After studying painting under Margaret Preston, who she travelled with to Paris and London, she taught craft to shell-shocked soldiers. On returning to Australia she concentrated on pottery, which she later gave up when her husband contracted lead poisoning from the glazes.
painter and potter, was born in Adelaide on 4 September 1881 into a prosperous pioneer family. Initially she studied medicine at the University of Adelaide (c.1907-10) but left this for painting classes in the Adelaide studio of Rose McPherson ( Margaret Preston ). Gladys was then in her mid-twenties, her teacher only six years her senior. They became firm friends and when Margaret decided to travel to Europe she invited Gladys to accompany her. They left early in 1912 and first visited Gladys’s relatives in France. Gladys then studied painting at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris. In 1914 they moved to London where they exhibited paintings at the Royal Academy (1914-16) and joined the recently established pottery course at Camberwell School of Crafts. It included all facets of pottery making, which was put to practical use late in World War I when the two taught craft to shell-shocked soldiers at the Seale Hayne Neurological Military Hospital (Gladys’s brother, Rupert, was on the medical staff). The hospital became the first to include pottery in rehabilitation therapy and they set up complete pottery-making facilities, including building kilns.
When peace was declared, they returned to Adelaide and held a successful exhibition of their overseas paintings and pottery in 1919. Before the end of the year, however, Margaret Rose McPherson had married William Preston and moved to Sydney. Gladys set up a studio-workshop at the family winery, Reynella, about twenty kilometres south of Adelaide. The first products of 'Reynella Pottery’ were made from a local commercial white clay turned on a hand-driven wheel (she later acquired an engine-driven wheel) and fired in a small up-draught kiln she had built. In London, she and Margaret had been sent a sample of white Kangaroo Island clay, and it was then that Gladys had decided 'that it would be the most delightful thing on earth to make pots in Australia from virgin clay’. When informed of local, buff-coloured clay deposits, she tested its suitability, just as she had envisaged in London, and was pleased with the results. The task of making trips into the nearby countryside to dig and bring back clay fell to George Osborne, a young returned soldier whom Gladys had selected as a Reynella gardener in 1920. Although without previous pottery experience, George was soon turning the pottery wheel for her and, after being taught throwing by Gladys, spent much of his time in the studio making pots, which Gladys decorated. The Reynella Pottery wares proved popular; commissions were received from and sales made to many of her family’s well-to-do friends and relatives.
In August 1922 Gladys and George, twelve years her junior, were married. They moved to Ballarat, Victoria, where they established the Osrey Pottery in their home in Havilstock Street. Their sgraffito-decorated or slip-painted blue or green pottery (always decorated by Gladys) was sold at country shows, where they gave pottery demonstrations, as well as through fashionable outlets in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. In 1924 they exhibited with the Victorian Arts and Crafts Society. Osrey Pottery provided an income for them until 1926 when George contracted lead poisoning in his fingers from the white lead in glazes and both abandoned pottery. They moved farther into the country, to Curdie Vale, and derived an income from the sale of firewood. Gladys resumed block printmaking and painting e.g. Feeding the Calves 1936, linocut 13.8 × 12 cm, Art Gallery of South Australia (ill. The Forerunner vii, May 1937), but rarely exhibited, then apparently only at the instigation of artist friends. Although continuing to paint, she did not exhibit at all after 1936. From about 1939 until her death on 16 November 1956, Gladys and George lived in Melbourne.
At a Phillips Sydney auction in August 2001 a Melbourne dealer, John Playford, paid $16,100 for a collection of 55 art deco drawings by Reynell that had been estimated to fetch only $400-800 (Ingram, 'Saleroom’, AFR 9 August 2001, 40, who dates them c.1920).