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

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)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Royal Armouries hosts WAM’s Higgins Curator of Arms & Armor

Last year, Britain’s Royal Armouries Museum published my new translation of their manuscript I.33. Dating to the early 1300s, the manuscript is the oldest surviving treatise on swordfighting. To celebrate the new book, the Armouries organized a daylong conference on the manuscript at the museum on May 10, followed by a weekend of hands-on workshops on the techniques of I.33 and related systems of combat.

Folio 32r, Royal Armouries MS I.33 (detail)
I was of course delighted when the Armouries asked me to be keynote speaker for the conference! I first began working on I.33 back in the 1990s, when I was fresh out of graduate school, coming over to see the manuscript at the Tower of London in 1994 and at the Armouries’ new museum in Leeds in 1996. In fact, it was my work on I.33 that brought me into the arms and armor world, playing a major role in getting me hired as the Paul S. Morgan Curator at the Higgins Armory in 1999. So coming to Leeds was quite the stroll down memory lane!

It was also a look into the future—over the weekend I saw many excellent presentations and workshops by some very talented, skilled, and creative scholars and practitioners. Nowadays I am phasing out my work on early combat treatises to focus my attention on the permanent installation of arms and armor at WAM. But I can do so in good conscience knowing that I’m leaving the field to an admirable cohort of successors who will build on my research in new and exciting directions in the years to come.

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

May 20, 2019


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Head Start Students Introduced to World of Art

Two Head Start students
sketch in the galleries
Every week, a dozen pre-schoolers step off a yellow bus and follow a docent into "their" Museum galleries to learn about perspective, light, and art. These are the Worcester Head Start students, and throughout the 2019 school year, each of the 35 classrooms across the city have visited the Museum at least once – six of the classes, at the Mill Swan B location, visited three times.

“It gives them a sense of ownership,” says Carlene Sherbourne, Ed.D., the Education Manager for Worcester’s Head Start. “They see it as their place, their museum. When the bus comes down the street and they recognize the building, they get excited!”

The Head Start program has 615 students, targeting the most at-risk children in Worcester. Karen Waters, Assistant Director and Family Services Coordinator, explains that they provide as many services as they can in-house, from nutritional needs to dental hygiene and mental health; they also connect families to whatever resources they need in the larger community. “It isn’t just about getting the children kindergarten-ready. We are also giving the parents the foundations they need for future success.”

Their partnership with the Worcester Art Museum ensures every child has an opportunity to visit, learn about art, and create their own. Each trip focuses on just 2 or 3 pieces, one of which the students sketch in the gallery, followed by an art project inspired by the day’s topic. “It helps them to really focus and look at the art,” says Christine Lindberg, the program’s atelierista (art instructor). “They’re developing a critical eye, an awareness of materials and perspective. They also develop the language to talk about it, as they listen to and answer questions.”

Each of the four Head Start centers in the city showcase student art in their halls, alongside photos of the collection pieces that inspired them. In order to track growth and learning, all student projects are carefully documented, and the teachers speak proudly of their students’ progress. “Children can learn anything if it’s presented on their level,” says Christine Lindberg.

Students practice the skills learned at WAM in the Head Start classrooms.
The partnership for this year culminates in an art exhibition in the Museum’s Higgins Education Wing, entitled “World of Provocation: Making Learning Visible,” which will run from May 22 to June 5, and include an opening reception on the 22nd. At the exhibition’s core are four murals, one from each Head Start center, created by all the students. These will be surrounded by selected artwork and projects from throughout the year, showing what the students have learned and how. “We want everyone to see what children are capable of,” says Karen Waters. “We also hope to grow understanding of early childhood education, and the important work of educators.”

-- Sarah Leveille, Digital Media Specialist

May 16, 2019


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Study Workshop Reveals Insights into Whistler’s Process

In early April, I participated in a three-day hands-on workshop about James McNeil Whistler’s watercolors held at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Led by paper conservator, Emily Jacobson, conservation scientist, Blythe McCarthy, and the former Freer curator of American art, Lee Glazer, the workshop introduced participants to material examination and analytical methodologies for object-based research. If we learn about the types of pigments, papers, and working methods Whistler used in his practice, how might that data inform art historical research? We engaged in guided and close looking of the fifty-two Whistler watercolors in the Freer’s collection. This often involved inspecting an artwork with a magnifying glass, microscope, or even a light box.

Examining a Whistler work using a light box

Throughout the workshop, I learned how to identify different types of nineteenth-century watercolor paper, application techniques, and how to interpret multispectral imaging. For instance, Whistler’s 1880s watercolors often fluoresce in ultraviolet light, an indication that the artist mixed zinc white throughout his painting. With this information, we were able to conclude that Whistler found zinc white to be a unifying color in his watercolors, which is in contrast to his preference for black in his oil paintings. We often think of watercolor as an unforgiving medium, but through infrared imaging, we could see that Whistler often made changes to his paintings. I discovered how Whistler became more confident and expressive with the medium. His early watercolors often served as preparatory studies with extensive graphite under- and overdrawing to delineate tonal values and perspective. In contrast, his later watercolors of the 1880s are more experimental, and he tested the limits of the medium. The Whistler Object Study Workshop was an immersive experience enabled me to gain greater facility with American watercolor and new ideas in how to interpret and present Whistler at the Worcester Art Museum.

--Erin R. Corrales-Diaz, Assistant Curator of American Art

May 1, 2019

Inspecting Whistler watercolors with magnifying glasses



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