#13 Amy Worthen (WGH 86-87)

I loved being a part of the international community of WGH and was particularly happy that my daughters were meeting and making friends with people from all over the world.

I first learned about WGH from a Canadian friend, Katherine Lochnan, who was active in the Canadian Alumni group. She urged me to apply and so, during 1986-7, I, my husband Tom Worthen (an art historian on sabbbatical leave from Drake University) and our two daughters, Shana, 11, and Maria 8, found ourselves living in a two-bedroom flat in JCC, William Goodenough House.

Ever since 1970 most of our sabbaticals and family leaves and vacations were in Italy, so our year in London was special. I’d grown up in the Bronx, New York, and was used to living in big cities. We’d been living in Iowa in the American Midwest, so I was delighted to be back in a great metropolis again. To me. London seemed more like a collection of villages containing the most astounding cultural resources.

I loved being a part of the international community of WGH and was particularly happy that my daughters were meeting and making friends with people from all over the world.

While at Goodenough, my husband pursued his research on relationships between art and liturgy in British parish churches while I took the course in the engraving of lettering for silversmiths at Sir John Cass College. I also spent time researching engraved inscriptions on 16th- and 17th-century Dutch engravings in the British Museum Print Room and the British Library. Living in the heart of Bloomsbury meant that I could easily walk to my research at the British Museum and British Library (both in the same building then).

Image: Recent developments at a London school for engravers : View from Sir John Cass College, 1987. Elegantly engraved alphabet letters are shown escaping from Sir John Cass College.

I am now a pictorial engraver, so my year of study of engraving for silversmiths in London was completely transformational. My studies gave me an understanding of the Guild traditions, working under magnification, and the continuous perfection of skills and insights in to the training of the artisans who work in this field. I eventually published a scholarly article, Calligraphic Inscriptions in Dutch Mannerist Prints, as a result of my study and research in London and made important professional connections with curators at the British Museum, which would be of great significance for my future work.

One of the 16th/17th century Dutch icongraphical subjects I was studying was symbolism related to the theme of Vanitas. That means riches, power, glory are all empty – you can’t take it with you when you die. While living at WGH, I made my own Vanitas engraving (see below), summing up the skills and art historical research I had done.

In this engraving, Vanitas, the inscription translates as, “the living know that they shall die. The dead know nothing.”

Image: In this engraving, Vanitas, the inscription translates as, “the living know that they shall die. The dead know nothing.”

Our family life in the UK included many memorable moments. We had a very happy family trip to The Burn in Scotland and I participated in many of the field trips organised by WGH/London House. Memorable ones include an eye-opening trip to see the underground postal tunnel system and a trip down river to the Thames Barrier. I also remember being stunned by the Guy Fawkes bonfire night with the huge bonfire in the Garden. We don’t have this in the US and the vision of the figure burning was very shocking to me.

One very touching memory of those days is the arrival of the mail! In the mid-1980s, actual mail in envelopes with stamps arrived at WGH from all over the world. The children of the families at WHG, including my daughters, all became hooked on collecting stamps. The single residents – all women then at WGH – were so kind. They would tear off the stamps from their envelopes and leave them in a place near the mailboxes where the children could find them. So, the children learned about personal geography and had a better understanding of our international community through stamp collecting. Now, with email and video chats, that has completely disappeared.

At WGH, we made good friendships with families from Australia, Canada, India, and New Zealand but the most long-lasting was with the Colin and Margaret Prentice family from Auckland, New Zealand. We stayed with each other in our home countries and have had reunions in London and Venice . Colin had an outstanding career as a school reformer in New Zealand, and then with World Vision. When we visited them in NZ in 2012, they organized a welcome ceremony, complete with Maori hakka for us at his school. That was one of the most haunting and moving experiences of my life. Sadly, both Colin Prentice and my husband Tom Worthen have passed away a few years ago but Margaret and I keep in touch.

My daughter Shana did her PhD at the University of Toronto and kept in touch with her WGH friend Lada Darewych. When these two were 11-year olds at WGH, both acted in an original musical, Flo of the Fleet, at the Camden theatre and Lada grew up to make acting her life’s work.

Now, over thirty years later, I am still a very active engraver and historian of prints and my engravings are in many museum collections. At the time of writing the COVID-19 lockdown means I’m living in a deserted, almost unearthly Venice. Drawing has become increasingly important to me and I have kept up a daily practice of drawing the same canal view, the same wisteria vine, over and over – the beauty and the shadow. Quiet and isolation have been amazingly beneficial for my creativity and desire to work.

At this strange time [April 2020], Greetings, Goodenough Alumni, I hope that you are safe and in health. I hope that whatever your field of work or study may be, your time in lockdown is serene and productive. The world to come will be different but amazing.


Image: Venice balcony view