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, July 31, 2019

From Anvil to Guild: Medieval and Renaissance Armorers

“Anvil” (Italian, 1400s-1500s).  Wrought iron. The John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection, 2014.1031.
"Anvil" (Italian, 1400s-1500s). 
Wrought Iron.  The John Woodman
Higgins Armory Collection, 2014.1031
One afternoon, while looking through the John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection, I discovered a 14th-century wrought iron anvil.  I felt a strong kinship towards it because I frequently used similar anvils in my metalsmithing classes in college. The anvil, arguably more a utilitarian artifact than a work of art in its own right, seemed to me a relic imbued with the presence of the often anonymous craftsmen who used it as one of their most basic and essential tools for shaping arms and armor.

Anvils have a flat end, a curved tip, and a large flat base that could be secured to a table or other surface.  By varying the hammer size, force of the blow, and location and angle at which a piece of metal is struck in relation to the anvil’s top face, an armorer would form the metal into his desired shape. The large hole in the surface near the flat end is used to hold other tools for more specialized adjustments (see image 3).  The versatility of an anvil to both shape metal and support other tools made it one of an armorer’s most prized possessions.

“Anvil” (Italian, 1400s-1500s).  Wrought iron. The John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection, 2014.1031. Top View.
"Anvil" (Top view)
My chance encounter with the anvil made me want to learn more about the hands and tools that created the objects in the Higgins Armory Collection, especially in the medieval and renaissance periods, the years in which this anvil was likely in use.  Through my exploration, I soon discovered a great deal about the structure of the armor-making industry.  One particularly interesting finding was that some armorers’ guilds, such as the one in Nuremburg, Germany, required apprentices to make one or more pieces of armor – such as a helmet or breastplate – as a test in order to become certified as a full member of the guild.  Afterwards, though the craftsman could practice independently, he was only allowed to make the specific piece of armor he fabricated for his test.  This practice no doubt fostered interdependence by forcing guild members to collaborate with each other.  Similarly, there were laws limiting the number of apprentices that a craftsman could have at one time.  This restriction of the workforce indicates an awareness of the limited market and a desire to regulate an individual’s production so that everyone could have access to commissions.

“Anvil” (Italian, 1400s-1500s).  Wrought iron. The John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection, 2014.1031. Detail.
"Anvil" (Detail)
This experience exemplifies what I love about art museums: those moments when interest in an object leads to a greater understanding of an entire society.

-Sydney Kasok, Curatorial Intern, Medieval Art and Arms & Armor
July 31, 2019


Ffoulkes, Charles John. The Armourer and His Craft from the XIth to the XVIth Century. London: Methuen & Co, 1912.
Pfaffenbichler, Matthias. Armourers. Medieval Craftsmen. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.
Wattenmaker, Richard J., Jan Firch, and Alain Joyaux. European Tools from the 17th to the 19th Century: Woodworking, Metalworking, and Related Trades: Flint Institute of Arts, April 26-June 7, 1981. Flint, MI: The Institute, 1981.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Plein Air Film Series: McQueen

Looking for something a little different on your Friday night? WAM’s Plein Air film series offers a night of fabulous art under the stars! All August long, we will be showing recent films featuring the moving, true-life stories of artists who connect people, communities and cultures, presented drive-in style in our Stoddard Courtyard.

Our first film is McQueen, a critically acclaimed 2018 documentary revealing the biography of one of the most shocking, divisive and successful fashion designers of our time.

McQueen: Official poster
McQueen: Official poster
A personal look at the extraordinary life, career and artistry of Alexander McQueen.  Through exclusive interviews with his closest friends and family, recovered archives, exquisite visuals and music, McQueen is an authentic celebration and thrilling portrait of an inspired yet tortured fashion visionary.  Directed by Ian Bonhôte and co-directed/written by Peter Ettedgui. – Official synopsis.

This is the fascinating story of one man’s journey from working-class roots to international fashion designer.  The documentary itself is extremely accessible, even to those with no knowledge of haute couture – explanations of the aesthetic in McQueen’s own words reveal not only the inspiration and artistry of his work, but also the inner workings of the Paris fashion scene.

Viewers are cautioned that this movie is rated R for both content and language. Alexander McQueen used his art to explore themes of violence and rape, and to work through his own troubled past, including incidents of abuse and violence.  These will be discussed, as well as drug use and McQueen’s death by suicide in 2010.

Tickets for the Plein Air film series are sold at the door on the day of the show.  McQueen will air on Friday, August 2 at 8 PM (sunset at 8:06).  Prices and details can be found on our website.  Non-member tickets can be brought back during regular Museum hours for one free admission to the galleries.

In case of rain, the movie will be shown in our Higgins Education Wing conference room.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Interview with Lauren Morocco, Salisbury Cultural District Manager

I had the opportunity to talk with Lauren Morocco, the recently appointed Manager of the Salisbury Cultural District. Lauren is a graduate from Assumption College and has a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies. She has dedicated her time to working for local non-profits and has a deep passion for community building and educating about culture and the arts. Throughout this interview I discuss with Lauren what drew her to this particular work and the vision she has as the Salisbury Cultural District’s Manager. 
Lauren Morocco,
Salisbury Cultural District Manager
NA: I understand that you have worked for many years within the stakeholder organizations of the Salisbury Cultural District. What made you interested in community building? 

LM: That’s a good question! I’ve always had a job working for a non-profit within Worcester or working in the community. It's something I enjoy. I think that you have to have a love for that kind of community-based service. I really don’t think I could see myself doing any other sort of job. It’s just something I love doing. I like helping the community, and I like being out in the community. I’ve lived and worked in Worcester my entire life so it’s been interesting to see the ebbs and flows of the city’s progress.

NA: What attracted you to the Salisbury Cultural District?  What makes this community unique?

LM: It’s a unique community in and of itself. It has so many different things just in one small little area. You have these giant institutions that are known pretty much worldwide like the Worcester Art Museum and the Worcester Antiquarian Society. Then you have these smaller wonderful institutions like the Worcester Craft Center, the Sprinkler Factory, and the Worcester Historical Museum. Then you have the business district that I grew up going to. My family would go to The Sole Proprietor on special occasions, and my parents went to  The Boynton when they were kids. My dad went to WPI, and my brother did too. The district has always been an area that my family has had a history with. So, it’s important for me to give back to a place that’s given me so much.

NA: What are your goals with becoming a part of the Salisbury Cultural District?

LM: I would like to bring more visibility to the district as a whole. I think there is definitely some awareness about what’s in it, but I don’t think people necessarily say, "Oh, the Salisbury Cultural District... that’s a thing." The canal district of Worcester is definitely something people know of. It’s not an identified district like we are, but it’s definitely something that we can learn things from because they are promoting themselves in a way that is really working for them. We need to be identifiable to the community. 

NA: What do you envision for the Salisbury Cultural District in 5-10 years?

LM: I definitely want people to know what and where we are. We started to talk about having either an annual or regular event that will brand us and will bring communities within the district or those nearby to visit. I think creating an event would be amazing. It should be something sustainable so that the district continues to thrive within 5-10 years. 

NA: Why do you feel it’s important to maintain organizations like the Salisbury Cultural District?

LM: I think there is clearly an advantage to having an identified cultural district. The Mass Cultural Council identifies organizations and assists in creating partnerships to build a sense of cultural identity within the district. This is helpful especially when you have so many strong presences within that community. I think in general the best part about having an identified district would be just to have a catch-all identifier and to have that community.

NA: What are some of your favorite things to do in Worcester?

LM: As a kid, I was always a big museum person anyway. I loved going to the Worcester Art Museum, and I took a lot of art classes. They have so many really cool things there that I don’t think a lot of people understand the scope of what’s offered. The Art Museum is definitely one of my favorites. The Historical Museum is super cool, and I love a good hands-on museum. They have a lot of smaller exhibits-especially for the kids—that you can touch and play with. I love activities like that. Within our district, there is definitely the Boynton, the Sole, and WooBerry. Outside the district, I like going to a lot of concerts.

Click here for more information about the Salisbury Cultural District

- Nurah Ali, Marketing Department Intern
Media Arts and Sciences Major, Wellesley College, '21 

Friday, July 12, 2019

Drill Like a Medieval Soldier

How do you stop a knight from charging? If you’re a soldier in 14th or 15th century Europe, you use a well-trained infantry line.
Composite Half-Artmor for a Pikeman (from the Higgins Collection)
Composite Half-Armor for a Pikeman
Infantry, or foot soldiers, fought alongside knights (heavy cavalry) throughout the Middle Ages.  They were generally professional soldiers, and often mercenaries, but (being less wealthy and not noble-born) lacked the money and connections to equip themselves as knights did.  Infantry wore simple armor and fought on foot, primarily with polearms (such as pikes and halberds) ranging from six to sixteen feet.

Though not individually impressive, a unit of foot soldiers could create a compact wall of spear points, capable of stopping or turning aside a cavalry charge.  The trick was to listen to orders, move together, and not panic and break formation in the face of 1,500 pounds of charging horse and rider!

Some of the polearms in the Higgins Collection
Some of the polearms
in the Higgins Collection.
“Knights dominated in the High Middle Ages because you need training and constant practice to make an effective infantry line,” says Neal Bourbeau, WAM’s Education Programming Coordinator. “With the Crusades, and into the 13th century, there were more attempts to organize and practice, and we see more examples of these formations stopping cavalry charges.”  By the 15th century, military victories relied as much on foot soldiers as on mounted warriors.

You can learn something of what it took to be a medieval soldier at WAM, at our new Medieval Soldier Drills!  Participants will learn basic infantry formations and how to hold – and wield – a medieval polearm in this hands-on outdoor demonstration.  Learn to march as a unit and the best way to brace your weapon using our six-foot practice polearms. Don’t worry – no actual knights will be charging your formation!

Gather in the Stoddard Courtyard at 10:30 AM for practice on any Thursday or Friday this summer (weather permitting).  No sign-up is required, but participation is first-come first-served. The activity is recommended for ages 9 and up, though all are welcome to watch.

To learn more about medieval warfare, visit one of our Arms and Armor Demonstrations, held most Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer (see full schedule), and visit the WAM Library to browse books on the subject. We hope to see you there!

Neal Bourbeau shows a guest (a young girl) proper halberd stance
Neal Bourbeau shows a guest proper halberd stance.
Medieval Soldier Drills and all Arms and Armor Demonstrations are free with Museum admission.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

On the Trail of Otto Dix: A visit to the Academy of Fine Arts Dresden

The next stop on my journey to learn more about Otto Dix was the Academy of Fine Arts Dresden, where Dix taught master student Gussy Hippold-Ahnert and many others. He was a well-loved professor, who worked along side his students to encourage their proficiency in Neue Sachlichkeit, or New Objectivity, a popular style that Dix developed and perfected in the mid-twenties. At the Academy, I paged through archival model records to look for the name of the woman who modeled for "The Pregnant Woman" (1931), the piece that inspired my upcoming exhibition, With Child: Otto Dix / Carmen Winant.
Marcia Lagerwey searches through documents related to Otto Dix's time at the Academy
Marcia Lagerwey searches through documents
related to Otto Dix's time at the Academy. 
Although I was unable to identify the pregnant model with certainty, my hours in the archive were far from fruitless.  Highlights included the discovery of another photograph of Dix in his studio with his students and the pregnant model, showing more of the model than the MFA photo by Erfurth (which will be included in the exhibition); finding out that Gussy Hippold-Ahnert and other students also modeled for each other; and perhaps, most stunningly, seeing the actual letter to Dix outlining his firing from the Academy by the National Socialists, or Nazis, in April, 1933.

The Nude Room, where students work with nude models and study anatomy, today as in Dix's day.
The Nude Room, where students work with nude models
and study anatomy, today and in Dix's day.
Next, I visited the nude room where Dix and his students likely would have worked with the pregnant model, creating drawings that would become the inspiration for Dix’s and Hippold-Ahnert’s paintings, both to be included in the exhibition this fall. Walking through the halls of this prestigious Academy, that still carried on in much the same way as it had during Dix’s tenure there 86 years ago, I felt the presence of this master painter, Dix, its most famous artist. I couldn’t take enough pictures of the towering dome with its dancing gold angel, Fama, the Roman goddess of fame, enticing Dix and his students to ever greater expressive heights.

Academy of Fine Arts Dresden, Germany (exterior)
Academy of Fine Arts Dresden, Germany
Marcia Lagerwey, Guest Curator of With Child: Otto Dix / Carmen Winant (Sept 21 to Dec 15, 2019)
Dresden, Germany
Sunday, May 26 (posted June 4, 2019)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Clemente Program: Connecting Learners, Transforming Lives

Thirty-five years ago, Clemente founder Earl Shorris pitched the idea of a free college-level humanities course to residents of some of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City; he offered them not job training or financial skills, but reading comprehension, analytical thinking, self-confidence, and a better understanding of the world in which they lived.  Through the humanities, he hoped his students would build ties to community life, and find the path to escape generational poverty.

Today, there are over 5,000 Clemente graduates worldwide. 

Clemente class of 2019 explores the galleries with one of their teachers.
Clemente class of 2019 explores the galleries with one of their teachers.
For the last five years, Worcester has offered the course in the studios and galleries of Worcester Art Museum.  As with all Clemente courses, students must be over the age of 17, earning less than 150% of the federal poverty rate, and sufficiently literate to read a newspaper.  The course itself is free (primarily sponsored by MassHumanities), as are all required books; WRTA bus passes are available for all students who need them, as is childcare at the nearby Trinity Lutheran Church.

The students come from a variety of backgrounds, but all have faced barriers to their education and careers.  “Some of us are single moms, some of us work.  We all have our struggles,” says LaToya Lewis, a mother of four who has a Bachelor’s degree, but for the last six years has encountered many obstacles while trying to continue her education.  She describes how every Tuesday and Thursday, she leaves work at 5pm, picks up her kids, makes dinner, and rushes them to WAM by 6. “I have to be Super Woman for an hour.”

Mandy Small calls the Clemente course “my first college anything.”  She applied during a low point in her life, struggling with depression. “I heard about Clemente right at the moment I was losing my faith in humanity,” she recalls, “and that means I was losing faith in myself…This program has helped me to stay focused, to get me to where I need to be.”

Across the 8-month program, professors from local colleges (including Clark University and WPI) cover a range of topics, from U.S. History to philosophy, art history to literature.  Instead of a traditional lecture, each class is centered on group discussion, inspired by readings and visits to the Museum galleries.

Two Clemente students take a closer look at a manuscript page.
Two Clemente students take a closer look at a manuscript page.
At first, many students weren’t sure how to contribute.  “It was like learning a whole new language,” says LaToya.  “What’s that word? I never heard it before.  You think, ‘I don’t know nothing.’  But the more you come, the more it’s a family.”

“There’s a sense of respect,” agrees Naomi Osei-Owusu.  “No one is afraid to speak up.  There’s no wrong answer, no judging.  Even when you make a mistake, you don’t feel like you failed.”

Officially, these students receive only a certificate of completion and six transferrable credits from Bard College, but they walk away with so much more. As Earl Shorris hoped, the Clemente students gain a sense of ownership over their knowledge. “The most important thing I learned,” says Naomi, “is that we’re all philosophers.  We are all historians.”

“This is the first time I’ve learned my own history,” says LaToya. “I try to tell my kids how important it is to know your history.  I share everything I learn with them.”

This year's program concluded with a graduation ceremony on Sunday, May 19, and the students look forward to the next phase in their lives.  “I’m going to take these credits that I got back to a traditional school,” says Naomi.  She’s been out of school for a few years, but the Clemente program has given her confidence.  “I feel ready,” she says with a smile.

“I’m going to get back on track,” LaToya says, explaining her plan to pursue a Master’s in Social Work, and eventually set up a non-profit of her own.  “These classes have helped to give me a direction, a different perspective.  As I move forward, I can’t forget to turn around and bring someone with me.”

Sarah Leveille
Digital Content Specialist
May 28, 2019

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Journey toward an exhibition: "With Child: Otto Dix / Carmen Winant"

On the trail of Otto Dix, there are exceptional people still forging on in the spirit of Dix himself, with his creative, painterly commitment to life in its manifestations: both its acute suffering and sensuality. Andrea Dix, the spouse of Jan Dix (Otto Dix’s youngest son, who died in January), is one of these people. She hosted me recently in her Bed and Breakfast, where she lived and worked with Jan, a stone's throw from Lake Constance, Germany, where I also visited the Museum Haus Dix.

Andrea Dix and Marcia Lagerwey (right)
stand at the doorway to Andrea's Bread and Breakfast home.
There, Dix and his family resettled after he was fired by the National Socialists from his teaching post at the Art Academy in Dresden and fled into inner emigration, still in Germany but close to Switzerland in case he needed to leave quickly. In Hemmenhoffen, he lived and worked, very isolated from the city that he loved, Dresden, and stranded in the natural world. “I feel like a cow in front of nature,” he said. But there, in that luscious landscape, he continued to work daily, his vision changing slowly to include landscape, while he raised his family and kept a low  profile. He was not permitted by the National Socialists to paint portraits that showed the underside of society at that time, but he managed to continue here and there to paint what he saw, a hard, dark vision of Germany in the thirties and forties.

Otto Dix's studio in the Museum Haus Dix.
As an artist, Andrea still works, as her husband Jan worked, to create exquisite jewelry, and, as it soon became clear to me, to carry forward the story of Jan’s father Otto Dix and his censored attempts to “create meaning for our times,” to be a witness, to show both ugliness and beauty, often side-by-side in the same image. Andrea’s human stories told while paging through photo albums over breakfast revealed a creative, dynamic family. I began to see Otto Dix in a new light, to understand better how he saw everything and had the courage to depict what he saw. This vision and a silver ring made by his son—a fertile female crescent—connected me to this family spirit and perhaps gave me a bit more courage to live fully myself.

Marcia Lagerwey and Andrea Dix (right)
explore photo albums of the Dix family.

Marcia Lagerwey, Guest Curator of With Child: Otto Dix / Carmen Winant (Sept 21 — Dec 15, 2019)
Oeningen, Germany
Saturday, May 18, 2019 (Posted May 22)

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