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Sunday, November 8, 2009


Respected and popular costume/set designer and former design lecturer dies in Durban.

Costume/set designer and former design lecturer Lucille Cross died of renal failure yesterday (November 7) at Entabeni Hospital, after having been in the intensive care unit for two weeks. She was bed-ridden for six years as the result of a bad fall which fractured her vertebrae.

Her family is all involved in the arts – her husband Robert Cross was Chief Director of NAPAC (Natal Performing Arts Council, now The Playhouse Company) until his retirement. Their daughter Jane is an award-winning theatre technician/stage manager who co-runs a theatrical production company and their son Michael has a film/video production company.

Lucille Cross trained as an art teacher at the (then)Technical College in Port Elizabeth where she had the unique distinction of being the first - and still the only - art student to win the prestigious Mayor’s Prize for Art for two consecutive years. She spent a post-graduate year in London at the Central School and came back to her first teaching post as Art Mistress at East London’s Clarendon High School for Girls and was soon involved in the active amateur theatre world there.

In 1960, she married Robert Cross and they went to London where she took extra classes with Norah Waugh (regarded as the world authority on the authentic cut of historical costume) while working as a teacher at a secondary modern school in Essex. Moving to Durban on their return to South Africa, she was invited by the late Professor Sneddon to lecture in theatre arts in the Speech and Drama Department at the University of Natal and was later invited by her to design costumes for the opera Cavalleria Rusticana which Professor Sneddon was directing for NAPAC in 1963.

Lucille later went on to design, cut and supervise the making of several thousands of period costumes for NAPAC for 27 major drama productions. These included a number of large-scale Shakespearean productions as well as seven operas, some ballets and small-scale productions for The Cellar at The Playhouse as well as costumes for productions for other Arts Councils and Pieter Toerien. In 1981, she was appointed as lecturer in the History of Costume in the Fashion School at the (then) M.L. Sultan Technikon (now linked to the Durban University of Technology), later becoming head of the Fashion School, then of the Art School and finally Dean of the Faculty of Arts before retiring. She was also an active painter who has exhibited regularly with various groups in Durban, and was a keen ceramist.

Jill Fenson, actress, playwright and scriptwriter of many fascinating Twist in the Tale Springbok Radio scripts for Tom Meehan’s production company, pays tribute:

“Lucille had a long and valuable career as an artist and designer, teacher and lecturer. But I remember her differently. When my husband, John Moss, was with NAPAC, and we both lived in Durban from the 70s to the 90s, the Crosses were friends as well as colleagues. I remember Lucille presiding over a household where it was always a delight to be asked. Gatherings where the company was congenial and the food delicious are stacked up in little gleaming memory racks over the years.

“I recall Lucille as warm and gentle, with great insight as well as humour and a talent for bringing people together. She could also exert a firm hand when necessary. I know that she was in relentless pain for a very considerable time, and so I am glad to think this is over for her. But the family and friends she has left will miss her very sadly indeed. She was an exceptional person. I am so happy to have known her.”