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

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pages of Patterns: The "Kosode Hinagatabon" and Kimono Design

Our current show, The Kimono in Print: 300 Years of Japanese Design, examines the kimono as a significant source of ingenuity and experimentation in Japanese print culture, from the Edo period (1603-1868) to the Meiji period (1868-1912). Through stunning works created by artists such as Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867), Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-92), and Utagawa Kunisada (1786-1865), the exhibition emphasizes the intersections between kimono woodblock print production. 

Among my favorite works in The Kimono in Print are pattern and fashion books, known as kosode hinagatabon. They create a bridge between kimono woodblock printing by being an integral part of the kimono design selection process. Customers, as well as the makers and sellers of kimono, would first turn to kosode hinagatabon for assistance. These books contained illustrations of designs and patterns that were usually accompanied by notes on colors.

Figs. 1 & 2. Tsuda Seifu (Japanese, 1880-1978), Spirals (Kamonfu), Unkidō (publisher),
2 vols., Japan, 1900, color woodblock-printed book. Museum purchase
through the Eliza S. Paine Fund, the Stoddard Acquisition Fund,
and the Harriet B. Bancroft Fund: 2019.12.2

During the Edo period, men lived in the “public sphere", and were required to wear clothing in compliance with their social status. Women, on the other hand, lived in the “private sphere”, and were comparatively free to select clothing styles based on their own circumstances as long as they did not run counter to their social status. They could choose details such as the fabric, design, color, and decoration techniques. An illustration from the 1722 reprint of Nishikawa’s Book of Patterns (Nishikawa hinagata), which was originally published in 1686, reveal on how women consulted and interacted with kosode hinagatabon. It depicts three women in a domestic setting as they choose designs from a pattern book; the image is accompanied by the following dialogue: 

Elder sister: “What an unusual design!” 
Mother: “Look for a pattern that you like.” 
Younger sister: “Let’s go with this one.” 


Other kosode hinagatabon volumes also provide more insight. For example, the front inside cover of Modern Patterns: Sleeves of One Thousand Years (Tōsei moyō hinagata chitose sode), published in 1754, bears an inscription that reads: “Look through this book, and let us know right away about which pattern you like!”

Women would consult these pattern books for inspiration, and place orders for their custom kimono following discussions with clerks at tailors’ shops or from the comfort of their own homes. A tailor  recorded the details of the customer’s request, which were then arranged and kept in ledgers. The notes would then be used to create full-size draft drawings with specifications. They were sent together with the fabric to other craftspeople, such as dyers and embroiderers, for the next stages of the production process. Once the decoration was finished, the garment was complete.

Fig. 3. Ito Shinsui (Japanese, 1898-1972),
Woman with Marumage Hairstyle, 1924,
 color woodblock print with burnishing on silver mica ground.
 Gift of Edward Kenway: 1960.7

Kosode hinagatabon were sold in urban bookstores—not unlike fashion magazines today—alongside other printed materials such as illustrated books and novels. Approximately 170 to 180 pattern and design books were issued in the roughly 150 years from the mid-17th to the early 19th century. Tailors would purchase and collect volumes to show to customers who came to their shops requesting commissioned pieces; they would even lend them to favored clients so that they could peruse and select patterns in private. However, the consumers of such publications were primarily urban townswomen, who purchased them as keepsakes to read and enjoy at home.

As women were the main consumers of both kosode hinagatabon and custom kimono, the majority of the designs featured in the books were targeted toward adult women. Pattern books were even organized according to the rank and age of the women ordering kimono. For example, designs in the 1677 publication, Newly Published Kosode Patterns (Shinpan kosode hiinagata), are divided into patterns for “young women” (shōjo), “young men” (shōnen), “courtesans” (yūjo), and the “elite”.

However, it should not be assumed that these designs were actually directed at a readership from these specific demographics. Rather, these were “in-the-style-of” illustrations that were intended to appeal to ordinary townswomen with a voyeuristic appetite for the fashions of these particular groups.

Figs. 4 & 5. Kamisaka Sekka (Japanese, 1866-1942),
  Faces of the Old Capital (Miyako no omokage), Japan, 1890,
color woodblock-printed book with graduated colors (bokashi).
Museum purchase through the Eliza S. Paine Fund,
the Stoddard Acquisition Fund, and the Harriet B. Bancroft Fund: 2019.14

Many kosode hinagatabon also focused on particular themes or specialized fashion techniques, which became popular from the early eighteenth century onward. For instance, the 1686 volume, Patterns from the Various Provinces (Shokoku on-hiinagata, published in 1686) is arranged based on regional styles, highlighting Kyoto, Edo (present-day Tokyo), Nagoya, and Okayama. Another example, Patterns from the Capital (Miyako hinagata, published in 1691, organizes its designs based on eight colors. 

In some cases, pattern books also supplied designs for other types of textiles, such as Lined Yukata (Yukata awase, published between 1781 and 1789) and Yūzen Patterns (Yūzen hiinagata, published in 1688), which provided designs for clothing such as the hemp katabira worn in the summer, and the yukata worn after bathing, silk yogi coverlets for sleeping, as well as motifs for waist sashes (obi). 

One of the many things I find so interesting about kosode hinagatabon is that in addition to serving as  inspiration for boldly patterned kimono, they also quickly became a source for artisans to create other commercial products as well as other genres of Japanese art, such as lacquerware, ceramics, and even arms and armor. For example, the two-volume book, Spirals (Kamonfu, published in 1900), contains a depiction of tsuba, or Japanese sword guards. The tsuba pattern could be used as a kimono design, to embellish other objects, or even inform the decoration of actual tsuba

Fig. 6. Left: Tsuda Seifu (Japanese, 1880-1978), Spirals (Kamonfu), Unkidō (publisher),
2 vols., Japan, 1900, color woodblock-printed book. Museum purchase through the
Eliza S. Paine Fund, the Stoddard Acquisition Fund, and the Harriet B. Bancroft Fund: 2019.12.2  
Right: Tsuba (sword guard) with Flowers, Sickle, and Bamboo Basket, Japan, 1600s,
copper alloy and gold. Bequest of Mildred Marcus Levin and Harold Lester Levin of Nutley, NJ: 1976.240 

—By Rachel Parikh, Assistant Curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Art
April 14, 2021

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Battle Ready: Suitable Protection for the European Soldier

When we look at suits of armor, we see Medieval knights. Yet a great deal of the armor that survives was not necessarily worn by a man with the title of knight nor used during the Middle Ages. Most of the surviving European plate armor dates to the Early Modern Period, the 16th and 17th centuries, rather than the 15th century. The Renaissance that bridged the Medieval and Early Modern Periods introduced not only plate armors, but also new weapons and tactics along with changing social norms all of which influenced the armies of Europe at the time.

Hans Thoma (German, 1839–1924), The Knight, 1895. Chiaroscuro lithograph
 on cream wove paper. Prints. Mrs. Kingsmill Marrs Collection. 1926.842

During the 14th and 15th centuries, the number of men who met the social qualifications for the title of knight were in decline while the demand for heavily armored cavalry continued to exist. However, there were men with economic access to the skills and equipment needed to do the job but lacked the noble title. As such the term man-at-arms came into usage meaning any heavily armored cavalryman regardless of social class. The title of knight had become separated from its origins as a specific military role. 

The 14th to 16th centuries saw a gradual return to large scale armies centered mainly on infantry as they once were in classical times. Where up until that point the knightly class held the primary role of defense in Medieval society, increased use of common-born soldiers changed the social contract as now the common people were as much—if not more—responsible for their own defense. This further eroded the importance of the knight in society. 

Still, military professionalism was becoming more regarded. As the soldiers transitioned from mercenaries to citizens recruited to fight for their kings and states, greater emphasis was put on training and discipline. With the growth of unit sizes, the need increased for a more elaborate chain of command with a greater variety of officers to lead. Those positions were initially filled by experienced men during the 16th century but as those positions gained political importance gradually the aristocracy assumed officer roles by the 17th century. Consequently, a noble knight was effectively transformed into an aristocratic officer regardless of military ability.

Christian Rugendas (German, 1708–1781), after Georg Philipp Rugendas l,
  A Battle Scene, 18th c. Mezzotint on cream laid paper. Prints.
Mrs. Kingsmill Marrs Collection. 1926.1178

With the increase in army sizes came the need for more armor. While full armor was a knightly thing, partial suits and elements of armor were used by troops of various types. This usage depended largely on a soldier’s role, which during the Middle Ages depended on social class as troops were, with some exception, required to provide their own equipment. Pikemen, for example, were soldiers who wielded long spears or pikes about 14 to 18 feet long. Carrying such a long weapon required both hands and reduced maneuverability due to being in close ranks therefore creating the need for body armor and helmets. 

To meet this demand, armor makers began creating vast quantities of simplified, mass produced, munitions-grade armor. As the role of raising armies shifted in the 15th to 17th centuries from the nobility to more centralized bureaucracies overseen by absolute monarchs, a need also developed to control the gear of prospective soldiers. 

A soldier’s equipment, including armor, increasingly became issued by the state from government munitions supplies rather than privately procured by the soldiers themselves. As these government-raised troops became more common, the idea of unit history and identity was born with unique unit flags, badges, or other identifying marks, and military music all to help raise morale. Uniforms were initially created for individual units rather haphazardly with dedicated national uniforms only becoming more common by the late 17th and 18th centuries. 

Helmet probably by Richard Wright (English, d. 1654), 
Composite Half-Armor for a Pikeman, English, about 1625–1645.
Steel with modern leather. 14 lb 8 oz (weight).
The John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection. 2014.1167

By the 16th century, use of firearms on the battlefield impacted the role of the cavalry. The main role of the man-at-arms was the shock attack with the heavy lance, but in the face of disciplined hedges of pikemen and ranks of men armed with arquebuses (firearms), such tactics became less effective.

The Battle of Cerignola on April 28, 1503 would be the first battle where victory was decided by infantry with firearms. On February 24, 1525 the Battle of Pavia saw the role of firearms further cemented with a significant defeat of traditional men-at-arms by squares of pikemen supported by arquebusiers, cavalry, and artillery. These blocks of pikemen used force of numbers both in defense by absorbing the attacks made against it and on offense with brute force bowling over the opposition. But such tactics of using infantry in decisive roles would not become standard until the second half of the 16th century when firearms became more ubiquitous. Cavalry made up 20% to 30% of the French and Spanish armies—the leading powers of their day—and many battles were still decided by cavalry.

Spanish Army on the March, European, early 17th century. Ink engraving on paper.
 Prints. The John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection. 2014.595 

In this Early Modern Period, the primary mode of warfare was still the siege and raids. Armies were now far larger—often five times the size of those in the Middle Ages. This was due to infantry being far cheaper to outfit than cavalry, but also being far more useful in a siege especially those troops equipped with firearms who could engage the enemy at a distance. 

While the Medieval fortress was a towering, majestic castle, these proved vulnerable to gunpowder artillery. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the use of cannon shortened the length of sieges as castle walls proved easy targets to hit and knock down. Castle construction all but ceased, but by the 16th century fortresses were redesigned from high lofty towers to low heavily built-up bastions. These were constructed in a star pattern and known as star fortresses. This shape permitted maximum defensive firepower, which allowed for overlapping fields of fire and minimal blind spots—plus a low silhouette making assault and bombardment more difficult. 

Joachim von Sandrart I (German, 1606–1688), Map of Maastricht, about 1632.
 Etching on cream laid paper. Prints. Gift of Tom and Leslie Freudenheim. 2010.223

The scale of the sieges grew in tandem with the armies. It was not unusual for besieging armies to outnumber the populations of the cities they surrounded. Encircling armies and soldiers moving across country lived off the land often overwhelmed the ability of the country they moved through to supply soldiers with ammunition, clothes, and food, as well as fodder for the thousands of animals that accompanied them. This led to devastation of the areas that these armies moved through—or worse, lingered in. It didn’t matter whether they were in friendly territory or that of the foe. Often this led to both civilians and soldiers starving. 

This unfortunate situation ultimately led to whole populations becoming refugees and in turn overburdening the regions they fled to. Added to that the close quarters and squalid conditions soldiers lived in caused disease to run rampant wherever the armies went. Gradual attempts at improvements in the layout of camps to provide better sanitation, hospitals, and the development of supply depots, helped but efforts often fell short of needed goals due to graft and bureaucratic inefficiency. These problems would unfortunately continue to plague armies for centuries to come.

Marten van Cleve I (Netherlandish, 1527–1581), Demolition of the Citadel
 of Antwerp
, late 16th century, oil on panel. Paintings. Museum Purchase. 1938.79

Coming soon: The next installment of this two-part WAM Update examines the rapid addition of pistols to the mid-16th century's man-at-arms arsenal and the gradual reduction of the 17th-century cuirassier's armor to just a cuirass and helmet to increase speed as the more powerful musket could more readily pierce even reinforced armors. This update also explores the swift rise of the musketeer. By the 18th century, these soldiers became the main fighting force of European armies supported by artillery and cavalry, leaving cuirassiers fewer in number. 

—By Neal Bourbeau, Programming Coordinator
    March 25, 2021

Friday, March 5, 2021

Fashioning Identity Through Kimono Patterns

Our current exhibition, Kimono in Print: 300 Years of Japanese Design, is the first show devoted to examining the kimono as a major source of inspiration and experimentation in Japanese print culture, from the Edo period (1603-1868) to the Meiji period (1868-1912). Print artists during these periods documented ever-evolving trends in fashion, popularized certain styles of dress, and even designed kimono. The show explores how different artists creatively engaged with the changing idea of the kimono and fashion throughout the history of Japanese woodblock prints. 

With kimono (lit. “thing to wear”), the pattern, through both decoration and color, can indicate one’s social status, personal identity, and cultural sensitivity. This is particularly helpful when identifying figures, such as kabuki actors and courtesans, in woodblock prints, whose depicted faces, before the 1760s, were typically generic. 

For example, in the print below (Fig. 1), created by Torii Kiyonobu (1664-1729), the figure wears a robe featuring a crest, consisting of a large, black circle surrounded by smaller ones, which identifies him as Sawamura Kodenji, who was a star onnagata, a male actor of female roles. Here, Kodenji is shown as the female character, Tsuyu no Mae, from the play, Kantō Koroku’s Up-to-Date Figure (Kantō Koroku imayō Sugata), who goes mad and performs a “lunatic dance” (kyōran), with a bamboo stalk in front of the Tadasu Shrine.

Fig.1. Torii Kiyonobu (Japanese, 1664-1729), Actor Sawamura Kodenji I
as Tsuyu no Mae
, Japan, 1698, woodblock print with hand-applied color (tan-e).
53.2 × 30.9 cm (20 15/16 × 12 3/16 in.). John Chandler Bancroft Collection: 1901.59

Some actors also are identifiable by the particular designs and patterns that they promoted as their signature motifs, with the help of their close affiliations with textile retailers. For instance, in 1741, Sanogawa Ichimatsu I (1722-62) wore a robe with a checked pattern for his performance in the play, The Young Leaves of Ink Stained Cherry Blossoms (Sumizone futaba zakura). The pattern became known as Ichimatsu moyō (Fig. 2). As kabuki actors were also popular fashion icons, the craze of the Ichimatsu moyō quickly extended from Ichimatsu’s circle of loyal fans to the wider fashion-conscious townspeople in Edo (Fig. 3).

Fig. 2. Okumura Mansanobu (Japanese, 1686-1764), Segawa Kikunojo I as a
 High-Ranking Courtesan Attended by Sanogawa Ichimatsu I as a Young Male Attendant
Holding a Processional Umbrella and a Girl Attendant Holding a Portable Tray of Hot Coals,
Japan, about 1748–1749, color woodblock print in red and green (benizuri-e).
45.3 x 31.1 cm (17 13/16 x 12 1/4 in.). John Chandler Bancroft Collection: 1901.73 

Fig. 3. Ikeda Eisen (Japanese, 1790-1848),
A Woman Returning from a Public Bathhouse,
about 1835, wooblock print. 65.6 x 21.9 cm (25 13/16 x 8 5/8 in.).
John Chandler Bancroft Collection: 1901.256

As mentioned above, courtesans also could be identified in prints through their kimono. These types of prints usually functioned as advertisements for the houses that the women were affiliated with as well as for the kimono designers. Courtesans on parade were a popular subject in ukiyo-e. They commonly depict these women in resplendent finery, often accompanied by their child attendants in matching kimono, on route to meet a client of for special occasions as is the case here. 

The top-ranking courtesan shown below (Fig. 4) is Yoyoyama of the Matsubaya, or “Pine-Needle House”. Her sash (obi) features a repeat pattern consisting of an elaborately framed phoenix, while the back of her kimono bears a large depiction of white bamboo, which looks striking against the black background. What is interesting about the latter is that it is meant to represent a brush painting. It was common to commission artists to paint directly on lavish kimono, further augmenting their value. The artist also included their seals; in the case of this print, its artist, Kikugawa Eizan (1787-1867), ingeniously incorporated his. 

Fig. 4. Kikugawa Eizan (Japanese, 1787-1867), The Courtesan Yoyoyama of
 Matsubaya with Her Two Kamuro Standing Under Cherry Blossom Branches,
 Japan, about 1830,woodblock print, ink and color on paper.
38.4 x 25.9 cm (15 1/8 x 10 3/16 in.).
John Chandler Bancroft Collection: 1901.59.2650 

There are, of course, instances in which patterns on kimono have more general, symbolic meanings, and are not tied to a person’s individual identity. The print below (Fig. 5) features a female figure, belonging to a genre within ukiyo-e prints known as bijin, or “beautiful people”, which is a reference to “beautiful women”. She wears a furisode (lit. “swinging sleeves”), a long-sleeve kimono, with a striking pattern comprising of peaches—representing immortality—set against a black ground on the sleeves and along the bottom. The robe of the young female attendant is decorated with a complementary youthful design of stylized plovers, a type of bird, paired with the motif of evergreen pine, a symbol of longevity.

Fig. 5. Torii Kiyomasu (Japanese, fl. 1690s – 1720s),
Courtesan Holding a Finger Puppet and Teasing her Attendant, Japan, about 1715,
 woodblock print (tan-e); ink on paper, with hand-applied color.
57 x 15 cm (26 3/8 x 5 7/8 in.). John Chandler Bancroft Collection: 1901.60 

—By Rachel Parikh, Assistant Curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Art
March 5, 2021

Thursday, February 25, 2021

A Passion for All Things Floral

As part of our lead up to this week's 19th annual Flora in Winter, we recently featured two floral designers participating in WAM's bloom-filled extravaganza. Now meet two more talented, passionate arrangers, Carla Morey and Susan Dewey (celebrating 19 years participating in Flora!), who created original arrangements that interpret selected artworks from our collection. Among other things, we'll explore the inspiration and thought-process behind their floral masterpieces for this year's event, what excites them about participating in Flora, and learn more about a memorable experience for one arranger. Here's a hint: It involves Winslow Homer’s great-grandnephew!

Meet Carla Morey: Milton Garden Club, Museum of Fine Arts Floral Design Chair, GCA Floral Design Judge 

Years in Flora: Five

Carla enjoys a wonderful sense of accomplishment
when she puts the final touches on the floral design,
then steps back, and observes it next
to the artwork she's interpreted.

Favorite arrangement: Dark Release (1982) by Joan Snyder

Well, since it’s my only previous piece, it’s my favorite! It was a challenge to interpret because it is an abstract painting done on wood. The artist used mixed materials, so it gave me the chance to really think outside the box. I used wood, wire, paper, paint, and of course, fresh plant materials. The artist was in a dark period of her life, and that shows through the feeling of chaos throughout the painting. But there is hope, depicted in the title and, I think, the use of gold as a burst of optimism.

Carla poses with her striking Flora in Winter 2020 interpretative arrangement
 of  Joan Snyder's Dark Release (1980).

Flora 2021 artwork: Standing Figure of a Beauty (Bijin) (about 1680-1690)

Carla's inspiration: 

The colors, the interpretation of the piece, and the Japanese nature of the subject. I will use materials you can find in Japan—for instance, orchids. The colors range from recessive colors, such as blue and green, to dominant warm colors featuring tones of red and yellow. And I want to be sure the pure white doesn’t dominate the arrangement. The woman depicted is not from wealth. We know that because the materials are not fine, so I will use typical flowers as well, not just the expensive orchids. Using a round armature, I hope to capture the movement of her garments.

Kakiemon (Japanese) Standing Figure of a Beauty (Bijin)
(about 1680-1690). White porcelain decorated with enamels.
 The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and
 the Stoddard Acquisition Fund, 1998.182

What makes you excited about Flora in Winter?

During the cold winter months in New England, it gives me the feeling spring is coming and the floral material available is bright and cheerful. It’s always great fun to see the other arrangers and their work. And I feel a wonderful sense of accomplishment to put the final touches on the design, step back, and look at it next to the artwork.

What material or technique would you really love to try? 

I would like to work more with wire and leaf manipulation. Practice, practice!

Meet Susan Dewey: Worcester Garden Club, Osterville Garden Club

Years in Flora: 19

Susan in WAM's Renaissance Court with a lovely
 Flora Challenge Class arrangement from a previous event.

Favorite arrangement: Coast in Winter (1892) by Winslow Homer from Flora in Winter, 2003.

I have always loved the simplicity and power of this painting.

This floral interpretation from 2003 of Winslow Homer's  Coast in Winter (1892)
 is Susan's most favorite Flora arrangement. 

Flora 2021 artwork: Overmantel from the Baldwin House, Shrewsbury, MA (American, 18th century)

Susan's inspiration:

I always try to choose an artwork that conveys a clear message, or emotion, or one that will work with a particular floral design style because of the work’s color scheme, thematic content, or visual movement. This painting’s strong horizontal movement, plus the simplicity of the content, inspired me to create a layered, horizontal design. I chose both traditional and tropical plant material, massed and layered in a design created atop a tall, classic urn.

Overmantel from the Baldwin House, Shrewsbury, MA (American, 18th century).
 Oil on panel. Gift of Mrs. Eveleth V. Hill and Mrs. John W. Lasell, 1980.32

What is your most rewarding Flora experience?

It is very hard to choose my favorite Flora in Winter experience over 18 consecutive years that I’ve been lucky enough to be a designer, but probably the design I created for Winslow Homer's Coast in Winter in 2003 was the most meaningful. I have always loved the ocean and Homer’s sense of natural drama and strong emotional message, yet simple use of subtle color and painterly texture, just spoke to me. 

I spent weeks doing mock-ups of my design at our dining room table, soliciting opinions from my husband and two teenage children. I walked the beaches of Cape Cod for inspiration with my mother-in-law, Frani Dewey, who introduced me to the Worcester Garden Club, and also loved the Museum.

My father-in-law, Chuck Dewey, whose grandfather was a founder of WAM, really loved my final design. I can see him now, sitting quietly on a bench in front of my Coast in Winter arrangement. I always think about those times when I am at Flora. Those memories are a comfort now that both Frani and Chuck are gone.

The true highlight of 2003 happened on the night of the "Flora Euphoria!" celebration. I met Jessie Winslow, Winslow Homer’s great-grandnephew, who was there with his girlfriend! He introduced himself to me as I was standing in front of the design and sharing my inspiration with some visitors. He waited until everyone was gone, then came close and said, “I am Jessie Winslow, my great-granduncle painted this, and I have to tell you that you captured the painting perfectly! I have been to Prout’s Neck [the Homer family’s place in Maine] many times and your design just captures that place. I’m going to take a picture of it and share it with the family!” 

I was thrilled, of course, because to me that is the essence of Flora’s value. This annual event is a  celebration of incredible art showcased and made more immediate (and sometimes more understandable!) with flowers, which helps to inspire all Museum visitors.

A 2003 photo captures Susan proudly posing with her floral interpretation
of Winslow Homer's Coast in Winter (1892) painting.

Experience the beauty of Flora from the comfort of home by registering for our “Passport to Virtual Flora." It includes all related online programming, plus a virtual tour of the 24 floral arrangements and Japanese table display in McDonough Court, along with a bonus video tour of the professional floral arrangements in the Museum's public spaces. View more details here.   

—Profiles compiled by Sarah Leveille, Digital Content Specialist, with editorial assistance from Cynthia Allegrezza, Marketing Coordinator

February 25, 2021

Please note: All images here are pre-COVID; visitors to the Museum are currently required to wear masks. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Meet the Creative Minds of Flora in Winter

Every winter, the Worcester Art Museum galleries spring to life through the artistic floral arrangements of Flora in Winter. Meet two of this year's talented designers, Marne Mailhot and Nancy Martin, selected to create original arrangements interpreting select works in our collection. Let's discover  what's inspiring them this year, their favorite past arrangements, and what's behind their passion for all things floral. 

Meet Marne Mailhot, Worcester Garden Club

Years in Flora: Five

Marne with her favorite Flora arrangement,
 “Case of Swords, Higgins Collection," from the 2019 event.

Favorite arrangement: "Case of Swords, Higgins Collection"

We actually had a house fire that year, which started in the mulch on an especially hot June night. When I made this arrangement, we were still living in an apartment while rebuilding our home. I remember feeling a little nervous, wondering whether I could gather the same energy and joy making that year’s arrangement with so many things up in the air.

I went to the flower market to get my flowers, cut and conditioned them in buckets scattered all around our little apartment, with our Golden Retriever underfoot. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself calmed, allowing myself again to be carried along the creative process, even in these circumstances. When I was finished, I remember looking at what I’d done and felt so much hope for our family and myself, with the joy and peace that could be summoned by the beauty of flowers.

Flora 2021 artwork: Caligula (Roman, 37-40 CE)

Marne's inspiration:

I love monochromatic arrangements, and the challenge of an all-white piece. In addition, there is so much fascinating history behind the figure and person of Caligula. Whenever I begin thinking about a Flora arrangement, I research the floral trends of the time period in which the piece was made, as well as the symbolism of the flowers I think may help capture the spirit of the artwork. Caligula was so notorious for lavishness and excess that it will be really wild expressing that through flowers.

Caligula (Caius Caesar Augustus Germanicus) (Roman, 37-40 CE).
Marble. Museum purchase, 1914.23

What's been your greatest challenge as a Flora designer?

WAM sends each of us a folder with a print of our artwork in early fall. I leave the folder open so every time I pass by it I can see the print, and spend time with and get to know the artwork. It helps me get a real sense for what the artist was feeling and trying to communicate—why this painting, or these people? Each year, I hope to make something that has energy the artist himself would recognized and be moved by if he were at Flora.

Marne embraces the creative process
 participating in Flora provides her.

Meet Nancy Martin,  Framingham Garden Club

Years in Flora: Three

Nancy (left) with her favorite interpretative arrangement
of the 
Portrait of Ann Gibbes, John Wollaston the younger (1767)
Flora in Winter 2020. The portrait is on the right.

Favorite arrangement: Portrait of Ann Gibbes, John Wollaston the younger (1767)

Ann has an arresting gaze that draws in the viewer’s eye. In addition, Historic Charleston in South Carolina, where Miss Gibbes lived, is a personal interest of mine!

Flora 2021 artwork: Child’s Mummy Case (Ancient Egyptian, Roman Period, 32 BCE-200 CE)

Nancy's inspiration:

As a designer researching the Child's Mummy Case, I made discoveries that helped me choose the container and flowers I will use to interpret it. I also learned there are few child mummy cases in the collections of some American museums. Regardless of the time period, the loss of a child is heartbreaking for a family. My design will be a celebration of a beloved child’s life.

Child’s Mummy Case (Ancient Egyptian, Roman Period,
 32 BCE-200 CE). Cartonnage. Museum acquisition, 2000.49

What excites you about Flora in Winter?

There is so much energy as the designers complete their arrangements. Seeing other designers’ beautiful creations, I marvel at the materials they’ve used to interpret the art. There are always surprises and ingenious combinations.

What is your most rewarding Flora experience?

Knowing that my arrangement is enjoyed by the many visitors that attend Flora. My husband and I have been members of the WAM for more than 30 years. I'm honored to be chosen as an interpretative designer for Flora, and to help the visitors learn what a wonderful museum WAM really is.

Close-up of Nancy's colorful floral interpretation
of the 
Portrait of Ann Gibbes.

Next week, we profile two more Flora in Winter designers as we countdown to the February 25–28 event. 

Experience the beauty of Flora from the comfort of home by registering for our “Passport to Virtual Flora." It will include all related online programming, plus a virtual tour of the 24 floral arrangements and Japanese table display in McDonough Court, along with a bonus video tour of the professional floral arrangements in the Museum's public spaces. View more details here.   

—Profiles compiled by Sarah Leveille, Digital Content Specialist, with editorial assistance from Cynthia Allegrezza, Marketing Coordinator

February 18, 2021

Please note: All images here are pre-COVID; visitors to the Museum are currently required to wear masks. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Story Behind a Wartime Burial Party

Four men with shovels set to work on an old battlefield, digging graves, while a fifth crouches beside a wagon filled with the grisly remains of Union soldiers. The laborers wear no uniforms or other signs to identify them; all we know is that all five are Black.

A Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia is a photograph taken by John Reekie, one of 100 collected in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War. This two-volume work extensively catalogued every aspect of the American Civil War, from generals and their soldiers at camp to the grim aftermath of the battles, through a series of pictures taken by photographers who traveled with the armies. A conscientious photojournalist, Alexander Gardner paired each image in his book with a detailed caption, providing context and insight into the lives of soldiers and the horrors of war.

A Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia.
Photograph by John Reekie, April 1865, one of 100 collected in
 Gardner’s Photographic Sketchbook of the War. Gardner identifies the
 five African American men as Union soldiers “collecting the remains of their comrades,”
 but tells us no more about them. This photograph was acquired by WAM in 2020.

The Battle of Cold Harbor was one of the bloodiest of the American Civil War. Fought from May 31 to June 12, 1864—following a month of escalating conflicts as Union troops advanced on Confederate fortifications—the battle finally ended with thousands dead or wounded as the Union army retreated. Battlefield ethics at the time generally allowed the withdrawing army to leave men behind to bury the dead without being harassed by the enemy; but at Cold Harbor many of the Union bodies were left unburied. Gardner speculates in his caption that the assigned troops “may possibly have been called away before the task was completed,” and notes that the dead were similarly left by the Union Army at both Gettysburg and the First Battle of Bull Run.

According to Gardner, in such cases “the native dwellers of the neighborhood would usually come forward and provide sepulcher [burial] for such as had been left uncovered,” but at Cold Harbor the local Virginians apparently refused the task. Gardner does not record the reason, but one can imagine the physical and mental toll of such a task. The work was apparently uncompensated, too; after Gettysburg, Union troops hastened after the retreating Confederates, telling the local civilians to complete the burials. The locals demanded to know “who was to pay them for it.”

A Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia was photographed in April 1865, a full ten months after the battle ended. Gardner identifies the five African American men as Union soldiers “collecting the remains of their comrades,” but tells us no more about them. While perhaps understandable in this case—it isn’t the only photograph that fails to identify its subjects, and Gardner was clearly more interested in the broader story of care for the dead—it does speak to a larger pattern. 

Alexander Gardner (American, born in Scotland, 1821–1882), 
  President Lincoln on the Battlefield of Antietam (1862)
  from Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War,
 albumen print from wet collodion negative on mount with lithographed typography,
Stoddard Acquisition Fund, 2008.53

The American Civil War is considered the first war to be extensively photographed and documented, with countless portraits of officers and scenes of men in their camps. However, there are comparatively few images of Black soldiers—even though they made up an estimated 10 percent of the Union troops (179,000 soldiers). These men were organized into their own, segregated regiments; African American men and women attached to the white regiments tended to be non-combatant volunteers: cooks, blacksmiths, laborers, nurses, spies, and scouts. It is these, along with refugee former slaves performing similar functions, who we see far more often in American Civil War photographs.

American (19th century), African American Union Army Troops on Drill,
 near Chattanooga, Tennessee
(1864), albumen print from wet collodion negative,
Stoddard Acquisition Fund, 2008.54

Every photograph in Gardner’s Sketchbook was selected to tell part of the story of the war as he perceived it. While the particularly gruesome imagery of A Burial Party adds to his overall narrative of the horrors of the war, we are still left to wonder why he chose an image of Black men (whether soldiers or civilians; note that we only have Gardner’s word to identify them) performing burials instead of white. Is it meant to present them as hardworking men, laboring to perform a final service to their fallen comrades? Similar stories of the loyalty and spirit of former slaves—delivered to the North through letters written by soldiers in the field—did much to raise Abolitionist sentiment during the war. On the other hand, the image also could serve to reinforce notions of racial hierarchy, as the Black men perform the most menial and undesirable of tasks.

This photograph was acquired by WAM in 2020, a page from the first edition of Gardner’s Sketchbook. The almost mundane morbidity gives us a glimpse into the horrors of war, stripped of Victorian associations of loyalty, bravery, and patriotism. It also adds to WAM’s collection of works depicting people of color—including two other 19th-century photographs—and will, we hope, open the door to difficult but necessary conversations about the history of race relations in America.

—By Sarah Leveille, Digital Content Specialist, based on research by Nancy Kathryn Burns, Stoddard Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs

 February 11, 2021

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Stained Golden Age

Jan Asselijn’s snowy scene in our collection is one of only four known winter landscapes by the Dutch Golden Age artist. After living and working in Italy for many years, Asselijn masterfully interwove Italian architectural elements in an atmospheric Dutch landscape, Frozen Moat Outside City Walls (about 1647). The city walls are reminiscent of the Porta San Paolo in Rome, the smoking kiln to the right also is of Italian influence whereas the frozen moat flanked on the right by a mooring post is characteristic of the Netherlands. The monumental buildings combined with an impressive landscape underneath a dramatic sky are so well balanced that actions of the small, scaled people and animals in the painting almost escape the viewer’s eyes. 

Jan Asselijn (Dutch, 1610–1652), Frozen Moat Outside City Walls,
about 1647, oil on canvas. Eliza S. Paine Fund in memory of
William R. and Frances T.C. Paine, 1969.24

However, take a closer look below at the staffage (figures or animals in a landscape) and suddenly the Golden Age impression appears to be heavily stained. The snow-white surface provides a sharp contrast for the following: A man urinates toward the city walls (lower right) and he might be responsible for the large piles of fecal matter, one topped with a slice of “toilet paper” randomly located at the bottom left of the painting; dogs do their business (upper right) and dung and yellowed snow patches can be found below a donkey’s behind. A little bit more subtle for the modern viewer is the latrine facility (upper left) at the top corner of the city walls that provides a realistic insight into the sanitary conditions of the past. 

The Dutch Italianates were praised by their contemporaries as well as throughout the 18th century; nevertheless, they suddenly lost popularity during the following decades and were openly criticized. Famous landscape artist John Constable suggested burning paintings like this one and notorious art critic John Ruskin was disgusted by their inbred vulgarity. Since then, the imaginary work of the Italianates was no longer desired and tolerance for ordinary scenes depicting bodily functions declined until the second half of the 20th century. As a result, many artworks were not on public view and occasionally scandalous elements in Dutch paintings disappeared under a thick layer of oil paint for a long time.  

Hendrik Marensz. Sorgh (Dutch, born 1609 or 1611, died 1670),
  The Merrymakers, about 1650, oil on panel (detail).
 Museum Purchase, 1913. 45 

A past cleaning treatment of this Hendrik Sorgh’s painting, The Merrymakers (about 1650), revealed a bar customer who manages balance by leaning one hand toward the wall and relieving himself in the company of others. Such misbehavior was hidden underneath a censoring layer of overpaint for probably a century.

Today both paintings are on permanent display at WAM. Since no one really cares about bitter Ruskin any longer, we celebrate these artworks in New England as a wicked pissah!   

—By Birgit Straehle, Associate Paintings Conservator

January 27, 2021

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