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, 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

Friday, January 22, 2021

Uncovering Ancient Egyptian Treasures

When The Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu watercolor was accessioned by WAM in 1925, it marked a seminal moment of American excitement and fascination with ancient Egyptian culture and archaeology.

This significant watercolor presents part of a register and column from the mortuary temple complex of Ramses III, located near the West Bank of Luxor, Egypt. The temple was first recorded by Europeans at the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century and later described in detail, capturing the public imagination. Given the ongoing interest in the temple, an initial clearing and excavation began in 1859, continuing for the next 40 years. 

Today, the complex remains a significant archaeological site containing more than 7,000 meters of relatively well-preserved reliefs, colossal statues, a hypostyle hall, a columned portico, and evidence of several buildings that once surrounded it.

Howard Carter (British 1873-1939), 
The Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu (1909),
watercolor over graphite on medium,
slightly textured off-white paper,
Mrs. Kingsmill Marrs Collection, 1925.145

What's interesting is that images like The Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu often served as souvenirs for foreign travelers. Here, the watercolor highlights the architectural elements and reliefs visible to visitors of the temple. The large columns and heavy geometric design, iconic features of the site, are highlighted via a subtle tilt at the column’s base. The perspective places the viewer in the shade beneath the pillars further emphasizing their weight and imposing stature. In addition, the relief in the left panel is in the sharpest focus likely because this panel depicts Ramses III, to whom the site is dedicated.

The Rameses III relief presents two figures facing one another with two small cartouches hovering between their heads. The figure at left is a depiction of the falcon-headed god Ra. In addition to his distinctive falcon-like features, the pharaoh Ra is associated with the noon-day sun, depicted here as a circle above his head. The second figure’s proximity to the god indicates his high status, and the cartouche indicates that he is the pharaoh Ramses III. A detail from a relief of Ramses III from the sanctuary of the Temple of Khonsu at Karnak (seen below) further confirms the figure in the Carter watercolor as Ramses III.


Relief from the sanctuary of the Temple of Khonsu at Karnak
 depicting Ramses III

The Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu was painted in 1909 by Howard Carter who was best known for his contributions to the 1922 discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. One of the best-preserved ancient burial sites ever unearthed, it sparked worldwide press coverage and is still considered one of the greatest archaeological finds in modern history. 

Carter was born in Britain, the son of the artist Samuel John Carter. Artistic talent ran in his family as he grew up taking art lessons, with three of his ten siblings exhibiting their artwork at the Royal Academy. During his youth, Carter developed his artistic skills copying details of a family friend’s Egyptian antiquity collection. At age 17, he grew increasingly involved in Egyptian archaeology by recording and copying Egyptian tomb decorations. In 1905, between excavations, Carter moved to Luxor, Egypt and began working as a freelance draughtsman, painting watercolors for tourists, and serving as a local guide. 

The Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu was completed in 1909, the same year Carter began supervising excavations for Lord Carnarvon who served as the primary financial backer for the archeological dig. In 1922, in his proposed final season of work under Lord Carnarvon, that King Tut’s tomb was discovered by Carter and his team.

Following the frenzy of the King Tut discovery, Carter became something of a celebrity who lectured across Europe and the United States throughout 1924. The acquisition of Carter’s watercolor by WAM in 1925 occurred at the height of public anticipation around the excavations at the King Tut burial site and Carter’s popularity. The excavation of the tomb continued for a decade coming to an end in 1932, but it forever left its mark on the world of art history and archaeology. 

The Temple of Ramses III at Medinet Habu will be on display in the Museum’s upcoming exhibition on Egyptian art and artifacts, Jewels of the Nile, along with five other watercolors by Carter in the WAM Collection. Jewels of the Nile will be on view June 18, 2022 through January 29, 2023.

—By Gabrielle Belisle, Fellow for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

    January 22, 2021

Friday, January 8, 2021

Here's the Scoop on How "Kimono Couture" went Virtual

Rachel Parikh, WAM's Assistant Curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Art, reveals the behind-the scenes details about our first virtual exhibition, Kimono Couture: The Beauty of Chiso, for which she was project manager.


As project manager (with very short notice), how did you approach creating this virtual exhibition, essentially shifting from a static to dynamic presentation?

I first met with Vivian Li and Christine Starkman, the co-curators of the exhibition, to discuss what concepts, ideas, and visual elements they wanted to bring to life in a virtual format. We wanted to emphasize the enduring and innovative artistry in creating a kimono at Chiso, the renowned 465-year-old, Kyoto-based kimono house. We decided that it would be best to tell this story through a variety of themes, from the materials used to decorate the kimono, to the collaborative process in its production (Chiso employs nearly 600 artisans!). 

I teamed up with an amazing web engineer, Amanda Cheung, and designer, Ian Dickens, to create the exhibition. They intuitively understood what we wanted for the look and feel. Through their thoughtful and striking designs, layouts, and animations, Amanda and Ian masterfully conveyed Chiso’s core value: bi hitosuji, which translates to “nothing but beauty”.

How was this experience different from curating a physical exhibition?

Obviously, we were not directly working with the objects. While this makes certain aspects of curating a show easier, it does give rise to other challenges, especially from an engagement standpoint. In an in-person exhibition, wall labels are usually supplement to what you are seeing and experiencing, but in a virtual format, you have to lean into story-telling. Thus, we made the virtual exhibition both interactive and animated to not only guide the visitor through an experience that made sense, but to also give them an engaging way to understand and appreciate the subject matter.

Image from Kimono Couture Week 1. Each section of the exhibition
 concludes with a “Featured Kimono” tab for the viewer to learn more
 about the kimono representing that week’s theme. 

What was the biggest challenge?

This was an unprecedented venture for WAM, so we didn’t have anything to compare it to. We had to work through the learning curve, and that involved making sure everyone was on the same page. We were able to learn from the experience and create something that is beautiful, insightful, and inviting. Now, we have a set-up that we can replicate moving forward. 

Additionally, because the virtual exhibition was the first of its kind for WAM, another challenge was figuring out how to contextually navigate it. Kimono Couture was intended to be an in-house exhibition.  We realized early on that we cannot replace it or replicate an in-person experience, and so we had to shift our thinking and our approach for it to be successful on a virtual platform, which, for example, involved readapting elements, like the flow and content. 

Image from Kimono Couture Week 3 discussing the main decorative
 techniques with behind-the-scenes images of the Chiso artisans at work. 

What was the thinking behind staggering the exhibition over 10 weeks?

We wanted the exhibition to be immersive for the visitor to get the most out of their experience with the material and to get to know Chiso. We thought that staggering the show over 10 weeks was a great way to achieve this. Each week, the visitor encounters a new theme through a different Chiso kimono. These bite-sized moments allow for one to really understand the material and content. We like the idea of creating a full story over time, in a sense mimicking the long, storied history of Chiso. The concept is also part of the exhibition’s overall interactive experience—it invites you to come and be part of a new theme. 

One of my favorites is “Decorative Techniques", which features hotspots on a Chiso kimono that explains all the different tie-dyeing techniques used to create the garment. The staggering also provides a personalized experience—you can come visit any time and experience it how you want, whether it’s visiting every week, or waiting until all the weeks are revealed and binging it like a Netflix show. 

Image from Kimono Couture, Week 3: Decorative Techniques.
The featured kimono (right) has hotspots that reveal a detail from
the garment and describe the decorative technique
used to create it (left).  

Additionally, the 10 weeks also acts as a countdown to our in-house exhibition, The Kimono in Print: 300 Years of Japanese Design (February 6 – May 2, 2021). Kimono Couture beautifully dovetails into The Kimono in Print through our specially commissioned Chiso wedding kimono—the first kimono to ever be commissioned as art for a museum—which is featured in both exhibitions. Kimono Couture gives you an opportunity to go behind-the-scenes in its creation, while The Kimono in Print lets you see it in person. The last year certainly blurred the lines between time and space, and I think both of these shows collectively embody that through their different platforms and ways of experiencing them. 

Chiso Co., Ltd., Worcester Wedding Kimono, 2020,
 barrel tie-dyeing (okedashi shibori), paste-resist dyeing (yūzen),
colored flour paste-resist dyeing (iro utsushi icchin-yūzen),
threadline paste-resist dyeing (itome yūzen),
snowstorm wax-resist dyeing (fubuki rōketsuzome),
gold leaf, and embroidery on woven silk.

What opportunities does a virtual exhibition offer that a physical exhibition doesn’t?

There are actually quite a few. First, you really have an invaluable opportunity to look at how these kimonos are made through stunning images and details of the kimonos that might otherwise be difficult to see in person, especially when the garments are in cases. Second, the exhibition is asynchronous— you can visit anytime and from anywhere through a computer or a phone. Third, while you are not feeding off of the crowd energy you find in an in-house exhibition, you have the opportunity to interact with a virtual exhibition in a personal way and through a personalized experience. 

 Image from Kimono Couture, Week 2: Materials of the Kimono.
This installment features stunning details from a Chiso kimono
 to highlight the different types of materials used,
such as gold thread and foil. 

This is a whole new venture for WAM. How will this change how we engage with our audiences in the future?

This is a major milestone for us with regard to audiences and accessibility. We can bring WAM to everyone and everyone can be part of the WAM community. It’s exciting to think of people half way around the world engaging with our exhibitions. It also really changes what a “visitor” means to us— we now have the opportunity to provide WAM as an experience in any size, shape, or form—and that just opens up so many exciting possibilities for us and for our growing community. 

Image of  Kimono Couture’s main page
from a phone. 

To view the virtual exhibition, visit Kimono Couture: The Beauty of Chiso. New weekly installments debut each Saturday through February 6, 2021. 

Kimono Couture: The Beauty of Chiso is organized by the Worcester Art Museum in partnership with Chiso, the revered 465-year-old kimono design and production house based in Kyoto, Japan. Support is provided by the Fletcher Foundation and Michie Family Curatorial Fund. Research for this project was made possible by the Japan-United States Friendship Commission and the Northeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies. Additional support is provided by Emily and James Holdstein, and Sandy Hubbard and Thomas J. Logan. The exhibition is sponsored by Cornerstone Bank and Imperial Distributors, Inc.

The Kimono in Print: 300 Years of Japanese Design is generously supported by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Early research for this project was made possible by the Japan Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

—January 8, 2021

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Timeless Treasures: Beloved Thank-You Notes from Student Visitors

One of the joys of working in the Museum's Education Department is greeting the students arriving for their field trip tours, which are on hold for now. As students gather in the Lancaster Lobby, you can hear excited snippets of conversations and sense their enthusiasm and anticipation. Students then break into groups and meet the docent who will take them on their journey through the galleries. Museum staff and visitors can see the students as they ask questions and view art from around the world. When the students return to the lobby to gather back together, there is much chatter about their experiences. We're always curious what they thought of everything they saw.


One window we have into their time at the Museum is through the thank-you letters we receive from students. We love reading these letters! The notes are incredibly insightful and honest. As Jan Ewick, our school tour supervisor, was departing after 30 years with the Museum, she shared the file of letters she kept in her desk. Here, we share a sampling of these treasured thank-you notes from students who visited WAM on a field trip and also from those students who had a docent bring the Museum to their classroom.

This April 1996 letter from Nora stands out because of this future archaeologist’s enthusiasm for the classroom visit from a WAM docent.

Dear Louise,

Thank you very much for your effort and the time you spent with us. I really appreciated the information about Ancient Egyptian art and life. It helped a lot with the planning of our pyramid. My friend Angela and I are planning to move to Egypt and work as archaeologists in Giza and the Valley of the Kings. Your activities on hieroglyphics have helped us determine what to write in our plans. Thanks again.

Sincerely, Nora

This letter from the same visit shows a wide range of enthusiasm for the Egyptian topic in the classroom.

Dear Louise,

Thank you so very much for coming to Miss Greene’s sixth-grade classroom. I enjoyed having you come to our class and talking to us about Egypt. Some people didn’t like doing the things that you gave us to do. But I did. I enjoyed every bit of it. When you first came I thought, "Boy I would love to know all the stuff she does." But truly I really did enjoy having you come to our class, and hope you can come again.

Sincerely, Nikki

Many people, including our student visitors, are curious if the works on view are replicas. They often voice that the artwork looked “real.” Students also are often surprised and appreciate seeing the contemporary works along with the ancient works. This letter from Donny mentions both of these aspects from his February 2017 note.

Dear Worcester Art Museum,

Thank you for opening the museum early so that we can see your work. The statue that interested me the most was the Knight in armor because he had a shield and other things on him. I also liked the mummy case because it looked like a real mummy. I saw a lot of pictures in one room that had a Rocket TV and the TV was really bright and colorful. I thank you Worcester Art Museum for showing us around.

Sincerely, Donny

One letter, in particular, from Amy in Florida, reveals many of the interesting questions we receive from students.  

I am 9 years old and in fourth grade. I’m in art class. I have questions to ask about your museum. I am wondering if you buy or rent your paintings? Did anybody ever rob your museum? Do you have a kids museum? How do you get big art through the door? Do you have a restaurant? Why do you show Egyptian art? I think I have asked enough questions. May I please have some pictures of your museum?

Thank you, Amy.

Our WAM docents do a great job of answering our student visitors’ questions and sharing how museums work.

Our fourth-grade Worcester Public Schools students can draw and write on their tours. They have specific works for their curriculum that they stop at and discuss with a docent. One artwork is Phillip Evergood’s The Rubber Raft (about 1945). 

The label for this work reads, “When this painting was included in the summer 1945 ‘Contemporary American Painting’ exhibition at San Francisco’s California Palace of the Legion of Honor, a reviewer for Time magazine singled it out as ‘a war footnote in which two helpless, parched men sprawl on a raft surrounded by voracious sharks.’ Like viewers today, the reviewer was no doubt captivated by the bold, violent colors and dramatic draftsmanship that helped emphasize the ominous storyline—as well as the detail of the vivid red mouths and snapping teeth of the hungry sharks encircling the doomed sailors.”

Discussions of this work combined with students’ natural curiosity in sharks have inspired many drawings that have been shared with us, like these here.

Some of our student tours see work from the Middle Ages and meet Neal Bourbeau, our programming coordinator and resident knight, who shares the armor and stories of knights with them. The students honest reflections on their tours provide a glimpse of the work our docents and staff do to keep an excited group of students focused on the learning goals their teachers have for the visit! Here are some snippets from sixth graders’ thank-you notes. 

Arms & Armor Presentations are popular with school children.
Here, a field trip visitor participates in an interactive session
with Neal Bourbeau, WAM program coordinator (right). 

Dear Neal & Mary,

I am a sixth grader who said that the sword is "shiny." I wanted to thank you for an amazing field trip we had today…I was surprised that dogs back then wore Armor. I like that Mary was still talking when my friends sometimes go wander off. Also that Neal was nice and that people said it was pretty fun. --Lexi

I am writing to you today to say thank you for the tour and excellent field work you have prepared for us. I have learned many new things on the visit. For instance, all of the heavy armor knights have to wear. I learned that the art work in the museum is thousands of years old. Thanks gain for the presentation because it was awesome. --Helen”

I am writing to thank you for teaching our group more about the medieval times. Even though my group was distracted with the iPads, you still wanted to keep going with the lesson. I learned a lot more that I didn’t know. --Jayda

We went to the Art Museum because we are learning about religions. I learned that Jesus when he was a baby looked more like an adult. Also that the armor they wore in the Crusades was really heavy. Some feedback that I have is you actually explained to us really good about the paintings and stuff we learned and you showed us more about their weapons and some of the armor they wore so thank you very much for being nice and sorry that we might of got off track.--Carina

I really loved the tour and the beginning when we got to learn about the things they wore to battle. The tour was awesome because we got to see paintings and sculptures they made. The things that people got to wear was also cool because they got to see what is feels like. Thanks so much! --Lindsay”

Honestly I think you guys did an awesome job presenting. You did an awesome job about explaining everything carefully. Keep up the good work and keep putting smiles on people’s faces.--Justin

This last letter is one we've treasured for many years and reminds us of the importance of sharing works of art with young visitors. Students can learn important history and visualize techniques of creating art from our collection, but they also can find beauty and learn about themselves.  

Dear Staff of the Art Museum,

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed going to the Art Museum with my school and seeing all of the beautiful art work. Never in my whole life have I ever seen so many beautiful sculptures and paintings. Most of all I liked seeing the realism paintings. They were so graceful and real. Every time I look at them it makes me feel good about myself and happy to be here. I hope that next year I will get to go to the Art Museum again.

Sincerely, Cassie


We look forward to welcoming students like Cassie back to the Museum when it is safe for them to return for docent-led tours. We miss seeing their smiling faces and witnessing the joy they experience when they explore our galleries. 

—By Aileen Novick, WAM's manager of public and education programs, and Jan Ewick, recently retired school tour supervisor at WAM

December 15, 2020

The images of Museum staff and docents pictured with school children were taken at the Museum prior to March 2020.

Recent WAM Updates