May 31 2024

Becoming a Companion of the Guild - Kathryn Ogden's story

May 31st 2024

Companion Kathryn Ogden shares the story of how and why she became a Guild Companion, and a lover of Venice.

In January 2024,  I was at Sheffield's Millennium Gallery to see the updated Ruskin Gallery exhibition with other northern Companions.  Speaking to Simon Seligman, he asked if I would write a piece for the Guild about why I became a Companion.  This was wonderful, as it has enabled me to look back at photographs and memories of people and places.

At school I studied A level Art and loved the history of Italian Renaissance art, especially Venetian.  At sixteen I fell in love with Fra Angelico’s Annunciation in the Convent San Marco, Florence.  When I actually saw the fresco I burst into tears as I was so moved by its beauty.  My first overseas trip was with seventeen friends from my local Methodist Church.  We drove in a minibus and a van to Rimini and camped on the way there and back through France, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Belgium. The whole cost was £35 each. We travelled with several tents we had hired, but also the church’s scout tent which was camouflaged during the war.  We were quite an entertainment to the campsites. On our return journey we took the ferry from Tronchetto to the Lido di Venezia.  Twelve hours that changed my life forever.

Over the years I have visited Venice for extended periods and, several times, just for the day.  An early morning flight from Leeds/Bradford to Marco Polo and eight hours in the city.  It meant I could visit places, eat at my favourite restaurants and buy Christmas presents.  Then I saw an advertisement in the local newspaper for a WEA class about Italian Renaissance art.  I went along. There was one person I knew and the lecturer was fabulous.  He organised many trips to Italy and I saw and learnt so much.  In 2008, after being off work for a year, I was given early retirement.  I wanted the experience of living away from home. Venice was my choice as I knew it well: everyone was on foot or using public transport, and there were lots of places to visit by train within one hour of the city.  I had also read the Salley Vickers book “Miss Garnet’s Angel” – mmm, I could do that. I rented an apartment for thirteen weeks and this was the best decision I ever made. I contacted the Methodist Church in Rome: yes, there was a Methodist Valdesian church and an English-speaking Anglican Church in Campo san Vio, a five minute walk from my apartment on the Zattere.  My first Sunday morning I went to the service and met several people who are still my friends.  The vicar told me about a meeting with a speaker on a Monday evening and he took me there.  The stone was in the water and the ripples were spreading.  

I met so many interesting people and my one-off trip became an annual visit and, often, more than once a year.  In October 2009 I was invited to be Fairy Sparkle in the Pantomime “Cinderella” the following January, see below.  Written and produced by the writer Laurie Graham, those ripples were getting wider and wider.  Years later, Laurie was staying with a friend and heard my voice on a Guild of St George Zoom meeting. That friend was a Guild Companion, Michelle Lovric, who I met for the first time and had a coffee with on a beautiful March day this year at Nico’s Bar at the Zattere.


Fairy Sparkle, Cinderella 2010

Through Church I met Clive Wilmer and his partner, Patricia, who came to my apartment several times to dinner and accompanied me around several exhibitions in the city. 


The Ruskin exhibition at Palazzo Ducale.  2018


Clive guiding members of the Circolo Italico-Britannio at the Ruskin exhibition.  March 2018


Basilica San Marco bathed in soft evening light after the Guild conference.  2018

In 2018 Clive was in Venice with the Guild and invited me to the Correr Museum to hear several speakers talking about Ruskin and Venice.  I was engrossed the whole afternoon and asked if I could join Clive the following day to the visit around the Scuola San Giorgio to see the Carpaccios there.  This is one of my favourite places in the city.  I take all my visitors there. One year, I went so often the Guardian thought I was a tour guide and stopped charging me the entrance fee.  I don’t walk fast and in the crowd I fell behind, but I knew my way and arrived first just as the Guardian was putting a “closed” sign on the door - it was packed out with a group of French people.  When Clive arrived, we couldn’t get in despite the tour being booked.  Clive turned to me and asked where we could go.  I suggested the Chiesa San Giovanni in Bragora nearby with a beautiful Cima di Conegilano painting, The Baptism of Christ.  It was in a rarely visited area of Castello. 


Chiesa San Giovanni in Bragora


Cima di Conegilano painting, The Baptism of Christ.

 We had coffee in the campo and then went to the Chiesa San Zachariah to see Giovanni Bellini's altarpiece, the Madonna Enthroned with Child and Saints.


Chiesa San Zachariah to see Giovanni Bellini's Madonna Enthroned with Child and Saints.

Clive, Patricia and I had dinner together in Campo San Stefano and Clive asked me if I would be interested in becoming a Companion.  Once I’d read about the Guild, I asked to be considered and it was agreed.  In November 2018 I went to the AGM at the Natural History Museum in Oxford, only expecting to know Clive.  Also becoming Companions were Anne Amison and Sarah Quill. I had also seen in Bar Palanca, but didn’t know, Frances O’Connor.  I had an amazing evening and enjoyed the company around the table. 


Signing the Companions Roll at the 2018 AGM, with with Ruskin Collection's curator Louise Pullen.

All those what ifs – if I had not been given early retirement, if I had not not stayed in Venice, if I had not been a Methodist - I would have missed all those experiences.  Whenever there is a television programme about Venice, I know most of the people. I am a walking encyclopaedia about the city, so much so that Venetians ask me questions!  I am now an honorary Giudeccean after living there so long.  I know locals who speak to me.  Walking along the fondamenta with my Venetian friend, the owner of the green grocery shop waved as we went past. Sara said, “he doesn’t wave at me”!  I smiled when I returned home and was walking past a shop and the owner called to me and waved.  As I was writing this article Frances and I were discussing the green grocers and what was sold.  Here is the shop.


Greengrocers used by Frances O’Connor and myself.

Over the years, friends I have made, of all nationalities, have stayed with me in Yorkshire, I’ve stayed with them in England and, despite not liking cats, I have cat-house-sat in Venice.  I love to share my stories, experiences and photographs through talks in real life and now to Virtual groups via Zoom.  My largest audience was to a U3A group of 150 people.  Being rebooked before I leave a meeting, means I know I’ve entertained them.  

Ruskin was so ahead of the time with his concerns for the environment.  As a Women’s Institute member, it is one of our main concerns too.  By using what I have learnt from so many groups, we can all contribute to making the environment wonderful for future generations.

Kathryn Ogden, May 2024


Ombra del Leone, a favourite place to eat and people watch on the Grand Canal, Venice.  25th March 2024