top of page

Phyllis Parker 

(Letchworth, Hertfordshire 1910-1991 Hampstead, London) 

Bird on a branch, c.1935

chalk pastels on thin wove paper 

image size: 18 x 24 cm.

in a period white and black frame


By descent within the family of the artist

Phyllis Parker was the sister of East London Group artist, Brynhild Parker. She was the middle of three, separated by three year gaps. They grew up in an artistic family and community - her father was the cabinet maker and artist Stanley Parker, (who studied at Manchester School of Art with his lifelong friend, the artist William Ratcliffe). Stanley had been educated at Bedales School and returned there to help with the craft work, later becoming the craft teacher at St. Christopher’s School, in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, where Phyllis and her sisters were schooled. Letchworth was the first Garden City, a new town in the countryside less than 40 miles outside London. It had been designed by Stanley’s brother, the architect Barry Parker, with his cousin and brother-in-law, the architect Raymond Unwin, after the Utopian vision of Victorian social reformer, Ebenezer Howard (1850-1928). Stanley and family lived at 102 Wilbury Rd, a handsome arts and crafts villa designed by Barry, and William Ratcliffe was their lodger. Other contemporary neighbours at Letchworth included the artists Harold Gilman and Spencer Gore. Phyllis’s Swedish mother Signe played the piano, and theirs was a house filled with art and music; it was an idyllic, artistic childhood. 

While Bryn studied at the Slade School of Art, Phyllis studied at the London Central School of Arts and Crafts, and their youngest sister Lisa studied at the Royal College of Art, focusing on design and textiles. Lisa, however, almost died from rheumatic fever as a child, after which her health remained delicate, so she was unable to pursue her art in the same way. All three girls had prodigious talent, though proverbial forks in the road took them in different directions.

Phyllis chose to focus on sculpture, studying under Barbara Hepworth’s first husband, John Skeaping (1901-1980), as well as the artist William Roberts (1895-1980). An article in ‘Weekly Illustrated’ magazine from 19 January, 1935, with a feature on the Central School, illustrated a photograph of Phyllis carving a bird sculpture out of wood, captioned ‘A Young Wood-sculptor at Work with Hammer and Chisel’ and the comment that ‘wood is one of the most difficult materials for the young sculptor, but it is one with which very beautiful results can be obtained. When the carving is finished it is polished and often oiled to give a surface.’ 

In 1936, fresh out of art school, Phyllis had a joint show at the Bloomsbury Gallery with the young abstract artist Roger Hilton (1911-1975), which was opened with a speech by her architect uncle, Raymond Unwin. She exhibited 21 sculptures and 16 drawings to Hilton’s 18 paintings. Astonishingly, this exhibition has largely gone down in the annals of history as being Roger Hilton’s first ‘solo’ show. At the time, Anthony Blunt (a close friend of Roger’s brother John, from their Marlborough College school days), wrote a review of the exhibition, praising Roger Hilton, but completely omitting any mention of Phyllis, even though she had the majority of works on display. This gender-biased appraisal proved sadly prophetic. 

The sculptures Phyllis included in the exhibition were variously made from lime wood, coral wood, rose wood, Portland stone, alabaster, Ancaster stone and verde-de-Prato marble, showing her facility and range. The subjects she portrayed were animals including antelopes, gazelles, goats, weasels, ferrets and birds among others - the sure influence of Skeaping. Her drawings from this period also share a pared down simplicity of form and purity of line that is sculptural in spirit, and indeed even her topographical paintings show that Phyllis viewed the world as a series of shapes. 

At this time she was living in Bryn’s flat at 57 Myddleton Square, in Clerkenwell, but in 1939 moved back home to Letchworth to be with her family in order to have a child. This marked a sea-change, for in single motherhood Phyllis was no longer able to easily pursue her career. Some years later, in 1956 the family moved from Letchworth to Willow Road in Hampstead. In the 1970s, Phyllis exhibited some views of Hampstead Heath in a group show in Highgate, but otherwise she and her younger sister Lisa lived a quiet life, sketching, painting experimenting with ceramics, making art for their own pleasure, as they always had.

bottom of page