insights (2006-04)

A Tribute to Betsy Worden

Five Points Grocery Rescued

All of Knoxville should join the arts community in mourning the loss of Betsy Worden.

No one has contributed more to the visual arts locally in as many different ways over as long a period of time as she has. Her sudden death of a massive stroke last week at age 70 came as a jolt to her fellow artists, to her students and to the many organizations in which she played a leading role.

Worden’s death came just two weeks after her most recent of myriad accomplishments: the opening of the Art Market Gallery at 422 Gay Street. She was instrumental in obtaining this space for relocation, from the Candy Factory, of a gallery at which a co-op of more than 60 local artists display their work.

Worden was perhaps best known for her own work, both as a watercolorist and a weaver. One of her woven tapestries of the Smoky Mountains is prominently displayed at the Knoxville Convention Center, and two others adorn the West Knoxville Library. Worden’s watercolors were twice selected from many entrants by the Dogwood Arts Festival for printing, and several hundred prints of each were sold. Her donated works also brought top dollar at many charity auctions. Yet another hangs at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Warsaw, reflecting Worden’s close association with Ambassador (and former mayor) Victor Ashe and his wife Joan.

Joan Ashe and Betsy Worden served together for many years on the board of the Arts Council of Greater Knoxville and were in the forefront of strengthening its role through reincarnation as the Arts and Cultural Alliance. She also served on the boards of the Knoxville Museum of Art, the Knoxville Watercolor Society and the Community School of the Arts—with stints as president of the latter two.

“She was such a go-getter, such a mover and a shaker. I don’t know what we’re going to do without her,” says fellow watercolorist B. J. Clark.

Along with being an artist and an activist, Worden was also a tireless volunteer teacher. She conducted watercolor classes, from beginner to advanced, at the KMA and at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and was involved in many facets of the Community School of the Arts, which she helped found in 1991.

One of them was its Side-by-Side program in which professional artists bring young students into their studios to apprentice for several months leading up to an annual exhibit of their work at Bennett Galleries. Worden apprenticed several students over the years and also got several more involved in weaving.

“Whatever needed to be done, she was there to do it,” says the director of the Community School of the Arts, Jennifer Willard. “She was one of a kind. You never knew how busy she was with other organizations when she was working with you. She always made you feel like you were most important to her.”

A tribute to Betsy Worden wouldn’t be complete without making mention of her ever-so-supportive husband Stuart. He served with her on the KMA board and its Collector’s Circle, and the Wordens were fixtures at local arts events. It’s also more than coincidental that the Art Market Gallery’s prominent new location on Gay Street is just below the offices of his insurance firm.

In the last analysis, though, he was just one of a great many people whom she inspired to help make the Knoxville arts scene as vibrant as it is.

Five Points Grocery Rescued

The imposing new 20,000 square foot Village Plaza store on Martin Luther King Boulevard was due to open last fall, and its shelves have been partly stocked. But the opening was delayed and left uncertain when one of the partners in the venture ran into financial difficulty. Jim Woods, who owns a number of other food stores, advised the city he was no longer able to invest in the store, and the man who was due to operate it, John Davis, wasn’t in a position to proceed on his own.

That left it to the city’s director of community development, Renee Kessler, to come up with a new owner-operator team for the store in which $6.5 million in mostly public funds have been invested.

In the end, she turned to Thompson, who developed the four acre Village Plaza center that also includes a separate building that’s leased to a men’s clothing store, a mortgage loan office, a caterer and a Knox County Clerk’s satellite office. Thompson, in turn, has formed a joint venture with Norman Wright, whose family owns a Cox & Wright Food Center in Rutledge.

According to a city announcement, “the store is now expected in six to eight weeks, pending various regulatory approvals.”