As a company that has been sharing its passion for art history for over 30 years, we love to hear about the exciting paths our alumni take after their AHA course. Here we catch up with two of them who have kept their lifelong love of learning but gone in very different directions: a writer who worked for the BBC and a master craftsman who trained in Italy.
Writer, Molly Oldfield, Summer Course 1998
Molly went on an AHA Summer Course in 1998 after hearing about it from a friend’s older sister, who had loved her 6-week Gap Year Course. She enjoyed it so much she even thought about changing her degree to History of Art;
“the people were so lovely, the teaching was incredible, not at all like school but all about inspiring a love of art”. She particularly remembers tutor Tom Parsons finding unusual places to read Byron.
She stuck with History and while at Oxford met the TV producer, John Lloyd, who snapped her up to become a researcher on the landmark BBC1 programme “QI”, presented by Stephen Fry.
She wrote and researched questions for twelve series and was their original elf, coming up with ideas for the show before it even began. She worked on a string of bestselling QI books, wrote a weekly QI column for the Daily Telegraph and researched the BBC Radio 4 show ‘The Museum of Curiosity’. During this time she travelled to museums around the world meeting curators and delving into museum basements, storage rooms and archives for her first book, ‘The Secret Museum’, which tells the tales of precious artefacts that museums do not display.
Molly’s second book, Wonders of the World’s Museums showcases the objects children are most likely to love in museums around the world. When she was interviewed on BBC Radio 2 earlier this month, she admitted to having some favourite “wonders” which included the Temple of Dendur at the Met in New York, Amelia Earhart’s Little Red Bus (main picture) and a Titanic ticket at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum.
Molly says, looking back, that her AHA trip was part of a very formative period when she was excited to be leaving school and heading off to university. So formative that one of the friends she made on AHA is now godmother to her little boy!
For now, she’s enjoying seeing the world anew through her son’s young eyes, including running through the V&A, discovering new rooms and promoting her latest book. Be sure to listen to a hilarious podcast with her old mates at QI on the wonders of blue whales and a part of their anatomy which is the size of a fridge! As you’ll hear, she enjoys children’s questions so much, she’s considering a children’s version where she answers their questions. She has just published another book about the Natural Wonders of the World and has begun her own brilliant podcast.
It’s great to think that her love of museums was born on her AHA trip!
Master Craftsman, Thomas Greenaway, Spring Gap Year Course 2004
AHA alumni go on to all sorts of different careers but only one has created a Coat of Arms for a King’s tombstone! Thomas Greenaway is one of the very few craftsmen in the UK who has been traditionally trained in the 16th-century techniques of pietra dura.
It was whilst on the Spring Gap Year course in 2004, that Thomas noticed the pietra dura tables at the Pitti Palace in Florence. A visit to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure museum sparked his fascination with the highly skilled art of pietra dura, with which he fell in love.
After a course at The Chippendale International School of Furniture, he decided to go back to Italy where he had a traditional four year apprenticeship working in three different workshops.
On his return he set up his own business, using traditional Florentine techniques and has been producing beautiful, bespoke pieces of this exquisite art form in his workshop in South Northamptonshire since 2010.
Fortunately, this necessitates frequent trips to Italy to source different stones. The yellow stone “Calcedonio Giallo” comes from Volterra in Tuscany and for some stones he simply goes searching in the Tuscan hills.
Having already worked with the stonemason, Jame Elliot, who built Richard III’s new tomb in Leicester Cathedral, it was no surprise that he should recommend Thomas to create the Coat of Arms for the tomb. It took two months, using “Duke’s Red”, a red stone from Derbyshire (it seemed fitting to use an English stone for an English King), and best quality lapiz lazuli, from Afghanistan. Best quality costing £400 per kilo!
He continues to produce bespoke pietra dura panels, jewellery boxes, coffee tables and games tables for private clients, as well as Leicester and Westminster cathedrals. The workshop is increasingly involved in conservation work as well as new pieces.
Updated 7th June, 2019.
We would love to hear more stories from our alumni on what they did next in their lives. If you are wondering how to begin a career in the arts, book a place at The Easel Initiative‘s Careers in the Arts Fair, Friday 14th June, 2019, 11am to 8pm.
Director Nick (seen here in the audience at the 2018 Fair) will be part of a Panel Discussion on ‘The Art Industry Ecosystem’, chaired by Sophie Macpherson. Head of UK Admissions, Marie Naffah, will also be there talking about our scholarships, so do say hello. The other panel discussions will be ‘Breaking into the Arts Industry’ and ‘The Future of the Arts Industry’.
Followers of Easel’s Instagram feed are will see that a very special auction will start at 6pm with lots kindly donated by their partners. They will be inviting attendees of the careers fair to work with auction experts to present the auction.