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, March 19, 2020

Turn to art for perspective

Winslow Homer, The Gale, 1883-1893, oil on canvas, 1916.48

Dear Members and Friends of WAM,

Art through the ages often reflects uncertain times--such as the present--either by highlighting them or by suggesting different narratives and points of view. When you visit museums like the Worcester Art Museum, with art collections from a wide timeline and range of cultures, you will find scenes of war, suffering, and human struggle in all walks of life. Our arms and armor collection--one of the world's strongest--is a testimony to the human desire to establish order in an unpredictable world. Our Colonial portraits show the longing for stability in an era of extreme hardship. The Buddha heads in our Asian galleries project serenity, while history suggests a different reality.

During unsettling times, art also helps us cope. Scenes of violence and loss can put our own troubles into reassuring perspective, while images of beauty can give us a sense of refuge and calm. The Worcester Art Museum's collections encompass the breadth and universality of our shared human experience, which nurture our hope for the future.

Although we are closed (like every other museum in the country), WAM is still your museum, and it is still here for you. You may be unable to walk through the galleries right now, but you can still experience the transformative power of art through our website and social media platforms. If you are not already following us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, I invite you to join us there where we are actively sharing images, insights, and opportunities for you to enjoy the WAM collection in a whole new way.

We appreciate our city's leadership and our community's support during this challenging time. Many people have reached out to ask how they can help while the Museum is closed. Please consider making a gift to the WAM Fund. Your support will help us continue to fulfill our mission of "connecting people, communities, and cultures via the experience of art" while we are closed.

All of us at the Worcester Art Museum thank you for your ongoing support and wish you and your families well. Together, we will overcome our problems--just as many previous generations have so ably done.


Matthias Waschek
Jean and Myles McDonough Director

 P.S. Donate to the WAM Fund online by clicking here.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Revere and the Boston Massacre

On March 5, 1770, a group of British soldiers stationed in Boston fired on a crowd of colonial protestors, killing five and wounding six more. This act – the latest in a series of escalating conflicts between revolutionary-minded Bostonians and supporters of the Crown – became known as the Boston Massacre.

The Bloody Massacre, Paul Revere

Today, every American History textbook discusses the Massacre, often alongside an image of Paul Revere’s famous print, describing it as one of the major inciting incidents of the Revolutionary War. But the real story is much more complex, and closely involves that very print.

Through the late 1760s, colonial support for the Revolution was growing, but by no means unanimous. Separatist organizations, especially the Sons of Liberty, worked not only to resist policies of the British Crown but also to excite colonists (who were often more concerned with getting on with day-to-day life) into active rebellion. In Boston, this tended to result in groups of laborers harassing loyalist shop owners, vandalizing stores that sold British goods during the boycotts; this, in turn, led to more troops being quartered in the city to “keep the peace.”

By early 1770, there were approximately 2,000 British troops in a city of 16,000 colonists. Tensions rose higher, and increasingly fights broke out between the revolutionary colonists and groups of soldiers.

On the night of the Massacre, a crowd of such protestors had been threatening a lone soldier guarding the Custom House on King Street. The situation quickly escalated: the soldier, Hugh White, called for reinforcements and struck at colonists who came too close to him; the crowd responded by pelting him with ice and snow; bells rang throughout the city, summoning more colonists who expected to find a fire, but instead encountered a near-riot. By the time Captain Thomas Preston arrived with several more soldiers, the crowd had grown to perhaps two or three hundred.

Accounts are confused as to what came next. The soldiers quickly became mixed up in the crowd; some witnesses said the rioters threatened to kill the soldiers, attacking with stones or even clubs, or tried to pull them into alleys; at some point, the soldiers started firing, but it is unclear who (if anyone) ordered them to do so. When everything settled, three colonists were dead and eight more wounded; two of whom would later die of their wounds.

Revolutionary leaders in Boston hoped to use the tragedy to rally people to their cause, both in the colonies and in London, but needed a sympathetic narrative. Days after the Massacre, supporters of both sides began gathering eyewitness testimony of the riot as well as accounts of interactions between soldiers and colonists in the days before. Pamphlets were published relating these accounts, including A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre, which framed the growing tension as a series of unprovoked attacks on peaceful civilians. Meanwhile, loyalist publishers pushed forth the story that the protestors were uncontrollably violent troublemakers.

It was in this climate that Henry Pelham, a young engraver from Boston and half-brother of renowned portraitist John Singleton Copley, created a print he titled The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre. The scene depicted a crowd of helpless colonists (dressed as gentlemen) being ruthlessly gunned down by harsh-faced soldiers in a neat line.

The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, Henry Pelham
Pelham showed an unfinished version of his print to Paul Revere, an older and better established craftsman with a printing press of his own. Revere immediately recognized the power of the scene and quickly produced his own near-identical version.

Revere’s act would not have been considered “theft” or plagiarism as it would be today (printers frequently copied images in those days, and did not always credit the original artist) but Pelham later admitted he felt taken advantage of. Revere, thanks to his connections with local shop owners and with Boston printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill (publishers of the Boston Gazette and Country Journal), had his prints widely distributed throughout Boston within three weeks of the Massacre, with 200 copies available in local shops for between 8 pence and 1 shilling. Some prints were colored by artist Christian Remick, who used simple but bold colors, especially the red of the soldiers’ uniforms and the victims’ blood, to make the image more striking. Pelham, meanwhile, took another week to get his prints available, by which time the market was already flooded with Revere’s.

The image itself was phenomenally successful. In addition to regular prints, which were purchased and displayed by sympathetic Bostonians, Edes and Gill produced a broadside using Revere’s print and five columns of text from their newspaper. These were posted in public places throughout the city, where anyone could read an account of the events.

During and after the trial of the British soldiers, variations of the image appeared by other artists. For example, a smaller, simplified relief cut, also made by Revere, appeared on a broadside published in 1772, decrying the lax sentencing of the guilty parties and the lack of justice in this case and in the death of Christopher Seider, who was killed in a conflict two weeks before the Massacre (this broadside on view at Concord Museum).

Broadsheet published by Isaiah Thomas, detail.
Image by Paul Revere
The use of propaganda, pamphlets and images continued throughout the Revolutionary War, though images of the Massacre were replaced by more recent events.

In 1832, William Stratton of Boston created a new copperplate version of the print, reviving the Massacre in the public consciousness (a print of this is on view at the Concord Museum). Soon, prints were again available by multiple artists, recreating the scene for political publications, historical textbooks, and collectors. Though there was some variation between images (some were more chaotic, some attempted to incorporate further historical details, and those intended for abolitionist publications prominently featured Crispus Attucks*), the basic structure and symbolism of Revere and Pelham’s original prints remain recognizable. Sixty years after the Massacre, these images created for propaganda were now viewed as historical fact, and became the basis for our modern understanding of the events of March 5, 1770.

So, why do we continue to remember this print as Revere’s and not Pelham’s? Once again, Revere had on his side a combination of name recognition, good connections, and plain luck – we know that his 200 prints were widely distributed, more so than Pelham’s, and perhaps more likely to be kept, thanks to their connection to a well-known Founding Father. Two hundred and fifty years later, over 70 copies of Revere’s print survive – while only two remain of Pelham’s.

*Widely believed to be the first victim of the Massacre to die, Crispus Attucks was a mixed-race dockworker and former slave living in Boston; in the mid-19th century, he became a prominent symbol of the Abolitionist movement as the first martyr of the Revolution.

For the first time in Massachusetts, five versions of the Massacre print -- including Revere's and Pelham's -- can be seen together as part of the Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere exhibition, organized by American Antiquarian Society. Visit the exhibition at WAM to see them all!

Sarah Leveille
Digital Media Specialist
March 5, 2020

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Meet Legion III Cyrenaica

Reenactors from Legion III Cyrenaica with the armor and shields of a Roman legion.
Reenactors from Legion III Cyrenaica with the armor and shields of a Roman legion.

Legion III Cyrenaica was formed around 35 BCE in the city of Cyrene.* The five-thousand-man unit, originally loyal to Marcus Antonius, defected to join Octavian** during the Battle of Actium in 31 CE. After his final victory over Antonius and Cleopatra, Octavian garrisoned the Legion in Egypt, where it remained throughout the first century.

While small detachments may have joined military campaigns across the empire, the main body of the Legion stayed at the double-fortress of Nikopolis, along with troops of the Legion XXII Deiotariana. There, they acted as a local police force, protected the borders and maintained control of the Nile, administered mining operations, and manned outposts as far as Thebes and along the Red Sea. Much of a Legionary soldier’s service was spent not in active combat but in quiet guard duty and engineering work – the Legions also maintained fortresses and built roads, bridges and even amphitheaters throughout the empire.

Legion III left Egypt around 120 CE, relocated to Bosra in Syria (modern-day Jordan), where it actively served until around 430, making it one of the longest-lived Roman Legions on record.

Legion III reenactors bring a variety of  replica materials to help visitors  understand life in ancient Rome.
Legion III reenactors bring a variety of
replica materials to help visitors
understand life in ancient Rome.
Today, Legion III Cyrenaica is the name of a New England based living history organization. Formed in 2004, they seek to portray life in a first-century Roman Legion (including soldiers and non-military civilians connected with the army) as accurately as possible. These enthusiastic historians recreate ancient everyday life through a combination of research and experimental archaeology – crafting replicas of artifacts and testing them out in real-world contexts. This allows them to learn not just about the objects, but about the people who made and used them.

Join Legion III Cyrenaica at our Spring Community Day, Festa Roma, March 14, 2020 – an all-day celebration of ancient Rome. The Legion will have interactive tables and displays, where visitors of all ages can try on a Roman helmet, lift a Scutum shield, try writing as the Romans did on wax tablets and papyrus, learn about Roman foodways, and about Legionary and Auxiliary soldiers, their arms, armor and equipment. There will even be a special “Kiddie Cohort” activity where you can try maneuvering in roman tactical formations under Latin and Greek commands!

*Located in modern-day Libya; this is likely the source of the title Cyrenaica
**Later Augustus, first emperor of Rome

Meet Legion III Cyrenica at WAM Spring Community Day 2020: Festa Roma

Sarah Leveille
Digital Media Specialist
February 27, 2020

Friday, January 17, 2020

Flora in Winter: Behind the Scenes

Flora in Winter is the biggest event of the year for the Worcester Art Museum. Every January, thousands of visitors come to see our galleries bloom with dozens of floral works, bringing a bit of spring to the dead of winter. The highlight of the four-day event is the Interpretive Floral Designs, two dozen captivating arrangements by some of the region’s top florists, paired with and interpreting selected artworks throughout the Museum. But what does it take to plan an event on this scale?

Designers may choose to focus their interpretation on
color, shape, light effects, or any other aspect.
Here is a summary of the year-long process, according to WAM Director of Education and Experience Marnie Weir:

February/March: Pre-planning begins almost immediately after the previous Flora ends! WAM staff members meet with our Flora Co-Chairs: Kim Cutler, Kathy Michie and Sarah Ribeiro. The team makes decisions on priority issues, including dates and themes for the coming year – this year’s theme is Epic Bloom!

Commercial arrangements occupy
public Museum spaces.
Spring: Our departments of Education and Registration begin selecting the artworks for interpretation. This is no easy decision. Do we want to highlight popular works or draw attention to lesser-known ones? Which works have been interpreted in recent years? Are some of the choices scheduled to go on loan, or be cycled out of the Galleries before January? Locations for commercial arrangements are also selected – works by garden clubs and professional florists, placed in public spaces such as the Lancaster Lobby and Renaissance Court balcony.

Late Summer/Early Fall: Invitations (and a list of selected artworks) are mailed to our selected arrangers, who RSVP with their top choices. We do our best to match designers with their first or second choices! Once these are finalized, arrangers can begin planning their creations, sending us updates on their plans, inspirations and designs.

Fall: Now that the arrangers are settled, it’s time to think about everything else – we contact performers, caterers and other talent for the Friday night Flora party, and we begin developing related programming for the weekend. We also start to get the word out, including a “Save the Date” on our website and plans for printed fliers and social media.

December: The entire four-day schedule is finalized, and Marketing produces the promotional fliers, which are mailed to several thousand constituents, including many Massachusetts garden clubs. Meanwhile, our volunteer docents begin planning their tours – doing further research on the selected artworks, and sharing their knowledge of botany and floral design.

January: With all of the paperwork finalized, we design and print specialized Flora in Winter maps, showing the location of every arrangement throughout the Museum, alongside statements provided by the arrangers. Nearly every staff member will be involved in some way over the four-day event, so we all participate in training and preparation to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Tuesday: With Martin Luther King Day on Monday, nearly all the prep work must be done on Tuesday, while the Museum is closed to the public. Galleries are set up with pedestals and tables for the arrangements, lighting is prepared, and additional signs are posted to point the way to workshops and lectures. There is also often some final coordination with outside performers and businesses.

Wednesday: Commercial arrangers deliver their works and set them up throughout the public spaces.

Visitors can enjoy art and arrangements together!
Thursday: At 6 AM, arrangers and staff begin to arrive. Most of the arrangements are at least partially pre-made, but our designers know to expect anything – it can sometimes take as much as two hours to get every detail right! Once all designs are complete and gallery spaces cleaned, the docents have a special tour to see the finished arrangements and discuss ideas and interpretations. Finally, doors are opened to the public at 10 AM!

There is no event at WAM quite like Flora, and we hope you will take the opportunity to see our galleries in bloom.

Learn more about the event – including programming schedule and prices – on our website!

Sarah Leveille
Digital Media Specialist
January 17, 2020

Monday, December 16, 2019

Deck the Halls - WAM's Seasonal Celebration

In honor of the holiday season, WAM has decked our halls with a dozen festive trees!

From the "Worcester Tree" celebrating the city's businesses and institutions to the "Candy Tree" dripping with (artificial) sweets to the "Tree Spirits" on the Renaissance Court balcony, each creation brings a unique look to brighten our lobbies and galleries.

This year's holiday display was planned and arranged by Sally Jablonski of Herbert E. Berg Florist, with the help of the rest of her staff. Sally has been a friend of the Museum for close to thirty years. WAM contacted her in July to discuss plans to refresh our holiday decorations and expand their presence in the Museum.

Sally Jablonski and the "Rockin' Music Tree"
"I had no idea what the scope of the project would be," Sally remembers, but almost immediately, she began putting together ideas. "Once they told me how many trees they would need, I started surfing the internet, looking at art books, coming up with as many ideas as I could." Some of these included upside-down trees (such as the "Origami Tree" in the Lancaster Lobby) and mannequins decorated as trees (from which came our four "Tree Spirits"). Michelle Lowell, also of Herbert E. Berg Florist, helped develop the designs for this project.

There were many challenges along the way. The "Worcester Tree" is covered with creative ornaments and memorabilia donated by Worcester businesses and organizations, which Sally was gathering right up until a few days before the trees were erected. Meanwhile, she collected every retro item from the 70s and 80s she could find - toys, board games, records, old telephones, comic books and more. "I didn't know how it would all come together," she admits. Working with guest designer Julie Lapham, she created the "Retro Toy Tree" and the "Rockin' Music Tree," a pair of towering artificial pines in Salisbury Hall, framing the corridor leading to the Photo Revolution exhibition which inspired them.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was the "Manzanita Tree, a gold-painted rubber tree dripping with crystal ornaments, designed to stand in the Chapter House. "Almost right away, it started to fall apart from the humidity." Sally took the tree home, recreating it in a smaller (and sturdier) design, and brought it back the next day, ready to display.

The final version of the "Manzanita Tree"
Sally revealed that she found the four "Tree Spirits" the most fun to create. "They were difficult. I didn't even know how they would stand," she explains. "But difficult doesn't mean not fun." For these, she traveled into Boston, gathering materials she thought might be interesting to work with, from artificial pine cones and berries to peacock feathers. She was delighted with how they turned out, each one a unique creation.

Sally says she was largely inspired by her own holiday memories, going to see the Christmas display at Denholm's storefront in downtown Worcester, and spending the holiday at her grandmother's house. She hopes that visitors to WAM will walk away with new holiday memories, and that the trees will bring them joy and fun.

Sally will be returning in January to create an arrangement for WAM's Flora in Winter event; she has been an arranger since the 1990's (when the event was known as Tribute to Flora). Her 2020 arrangement is "still in the idea stage" - she has been paired with a work of art from WAM's collection to interpret through flowers, and is now researching designs and color palettes for inspiration.

We look forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

"Deck the Halls" will be on view through January 5, 2020.

- Sarah Leveille
Digital Media Specialist
December 16, 2019

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Meet CMAI Artist Matthew Gamber

Each year, Worcester Art Museum’s Central Massachusetts Artist Initiative (CMAI) invites two artists who live or work in the greater Worcester area to have their art showcased in a solo installation in our Sidney and Rosalie Rose Gallery, alongside other contemporary artists in our permanent collection. The current CMAI artist is Matthew Gamber, an Associate Professor in the Visual Arts Department at the College of the Holy Cross.

Matthew Gamber’s series, This is (Still) the Golden Age, is a unique set of images created by pressing a piece of photographic paper to the screen of a cathode-ray television. The TV provides both the light source and the subject (a program or commercial) projected directly onto the photographic paper. The resulting still images are somewhat abstract–as the moving images are rendered into blurry shapes–yet still recognizable. He writes about the process and his inspiration in this interview with Lauren Szumita, Curatorial Assistant of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

Matthew Gamber, Leave it to Beaver, from This is (Still)
the Golden Age, 
2006, gelatin silver print, (c) Matthew Gamber
LS:  To start, how did you come to be connected with Worcester?
MG: I have been teaching at College of the Holy Cross since 2014, having taught at the school once before in 2008. In the time between those two appointments, I met many artists in the area, many of whom have become close friends and colleagues.

LS: We are excited to feature works from your series This is (Still) the Golden Age at WAM. Can you explain more about the process of creating this series?
MG: I wanted to create an image where the light was both the subject and the object. I began by thinking about the crossover between broadcast media and photography. On a primary level, photographs record the absence or presence of light. As contact prints (or photograms), these are a direct index of an object, but they also have the artist’s desire to have touched, which is an artistic gesture. What one sees is the recent absence of the object touching the light-sensitive surface–its residual shadow. The television image, the electronic image, its transmission exist in a continuum within the larger electromagnetic spectrum of which visible light is a small fraction.

LS: The images in this series date to the mid-2000s, but many of the featured programs, like The Brady Bunch, are much older. Were these developed from previous negatives, or were these re-runs that you caught on TV?
MG: Sports broadcasts, like Wimbledon, were captured at the time of the initial broadcast as if it were a decisive moment. However, several were reruns. Many postwar sitcoms, in particular, exist because they were first shot on film and then edited before broadcast. Our access to these programs could have only happened through A) the foresight of properly archiving the episodes and B) networks discovering an audience for resyndicated content. These shows replay continuously, and if one hasn't seen them, they can be rediscovered by a new generation. I am experiencing the episodes as my parents' generation might have first encountered them. When I made these cameraless negatives from the television, to me, it was as if they were broadcast for the first time.

LS: Since you captured the image by turning the television on, not sitting and waiting for a certain shot, did you have an idea of what the final product would look like?
MG: Before the widespread use of magnetic recording, which could transduce signals and could be replayed in the future, early television programs were broadcast into the atmosphere and lost—essentially live theatre seen at a distance. My technique requires that the television unit be in a completely darkened room. I am unsure of what the image will be when it comes up to full brightness on the cathode ray tube. This series was created from a long series of failures. For me, it was a discovery about what photography's shortcomings were in its ability to create a meaningful document of something in our everyday experience.

LS: I think one of the most exciting things about this work is that it's a type of cameraless photography. Can you comment on your practice?
MG: For me, it is the mistakes at the seams of intent that generate meaning in the artwork. I was interested in using photography for purposes for which it was not intended to be used. I tried to bring 19th-century thinking to bear on the 21st-century as a way to understand these what might be considered common uses of photography. In a sense, I wanted to create a kind of alternate history where Anna Atkins had tried to collect television broadcasts, rather than the wide variety of British flora. I wanted to imagine what it might have been like if one had skipped over the rise of Kodak and the development of what we know as photojournalism, cinema, or the vernacular.

LS: You seem to have this interest, in this series and others, in isolating different aspects of photography and exploring them a little bit further, maybe breaking down the value systems.
MG: Which came first: an idea or a technique? I'm not challenging any traditions of photography insomuch as I’m trying to understand why images are made the way are. I'm fascinated with the evolution of photographic conventions, whether intentional or entirely accidental. I'm interested in challenging rules we accept as a means to understand how conventions began.

LS: Is there anything that you hope viewers will take away from your work?
MG: I hope that viewers will make a connection between the photographs in the Photo Revolution exhibition. I was inspired by many of the artists whose work is in the show. I hope visitors see a shared dialogue in reevaluating what photography can show us. In the 1960s and ‘70s (in parallel development with MFA programs in academia), you find a number of young artists mining photography's past, challenging conventional uses of the medium. It was a means to explore aspects of lived experience that are not easily documented through a lens.

Works from This is (Still) the Golden Age will be on display in WAM’s Sidney and Rosalie Rose Gallery until March 29, 2020.

   Lauren Szumita
Curatorial Assistant of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
December 10, 2019

Monday, November 4, 2019

Brief History of Photography at WAM

In preparation for our upcoming exhibition--Photo Revolution: Andy Warhol to Cindy Sherman--we asked WAM's Stoddard Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Nancy Burns, to explain some of the background of WAM's world-class photography collection.

Honey Locust and Leaf Pod
Anna Atkins (1989.9)
The Worcester Art Museum organized its first exhibition dedicated solely to photography in 1904, in a time when the new medium had not yet become fully accepted into the domain of fine art. Few museums at the turn of the century demonstrated such a progressive approach to photography. The Museum’s founder, Stephen Salisbury III, deserves much of the credit for WAM’s early venture into photography. Salisbury was an avid collector of photography and impressed upon Museum leadership the importance of the medium nearly from the day the doors opened.

WAM acquired its first photograph, a daguerreotype—the earliest photographic process—as a gift in 1901 (Portrait of a Young Girl; 1901.1279). Six years later, the collection expanded significantly when it received a cache of 107 daguerreotypes, albumen prints, and tintypes as part of a bequest from Salisbury. Though the Museum continued to receive photographs as donations from benefactors, only one photograph had been purchased by the Museum before Stephen Jareckie was appointed as the first dedicated curator of photography in 1962. With Jareckie at the helm, the Museum began to collect aggressively.

There have only been three curators of photography in the nearly six decades since the department began: Jareckie, David Acton (now Curator of Photography at the Snite Museum at the University of Notre Dame), and myself. Jareckie and Acton deserve the lion’s share of praise for the Museum’s rich holdings. Between them, they acquired over 90% of the 4,000+ photographs over the course of fifty years. At present, WAM’s highly respected collection of photography spans the history of the medium, beginning with an 1840s cyanotype by British photographer Anna Atkins to a 2019 photo-relief by the Vietnamese artist Thế Sơn Nguyễn.

As the Worcester Art Museum looks toward the future of photography, we recognize a significant shift that has taken place in the past two decades. Photography is no longer solely a paper-based medium. Rather, with the advent of digital photography, it migrates instantly from screen to screen. Today, people engage with photography almost exclusively using digital platforms like tablets, cell phones, and computers. Society’s new “frames” are social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram. In fact, museums and galleries are some of the last places where one finds contemporary photographs on paper. As an encyclopedic collection, the Museum is always looking back and forward. Looking to the years ahead, WAM considers the exciting possibilities presented by photographs that exist beyond the page.

Our upcoming exhibition - PhotoRevolution: Andy Warhol to Cindy Sherman - will look at art from the 1960's 70's and 80's, including photographs, works incorporating photographs, and works inspired by photography. You can learn more about the show on our website.

Nancy Kathryn Burns
Stoddard Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs
November 4, 2019

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