Welcome to WAM Updates

WAM Updates are short, informal posts that put the spotlight on small, but exciting, Museum-related projects, such as the addition of a new painting or sculpture to a gallery. They also serve as updates on staff, new services or programs, and other WAM news.

We hope you like reading the Updates! If you are interested in learning about something specific, or have a suggestion for a WAM Update, please update us at wamupdates@worcesterart.org

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Europe’s Oldest Treatise on Swordfighting

 I’m delighted to report that the new edition of my transcription and translation of Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33 has just become available. Sometimes known as the “Walpurgis Fechtbuch,” I.33 is the oldest known book on swordfighting, having been written in Germany in the early 1300s. I started transcribing and translating the crabbed Latin of this manuscript in the early 1990s, when it was still kept at the Tower of London, and it was this work that first put me on a professional career path in the world of arms and armor. I first published I.33 with the Armouries in 2003, but there’s been a lot of research on this manuscript since then, so the new edition incorporates all the latest findings.

I.33 uses words and illustrations to describe a system of swordplay using a buckler—a small round shield that was used in unarmored swordfighting. Surprisingly, the figures who demonstrate the techniques are a “priest” and a “student.” This suggests that the manuscript may have been produced by staff at a cathedral school, the forerunner of the medieval university. We do know that medieval university students liked to engage in swordfighting, a tradition that survives even today in some German universities. Even more surprisingly, at the end of the manuscript the student is replaced by a woman named Walpurgis. Her presence remains a mystery, a reminder of how much we have yet to learn about the culture of arms in medieval Europe.

—Jeffrey L. Forgeng, Curator of Arms & Armor and Medieval Art



Tuesday, April 24, 2018

John La Farge’s ‘Most Curious’ Peacock Window

The Peacock Window, completed near the end of his lifetime, is considered John La Farge's most experimental window. Originally, the window was commissioned for a client. However, due to technical challenges surrounding La Farge's signature cloisonné-like technique—in which glass pieces in a copper coil network are fused together—the window was set aside. Fifteen years later, La Farge revisited the window, and it became a personal and experimental project. La Farge was proud of the piece and muses in a letter to a friend that the window is “most curious.” Indeed, La Farge curiously and uniquely weaved multiple techniques. For example, he employed traditional stained-glass techniques, as well as fused glass with organic cracking and texture. He also loosely applied cold paint with a brush, spatula, and even his fingers. By doing so, La Farge achieved an innovative style that created subtle yet complex illusionistic effects, colors, depth, and movement that arguably had never been achieved before in stained-glass history.

Conservators examined the window because of concerns surrounding its questionable structural integrity and aesthetic illegibility. To understand the window’s condition, especially for an experimental piece, it was critical for conservators to first discern the artist’s intent. What elements were originally intended by La Farge? What appears to be damage, dirt, or an unintended application, but may not be? What was unintended by La Farge himself, but ultimately accepted by him? What was never intended by the artist, but are damages caused by later conditions? Which damages could be addressed and improved? Conservators and conservation scientists conducted extensive examinations, scientific analysis, and research to shed light on such questions.  Then, conservators strengthened the structural integrity and improved aesthetic readability, while preserving the artist’s intent and being aware of the window’s complex construction and sensitivities of the various media. Conservators selectively cleaned the window to reduce soot from pollution, improved areas of poor restorations on various layers of the window, mended unoriginal fragmented glass with conservation-grade epoxy, and replaced the brittle and corroding lead border. Conservators collaborated with preparators to create custom framing and special lighting conditions to properly illuminate and safely support the window for display.  All such work helped preserve and bring to life John La Farge’s original intent and the illusionistic effects and colors he sought to create.

- Amanda Chau, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Objects Conservation


Monday, April 2, 2018

New Mission Statement Defines WAM’s Purpose


Recently, the Worcester Art Museum adopted a new mission statement:  The Worcester Art Museum connects people, communities, and cultures through the experience of art. 

The first new mission statement for WAM in several decades, this simple sentence represents the heart and soul of what the staff and Board strive to accomplish at the Museum every day.
The process of writing the new mission statement took several months. A dedicated group of staff and trustees dug deeply to answer four basic questions:

-- What does the Worcester Art Museum contribute?


-- Who does it serve?

-- How does it deliver?

-- Why is this important?

During the journey to a new mission statement, we asked more questions; defined beliefs, values, and principles for the Museum; and worked hard to articulate what its role and responsibilities are to the public and its collection.  The process was demanding, but also exhilarating and tremendously rewarding. 
We discovered that the Museum’s wonderful collection is not only a world treasure, but also a catalyst for building community. Everything we do at WAM—from exhibitions and programs to accessibility and outreach—connects individuals, communities, and cultures through the experience of art.  This is so important, because as the universal language, art can be understood and enjoyed by anyoneregardless of background, knowledge, or physical abilities.  Indeed, for some people, such as those with brain injuries, art is their only form of communication.  Art thus functions as a kind of “social glue” that unites human beings with each other.

I am tremendously proud of the Worcester Art Museum’s mission, and I look forward to working with the Board and Museum staff to ensure it remains our focus in all we do.
 
-Lisa Kirby Gibbs, President of the Board of Trustees

Thursday, March 29, 2018

EXTENDED! Jeppson Idea Lab — Master Vases from Ancient Greece

Co-curator Amanda Reiterman and I are delighted to inform our visitors that this multi-media exhibition was extended. Open since the fall of 2016, this show has been used extensively for teaching classics and archaeology by professors of local universities and colleges. Several classes were even designed and scheduled around this exhibition. Come visit and find out about the exciting discoveries that were made during conservation of these vases. Used for storing wine and perfumed oils these vessels were fully disassembled and reassembled from dozens of fragments. Watch a video that takes you into WAM’s conservation lab and, on an interactive iPad, learn about the fascinating story of these exquisite pots made over 2000 years ago. The show will remain open until further notice.

- Paula Artal-Isbrand, Objects Conservator   


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

#5WomenArtists


During the month of March, in honor of Women’s History Month, WAM joins the National Museum of Women in the Arts and hundreds of other museums around the world in the campaign #5WomenArtists to share important contributions by women represented in our collections. Why is this important? Can you name five women artists? Many people can’t. If you can, it probably takes you much longer to think of five female artists than five male artists. #5WomenArtists directly addresses the gender imbalance in the presentation of art in the United States and abroad, assuring great women artists a place of honor now and into the future.

This year, WAM highlights two female painters from our collections, Mary Cassatt and Grace Hartigan; two photographers, Julia Margaret Cameron and Brooke Williams; and one sculptor, Louise Nevelson. From the 19th to the 21st century, each female artist has made a unique contribution to the history of art.  

The Worcester Art Museum has participated in the #5WomenArtists campaign since its inception three years ago. Other female artists represented in WAM collections include Berenice Abbot, Judith Leyster, Joan Mitchell, Rona Pondick, Kate Sage, Doris Salcedo, Joan Snyder, and Marguerite Zorach.

To find out more about this campaign, see Hashtag: #5WomenArtists and the website https://nmwa.org/womens-history-month. (Also include WAM links.)

--Martha Chiarchiaro, Interim Associate Curator of Education & Experience

Image:  Julia Margaret Cameron, Merlin and Vivien, about 1874, albumen print from wet collodion negative, Stoddard Acquisition Fund, 1986.75

Monday, March 19, 2018

Meet Stephanie Cyr, Worcester Art Museum librarian


Stephanie Cyr joined the Worcester Art Museum as Museum Librarian on November 28, 2017.  In this capacity, Stephanie also serves as the Art Museum Librarian for the College of the Holy Cross.
Most recently, Stephanie served as the Associate Curator at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, where she planned and executed exhibitions.  Her work focused on varied topics from weather and climate, geology, mining, and current subjects such as hydraulic fracturing, to maps of fantastic and imaginary lands in fiction.  During her career as a librarian, Stephanie has worked in reference and readers advisory and cataloging, and brings over a decade of experience in public, academic and special library settings to the Worcester Art Museum library. Stephanie looks forward to working with all visitors to the Museum, and welcomes neighbors, guests and students of all ages to learn about and utilize the vast resources that the library has to offer. Browse dozens of art magazines, read about current exhibitions, or conduct personal research in the reading room, which is open to the public. 

Stephanie holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from UMass Amherst, and a master’s degree in library science from Simmons College in Boston. Her favorite book is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and her favorite work of art is Thomas Cole’s View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm-The Oxbow (1836). She lives in central Massachusetts with her husband and two young children.
We're delighted that Stephanie has joined WAM! Please stop by the library to meet her when you are next at the Museum.
--Gareth Salway, Director of Museum Services and Chief Registrar

Friday, February 23, 2018

How to Be a Knight: Pietro Monte’s Collectanea

This week marks the appearance of my latest book, Pietro Monte’s Collectanea: The Arms, Armor, and Fighting Techniques of a Fifteenth-Century Soldier. Monte was a renowned Spanish mercenary active in Italy around 1500. He is mentioned multiple times in Baldesar Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier, and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks include a remark about consulting Monte on the technique of throwing spears.

The Collectanea is a detailed technical treatise on “how to be a knight.” Monte tells us about the sports that kept knights in physical shape (wrestling, running, throwing, jumping), as well as knightly martial arts (combat with swords, staff weapons, on horseback, in and out of armor). In an age when almost nothing was written about the design of arms and armor, Monte offers extensive detail about how these objects should be made. This makes his work hugely important for arms and armor scholars, who mostly have to rely on reverse engineering to explain the objects we study.

Monte wrote his book in Spanish sometime around 1490, then published an expanded Latin translation in 1509. I began translating Monte’s Latin text about a dozen years ago. It’s been a challenging project: Latin isn’t a great language for technical writing, and Monte’s Latin is exceptionally bad, so it can be difficult to figure out what he’s trying to say. But the work and wait are finally over, and I’m thrilled to have made this important work accessible to modern scholars and enthusiasts.

—Jeffrey L. Forgeng, Curator of Arms & Armor and Medieval Art

https://boydellandbrewer.com/pietro-monte-s-i-collectanea-i-hb.html


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