The Wick - Interview Director of the Royal Society of Sculptors Caroline Worthington The Wick - Interview Director of the Royal Society of Sculptors Caroline Worthington
Monday Muse

Interview Director of the Royal Society of Sculptors Caroline Worthington

Caroline Worthington
24 April 2023
Caroline Worthington
24 April 2023
During her six-year tenure as Chief Executive of Bexley Heritage Trust, Caroline successfully managed two historic houses and introduced the contemporary art programme, featuring works by renowned artists such as Gavin Turk, Laura Ford, and Joana Vasconcelos. Before her role at Bexley, Caroline served as Director of the Florence Nightingale Museum on London’s South Bank where she oversaw the complete redesign and relaunch of the museum in 2010. A dab hand at a renovation project, in 2017, Caroline joined the Royal Society of Sculptors as its second Director, overseeing the extensive renovation and conservation of their home, Dora House. Until 2022 Caroline was a co-Vice Chair of the Association of Independent Museums (AIM), and became a Trustee of Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery Trust in January 2021.

THE WICK:   Tell us about your typical Monday?

Caroline Worthington :   I manage a small team, so we come in to Dora House and then we enjoy talking about what we seen over the weekend over a cup of strong coffee and then we touch base about what we’re all up to that week.

TW:   As the champion of sculpture in London, why do you think sculpture as an art form has become more valued or discussed in a post COVID-19 world?

CW:   One of the positives during that grim time when lockdowns were easing was discovering, or rediscovering, things on your doorstep. That was why we were so determined to install a large-scale work by the artist Caroline Achaintre on the sculpture terrace of Dora House. I had first seen Echo Peel in her solo show at the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop pre-Covid. Coincidentally, it resembles a giant mask, which made it super topical and even more dramatic.

TW:   What is the role of the Royal Society of Sculptors?

CW:   The Society is a membership organisation for professional sculptors, established in 1905. We connect and support them throughout their careers and we champion sculpture in all its wonderful diversity.

TW:   Taxidermist Polly Morgan has just won the Society’s First Plinth: Public Art Award – what to you makes Morgan’s work extraordinary?

CW:   Polly Morgan will tell you that she was always an artist, who started out working in taxidermy. I think the judges of our First Plinth Award chose Morgan because she has been working on such a small scale with snake’s skin. This is an important moment for her to move into large-scale, public sculpture while staying true to her interest in playing with animal forms in compressed spaces. You can see that brilliantly in Open! Channel! Flow!

“We connect and support sculptors throughout their careers and we champion sculpture in all its wonderful diversity.”

TW:   The Society have recently completed a renovation of Dora House using specialist craftspeople for wood, metal and stone. Tell us about three of your favourite character accents of the new space.

CW:   I’m especially proud of the chimneys. I used to dread them falling down, they were in such bad condition. I lost sleep over them when a storm was forecast. We went to see new bricks being made by hand at a family-run brickmakers in Buckinghamshire.

I also liked seeing the restoration of the decorative stonework at the top of the building, particularly the lettering “EF”, which stands for Elliot and Fry. It tells a story of the building before it was owned by Cecil Thomas, when it was a high-end photographic studio in the Edwardian era.

Our oak-wood front door was damaged in attempted burglary during the renovation. It had to be completely remade. It was exciting to go to Chatham Dockyards to meet the master craftsmen who said that it was a complicated job. Each of the spirals is a different design, The patterns do not repeat.

TW:   What is your go to fashion brand to wear for a private view?

CW:   COS every time which I discovered on a trip to Belgium long before they opened in London.

TW:   If you could own one sculpture for your personal collection, what would it be and why?

CW:   That’s never an easy question to answer. On a recent long weekend in Vilnius, I discovered Lithuanian folk art, which is extraordinary. I loved the carved wooden memorials found in churchyards. Wonderful painted saints and angels carved by self-taught artists.

My husband jokes that I’m his art advisor. We have just been to Japan where we saw a show by an artist called Takehiro Iikawa. He has installed a giant, pink, inflatable cat that currently overshadows works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth at the Hakone Open-Air Museum. The artist, who deserves to be better known internationally, had made small wooden versions of his “Decorator Crab”. We got the last one on sale in the gift shop.

TW:   London is full of beautiful historical landmarks. If you had to choose one to visit forever which, would it be and why?

CW:   Dorich House in Kingston is a special place. It was where I organised a show as a baby curator. It was designed by the sculptor Dora Gordine and the art historian Richard Hare in the 1930s as their home and her studio. I’d love to drink cocktails on the roof terrace overlooking Richmond Park on a balmy evening. Dora Gordine was a member of the Royal Society of Sculptors. We have her archive. The Society almost took on Dorich House, a Modernist gem, but happily Kingston University takes good care of the extraordinary building and its fabulous contents.

TW:   Who is your ultimate Monday Muse?

CW:   The pioneering female sculptor Anne Acheson, who became the first female Fellow of the Society in 1938. Her work had long been popular with the country house set but in 1915 she threw herself into the war effort. She invented the first anatomically splints, which helped wounded soldiers’ broken bones heal faster. We have to thank Acheson for plaster of Paris casts today.

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