Dai Vaughan." Dai, who was also a poet, was superb at PR. Jenny was very hands-on. Friends joke that Dai would sell the job but then Jenny would have to work out how to do it.

Their 54 years' collaboration is unique, culminating in 2018 in the extraordinary, exacting, breathtakingly gesso work for the centrepiece of the beautiful Salon de Luxe at the newly renovated Mackintosh Willow Tea Rooms.

But before Glasgow came a Celtic adventure. In 1973, with two young children, the couple moved to the Isle of Lewis where they lived a self-sufficient life, complete with cows and hens, while restoring their 1829 Thomas Telford manse. Today this would feature on TV in a Home makeover series.

Back then – pre-fax, pre-internet – they were pioneers, creating a cottage industry of Jenny Vaughan Knitwear, employing 20 local women and selling hand-made garments in local Harris Tweed wool to boutiques in London, Canada and Germany. They were also founding members of An Lantair, Stornoway.

In 1985, in response to an advert in the Stornoway Gazette, they submitted design concepts for Glasgow Garden Festival. When they also won the competition to be lead artists for new Princes Square shopping centre, they moved permanently to Glasgow.

Many projects followed, including George Square's Christmas lights for the 1990 City of Culture (the decorations lasted 26 years), Ken McCulloch’s Devonshire Gardens, and Balbir’s Ashoka and Shish Mahal Restaurants. In 1990 they joined the design team of Hugh Martin Partnership expanding their commissions to Newcastle, Cardiff, London, Austria and Japan.

Then came the seminal House for an Art Lover, a series of 24 gesso panels for the Dining Room, inspired by the work of Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. The Vaughans turned this job down three times; but no-one else could or would tackle it. It took them three years, beginning with original research of Margaret Mackintosh’s gesso technique. Jenny made the gesso herself. It was labour-intensive, and took a month of straining it, letting it brew, develop. Then the support board warped. They tried all kinds, settling on a space-age honeycomb structure which was stable and used in space-ships.

Their final major commission was the gorgeous gesso panel centrepiece for the Salon de Luxe of the newly renovated Willow Tea Rooms, completed in 2018. It was a veritable triumph.

Whenever there was a bit of time between commissions Jenny worked on her own paintings. She explained: "I like to create a feeling of depth, investigate 3D illusions, and I find that geometry is the best vehicle for this. I am now working on a series of stereoscopic paintings with forms floating beyond and in front of the picture plane. This effect I find quite calming and meditative.”

Both loved backpacking and travelled widely, across India, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Morocco. Right now they should be in Greece.  Jenny was known for her generosity, calmness and humour, - as well as her totally delicious cooking. 

She is survived by Dai, their children Lucy and Digby, grandchildren Vanya and Thurston, and her daughter, Tammy, from her first marriage.