Spotlight on Harriet Stockton Worthington

crecheDuring Advent and Christmas, Saint Mary’s creche, crafted by Harriet Stockton Worthington, is displayed. Many of us have looked with wonder at this nativity scene and asked how it was created. As Mrs. Worthington tells the story, she is probably the last person left at Saint Mary’s to have worked with Robert Nicholson. He fashioned the gardens out of a swamp, and she restored many art objects he brought back from his foreign travels. It was this collaboration that resulted in the creche. She says, Robert and I made the creche together. He built the manger and the shed while Harriet made the creche figures. This collaborative effort involved two added pieces each year for about 10 years. Father Nicholson brought back the herd of cattle that are lowing in the background. When he arrived with sheep from Italy, Harriet made more sheep. The umbrella above the head of one of the Magi was fashioned by Father Nicholson out of a tiny funnel which is turned upside down. I became acquainted with Harriet several Christmases ago. By accident I broke one of the golden angels at the entrance of the library. The Holly Fair Greens Group spread out into the bell tower hall and with too much bustle, I hit one of the posts sending one angel crashing to the floor and breaking into pieces. I was crestfallen about the accident, and Father Steve Smith and I talked about the possibility of Harriet repairing it. I felt grace had descended when she said she had a 6-week window after Christmas and could restore the angel. By springtime she completed the difficult job of reconstructing not just one but both angels, and Jon Ferguson secured the posts for remounting them. Harriet, Steve, Jon and I blessed this gift of love with prayers when we raised them to their lofty positions overseeing the entrance to the library. The broken angel led me to meeting this wonderful and spritely artist. Harriet came originally from Ohio to the Cape to be a house mother at the Episcopal school on Pine Street. Her two brothers, 4 and 12 went to this boarding school. The students had chapel in the morning and vespers at night. Harriet told me with a twinkle in her eye, In those days sometimes the only parishioners at a Saint Marys service were the students from the Abbie Loveland Tuller School. (The Rev. Mark Anschutz remembers as a boy seeing the nuns and students walking two by two down the Old Kings Highway to Saint Mary’s.) Harriet’s work as a sculptor grew out of her education at the Toledo Museum School, as a student of the Cape sculptor Arnold Geissbuhler, at the Brooklyn Museum School and at the University of Florence where she studied art history and sculpted on the side. Harriet laughs about the nuns in post-war Italy who asked her to reconstruct art pieces in their abbeys and chapels. She was always able to handle the most outlandish requests like taking tessorae (tiny mosaic tiles on fabric) off a ceiling and retouching church manuscripts. Being of English descent and having spent 25 years in England with her husband Barton, Harriet brings to Saint Mary’s a respect for the Anglican tradition of the creche and the greens in the Lady Chapel. Her sculpture also includes the boy Christ in the St. Mary’s gardens and the original St. Michael angel (which is different from the present one on the summer house.) We are grateful to Harriet for the many gifts she brought to Saint Mary’s in her collaboration with Robert Wood Nicholson.

With gratitude to Harriet,

Becky McClenahan

Editor’s note: Since this writing, Harriet has re-sculpted a number of items in St. Mary’s gardens, most notably the cornucopia that sits over the frog pond. We will never forget Harriet, outfitted in waders no less, descending into the frog pond, to touch up the cornucopia after its re-installation. Harriet died in 2014, but her legacy remains an integral part of our parish community.