Gretchen Worden, 56, director of the Mutter Museum, who transformed a collection of sublime anatomical medical oddities and history into a work of art that spoke for itself, died Monday of respiratory failure at Hahnemann University Hospital.
The museum was a compulsory stop for art and film students in Philadelphia. Gretchen was always very supportive of our projects, and would let us wander around the fragile exhibits in their 19th century cases with our cameras and grubby fingers. I suspect David Lynch wouldn’t have come up with Eraserhead, without the Mutter Museum’s inspiration, something he must have surely encountered during his days as a Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts student. Before I moved from Philadelphia, visiting the Mutter Museum was the only sentimental gesture I allowed myself. A few years ago, the new head honchos of the College of Physicians, in a misguided effort at a face-lift, added a “modern” exhibit on medicine and health that they forced you to go through before you could get to the 19th century. And horror of horrors, they discontinued the Mutter’s wildly popular calendars. I shudder to think what further damage those barbarians will do, without Gretchen fighting the good fight.