Harborough’s Lis sculpts out a whole new career in her 50s

Lis Naylor and one of her sculptures
Lis Naylor and one of her sculptures

Sometimes you know exactly what you want to be when you’re a child. Sometimes it takes a bit longer.

For Lis Naylor it took around 53 years – up to the moment she decided to do a Fine Art degree at De Montfort University in Leicester.

Mother-of-two Lis is now a multiple-award winning sculptor, with a highly distinctive style.

“And I’m passionate about it,” she said. “I absolutely want to make a career out of this.”

It wasn’t always like that.

Lis, who now lives in Tur Langton, near Market Harborough, had left school in Oxfordshire straight after O-levels, to go to modelling school.

“I wasn’t very interested in academia – I wanted to be a top model” she said. “It turned out to be the most boring thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Next she went into a recruitment company, which as second-in-command she helped grow into a £35 million-a-year business with well over 200 staff.

Then she set up her own recruitment firm, which she left because of a severe back injury. She spent a year recuperating and more time re-assessing

“I realised I’d been working my socks off since I was 15,” said Lis. “I decided I’d had enough of the rat race, and art was always something I’d been hugely interested in...”

So in her 50s (she’s now 56) she became a university student for the very first time.

“It was wonderful, like being a kiddie in the sweet shop,” she said.

Except of course she was the oldest in her class, and yet on the same artistic level as the 19-year-olds.

“I was used to being a senior manager. I found it amusing that I suddenly wasn’t given the same treatment at university.

“Some of the other students called me ‘mummy Lis’, but they treated me as one of them – no respect or disrespect, just part of the group.”

If that took a little adjustment, she took to the work immediately. “I truly, passionately enjoyed it.”

In her second year she chose to specialise in sculpture, “because painting I could do at home, but my big sculptures need an infrastructure, and for that you need a MiG welder”.

The style Lis is developing is skinny, stark and unsettling, with life sized figures made from a twisted framework of MiG welded steel, rendered with plaster and hay and finished with Epoxy Resin.

“People say they’re like figures from a famine or a concentration camp” she admitted.

“Yes, they are dark because they were made at a time when three people I knew died, including my youngest daughter’s friend.

She’s also collaborated on art, notably after being selected for an American project on art and sustainability.

The result was a huge armadillo made out of car tyres for a project in Florida, and called ‘Carmadillo’.

Since graduating this year, she’s been recognised in three competitions, with awards from the Attenborough Centre in Leicester, the Leicester Society of Artists and the Cank Street Gallery in Leicester.

You can see her work in the LSA Annual Exhibition at the New Walk Museum and Gallery until December 8.

“Now I just plan to keep going,” said Lis. “I’ve designed my own website, I’ve just started a portraiture course, and I probably need to get hold of my own MiG welder. And I’d love to do some public art...

“A new career beckons for me – it’s fantastic, exciting and really there’s everything to aim for.”