Lyall Watson - Woodstock Art Gallery

I met Lyall by accident one day in 1969 as it was raining and Cyril Rosenberg, my furrier in Woodstock Street had put a notice on his showroom door that he would be away 15 minutes. In a way, that 15 minutes was to have a snowball effect on my life. What to do in the rain? I saw a notice that the Woodstock Art Gallery was in the basement of the building.

Curious I ventured down the stairs wearing my coveted Canadian red fox coat which was lacking a matching hat, my reason for visiting my furrier the sarcastic Cyril Rosenberg.  Mr Rosenberg knew his trade well having learned from his Russian Jewish immigrant father years before inheriting his father's West End  business. London was the centre of the fur trade, as fur was considered to be a commodity and all the international trading was done in London.  Mr Rosenberg had researched the fur industry beginning with Russia. He would happily while away his time giving me fur history lessons when I came regularly to visit my new friend Lyall. Mr Rosenberg imported in fur muffs from New York and creating Cossack style fox fur hats in his workshop above his showroom. I found out he did not care for his downstairs neighbour who was too bohemian for his taste!

Lyall, must have been about 50ish when we met. I was 25 and on my way to Argentina and Brazil that September 1970.  I worked at Global Tours in Oxford Street around the corner and knew I would have to stay in my job 2 years to get a travel concession, only paying 10% of the £450 fare to Buenos Aires, the furthest mileage destination.

Lyall was the only gallery owner in London who actually helped artists have an exhibition without charging to hang their work. He would give an opening every 3 weeks and produce publicity. He would take a commission, of course, for works sold but a fair percentage as he was an artist himself, unlike most West End gallery owners and dealers. Lyall knew his trade. His wife had gone into politics while he was the creative dreamer spending time in Paris where he had exhibitions in St Germain. His son, of the same name, had become a successful theatre director.

I was always invited to the openings and met a lot of talented artists from all over the world. One funny thing I recall was an Iranian exhibition. The artist must have brought boxes of pistachio nuts, rare in England in those days. Greedy Jilliana took several handfuls to munch when a very foreign voice behind told her not to eat so many as they would make her fart!

Then later after I got back from South America, I saw a fascinating character at another opening in 1972. A hippy with long black hair and an extraordinary face called Ed Badajos, author of 'Filipino Food' who was exhibiting the original artwork from his book. A Hawaiian of Filipino origin. I flipped when he came into the gallery. It was attraction at first bite! His work was erotic and Beardsley-esque. Never have I done what I did next before or since. I wrote on Lyall's letterhead that I wanted to see him when he got settled and put my Warwick Mansions phone number. He called!

But my snowball was an Argentinian Jewish painter and printmaker Juan Carlos Stekelman from Buenos Aires who had moved to London in 1968. On hearing I would be going to his beloved BA, he gave me an introduction to his sister Ana Maria who was a dancer at the prestigious Teatro Colon. This in turn snowballed to Rio de Janeiro and meeting the dancer Gerry Maretzski. This in turn snowballed to Paris. I could go on but I will stop here.

I recall Lyall and Judy,  his Chinese Australian wife, came to stay at my Paris flat in Rue Campagne Premier, 14em and locked me out one night. They left the key in the lock on the inside and when I came back from a trip, I couldn't open my door and had to ask a neighbour for a camp bed. I was none too happy and the next morning shouted at poor old Lyall!

I remember he came to my wedding in 1983 with Judy but then our lives took separate paths and I saw him less and less. I went to visit him in his Camberwell Georgian house once. He told me he was scared for his life as Judy had often attacked him a knife and had become very violent. Then he got ill and ended up in hospital in the early 90s. I decided to visit him. I recall sitting on his bed when he opened his eyes and told me to go away telling me he knew I didn't really want to visit him and it was just a duty. The spark had been extinguished.

I never saw Lyall again. Gone was the wonderful Woodstock Art Gallery. Gone was our friendship.  He died in 1994, the end of an era.


Wikipedia - Lyall Watson artist
Wikipedia - Juan Carlos Stekelman
New York Times - obituary Juan Stekelman
Ana Maria Stekelman - choreographer
Ed Badajos - Filipino Food - Olympia Press 1972
Wikipedia - Gerry Maretzski