There is a popular image of a baking mother who, filled with the need to nourish offspring, produces in a steaming and fragrant stream good things to eat from the oven, decorates them and serves them up to the family. Lesley did not bake in that sense, though she always attended to the aesthetics of whatever she prepared, as she did with everything else.
She left school at sixteen to enter the beauty trade, and her first job, in 1938, was as an apprentice hairdresser. Throughout her life she paid particular attention to her hair, and had about her, whether travelling or at home, various curlers and other devices that enabled her to take charge of the shape of her hair, without which attentions it hung long, perfectly straight and, to her way of seeing, shapeless.
The photograph of the young Lesley at Badplaas is enlightening in this regard: here we see a hairdo of considerable shape and bounce, and yet the context of the photograph is a hot spring, surely an environment – with its warm water, swimming, steam and general dampness – that must have worked contrary to her scheme of beautification. Yet even in these conditions, she has managed the trick of making her rather flat hair rise up in spectacular waves.
Lesley’s creativity consisted in beautifying herself, the rooms she inhabited and the gardens around them, and in producing a succession of art objects whose main function was to bring loveliness to their owners. She made most of her own clothes, including the dress and hat for the opening of her exhibition at the Lidchi gallery on the 5th of August 1955. She made her own dresses and hats for her weddings to Jack and Anton.
At her insistence, she had two spaces in the new house set aside for her sole use: the studio, which ran along the top of the house and had six big windows, filled with the smell of oil paint, the paintings themselves, her easel, brushes, paints, palettes and tools; and the sewing room, where she kept her old Singer and her racks and racks of materials in many colours and weaves, shawls, scarves, bolts of curtain lining, laces, bindings, rick-rack, piping, threads, twists, embroidery hoops, books of needles, pin-cushions and sequins.
Even in the final phase of her life, when she was a deep believer in the Radhasoami faith, whose founder, Seth Shiv Dayãl Singh tells us that ‘the worldly are pleased at tasty food and fine clothes but their pleasure is useless,’ she continued to paint and draw, kept her environment beautiful, cooked well, dressed stylishly, curled her hair and applied make-up. It was especially then that her sense of detail and of the decorative blos-somed; she became immaculately orderly where before she had been untidy and disorganized.