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

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sleuthing in Storage—A Game of Strategy

Above: The Scrimmage, Ida von Schulzenheim

With the passage of time, changes at the Worcester Art Museum are no more evident than with the turn-over of staff, new generations of museum patrons and new methods of engaging public audiences. But below ground, in the bowels of the building, there are some things that have not changed, in some cases not for more than a century. Specifically, unaccessioned art works, old loans and abandoned property, are still in the same storage vault where they were deposited many decades ago. Time has stood still for these works because their status, as property not owned by the museum, has excluded them from decisions regarding conservation treatment or disposition.

In recent years, over-crowded storage vaults have made accessibility to works not on public display a game of strategy. Moving several art works to gain access to another becomes a challenge itself. One solution to the storage puzzle has been to assess unaccessioned works of art-- including old loans and abandoned property--that might not be collection-worthy.

One abandoned art work, taking up a considerable amount of space in painting storage, is a 68” x 82” framed painting entitled The Scrimmage by Swedish artist, Ida von Schulzenheim. It depicts a life-sized confrontation between two hound dogs lunging at two hissing cats atop a wood pile. The receiving book entry indicated it had been delivered here in 1901 from artist Annie Barrows Shepley Omori, known in her inner circle as “Aunt Poo. Unfortunately, no documentation has been found to reveal why the painting was not returned to its owner.

- Sandra Hachey, Contract Registrar

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

WAM Conservation Research Published

For the second year in a row, the foremost internationally peer-reviewed conservation journal Studies in Conservation (SIC) has featured research from the Worcester Art Museum on its cover. Distributed globally, SIC reaches scholars around the world, helping to raise awareness of WAM's world class collection and the exceptional work taking place in the conservation department.

The October 2013 and December 2014 editions of Studies in Conservation also featured images on their covers from the Worcester Art Museum research articles published therein (see photograph above).

The two articles, Evaluation of the relief line and the contour line on Greek red-figure vases using reflectance transformation imaging and three-dimensional laser scanning confocal microscopy, co-authored by Paula Artal-Isbrand and Philip Klausmeyer, and A Re-united Pair: The conservation, technical study, and ethical decisions involved in exhibiting two terracotta orante statues from Canosa, co-authored by Susan Costello and Klausmeyer, focus on works that are currently displayed in the gallery of Greek Art.

Publications like these are just one of many ways the conservation department seeks to care for, expand our knowledge of, and draw attention to the outstanding works found at WAM. Such articles not only assist other conservators working on similar objects elsewhere, but also help to develop contacts with curators, art historians, scientists, and archaeologists.

Above Left: Conservation treatment of the Worcester Art Museum's Greek stamnos attributed to the Tyszkiewicz painter, c. 480 BCE (1953.92) helped launch the larger research project published in the October 2013 edition of Studies in Conservation.

Above Right: Conservation treatment and analysis of the museum's two rare Orantes (funerary figures) from Southern Italy , 3rd-4th century BCE, is the subject of an article published in the December 2014 edition of Studies in Conservation.

- Philip Klausmeyer, Conservation Scientist and Paintings Conservator

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Be Heard!

When you visit the Worcester Art Museum we ask you for your zip code. Beyond that we don’t know much about you, or for that matter how you enjoyed your visit.

To learn more about you, our visitors, including how you use and enjoy the Museum and how you think we could improve the visitor experience, we’ve installed a series of iPad terminals throughout the Museum. You may have already noticed them.

On these iPads, we ask a series of questions that should take about two to three minutes to answer. The answers can be completely anonymous; however, survey participants who provide us with their email addresses will be eligible to win a one year Museum membership. 

Why is this information important to us?  We use visitor feedback for planning future exhibitions, programs, and visitor services.  Connecting art with individual experiences, joy, and discovery is a crucial part of our 2020 Vision Statement.  Your input on our new visitor surveys will help us accomplish that!

I hope you will visit soon.  When you do, please stop by one of the iPad Surveys, and share your thoughts about WAM!


Adam Rozan

Director of Audience Engagement

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Sword for (Martial) Artists

I’m delighted to announce that at auction in London last week the Museum acquired a very rare German practice sword from the 1500s. Swords of this type evolved in the late Middle Ages as a safe version of the knight’s “hand-and-a-half sword,” designed for use in either one or two hands. The unusual shape of the blade maintains the weight and balance of a fighting sword while having a rectangular cross-section that flexes to prevent a thrust from injuring the opponent—much like the weapons of modern sport fencers.

Swords of this type are widely attested in German art of the 1400s and 1500s—the deadly dance of combat fascinated artists of the period, many of whom sought to capture the elegant flow of swordplay through paintings, woodcuts, and etched prints. One important example is Tobias Stimmer’s woodcuts in the Museum’s copy of Joachim Meyer’s Kunst des Fechtens (“The Art of Combat”). First published in 1570—about the time this sword was made—Meyer’s book is one of the most important swordfighting manuals of the period. In fact, my 2006 translation of Meyer became available again on the very day we acquired this sword—a pretty exciting day all round! Look for more news of the sword once it makes its journey across the Atlantic.

- Jeffrey L. Forgeng, Curator of Arms & Armor and Medieval Art

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reframing Rockwell

From November 5, 2014 through February 8, 2015, come see Norman Rockwell, on view in the American Gallery on the 4th Level. This focused exhibition features the oil painting, The Wonders of Radio (2002.526), the large-scale drawing, Study for “The Nightwatchman” (2014.142), recently acquired from the Higgins Armory Museum, and letters related to the drawing’s manufacture.

Did you know that in preparation for the drawing’s display a new frame was purchased and customized by the museum’s Collections and Fabrication Department in consultation with the Curatorial and Conservation Departments? The Nightwatchman is a charcoal and graphite drawing on paper adhered to particle board. The drawing extends to the edges of the board, which have an irregular profile, the result of being cut down in the past. Pressure fitted into its frame, the drawing’s delicate edges were vulnerable to damage.

A new frame and liner were selected not only to better protect the drawing’s edges, but also to complement the drawing. In addition to being able to provide additional protection to an artwork, a liner also serves as an aesthetic component to a frame. In this case, a white liner was selected to match the white liner surrounding The Wonders of Radio, uniting the drawing and painting for this exhibition. We hope you enjoy the new presentation of The Nightwatchman!

Click here more information about Norman Rockwell

- Eliza Spaulding, Paper Conservator

Above left: The back of Study for “The Nightwatchman” after being inserted into its white liner, which is padded with felt and covered with polyester film to protect the drawing’s delicate edges.

Above right: Study for “The Nightwatchman” after being inserted into its white liner, which is padded with felt and covered with polyester film to protect the drawing’s delicate edges.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Collections Online

Hello WAM fans! Allow me to introduce myself to the frequent visitor as I mainly reside underground with the object of our precious collection. I’m Sarah Gillis, Assistant Registrar for Image Management, and I’m the point person to make information about the collection available to you!

Did you know that only about 5% of the collection is on display at one time? We’re making every effort in the Registrars office to share as much of the collection with you the visitor as possible! We are passionate about this collection, and being able to work closely with the objects on a daily basis is such a treat! I’m working as hard as possible to put as much of the collection out there as possible. With over a century of history within this collection, it’s a lot of work making these objects available to you. Part of what I do every day is make sure that the record has all of the required cataloguing information, and hopefully an image. This could sometimes require further researching into our Curatorial files

Since we launched our online collection search in July 2012, more than 14,000 object records have been made available for your viewing and research enjoyment (although not all of them have been photographed yet)! Some of the records, such as the Freakes have zoomify enabled so you can get closer to the details of the painting than you can within the gallery spaces!

So please, take some time to enjoy more of the collection!

- Sarah Gillis, Assistant Registrar for Image Management

Image: Wine Cup, Venetian, 16th-18th century, glass, 11.1 x 9.2 cm (4 3/8 x 3 5/8 in.), Worcester Art Museum (MA), Gift of Mrs. Philip L. Carbone, 1937.104
Image © Worcester Art Museum, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New! Touch Carts

As Head of Education, my goal is to welcome all audiences—from babies to centennials!—to the Worcester Art Museum where they can experience the joy of being in the presence of great art. To support this goal, we decided to create Touch Carts (inspired by similar carts at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art) where kids can learn about as well as experience first-hand what happens if you touch art made of wood, metal, stone, or other materials. We chose Helmutt, our kid-friendly dog to share tips about what you can and can’t touch. Yes, there are things in the art museum that you CAN touch—check out Helmutt’s own house, as well as the touch objects and interactive iPads in the Knights exhibition.

The Touch Carts are now on the floor at the entrances to the museum. Bring your kids and try them out. We all need gentle reminders about how to protect our art, so everyone—now and in the future—can get inspired, over and over again.

Ask for Helmutt’s family guide to the Museum at the Visitor Services desk, and look for Helmutt’s paw prints in the galleries.

We hope you’ll bring your kids back soon to discover where Helmutt will pop up next!

- Marcia Lagerwey, Head of Education

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Orante statues are back on view by popular demand!

The three ancient statues from South Italy—the focus of WAM’s first Idea Lab—are now installed permanently in the Greek Gallery.  On the iPad, read their exciting story that started in underground tombs where they accompanied deceased wealthy citizens along with their precious belongings.  Find out how they came to Worcester and what discoveries the conservators made when they restored them in WAM’s conservation lab.  

KIDS! Check out the activities on the iPad.  Try putting a broken statue back together and paint it.  Did you know that these statues were painted in bright colors thousands of years ago when they were placed in tombs with the dead?

- Paula Artal-Isbrand, Objects Conservator

Friday, October 17, 2014

Now on view: Helmet for a Gladiator

As curator of the Higgins Collection of arms and armor, I can’t avoid the occasional shudder when I think about the blood in which many of these artifacts were once soaked. There’s no object that gives me that feeling more than the one we’ve just put on display —an outstandingly rare gladiator’s helmet, one of very few such objects to be found today outside of European museums. It was probably worn by a hoplomachus, a gladiator whose equipment imitated the arms of a Greek heavy infantryman.

At their height, the gladiatorial combats were akin to Deadliest Warrior: the games pitted stylized versions of various nationalities against each other to enhance the drama of the fight. The combats were always asymmetric, which also enhanced their crowd appeal. But the blood and death were very real, and I can’t help wondering what brutality this helmet witnessed during its day.

Still, these events happened very long ago, and today amidst the serenity of the Worcester Art Museum, this object has much to teach us about the harsh realities of times past—and about the dark and twisting recesses of the human mind that still haunt us today.

Click to read more about Helmet for a Gladiator

- Jeffrey L. Forgeng, Curator of Arms & Armor and Medieval Art

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Holy Alternative History, Batman!

With the arrival of fall, we’re turning a new page in the Knights! exhibition. To be more precise, we’ve installed a new Batman comic to accompany the costume made for Michael Keaton in the 1989 film Batman. Our first was a 1940 issue of Detective Comics. Now the saga of the Dark Knight continues with a 1943 issue of Batman. When it first appeared, Allied forces were battling Germany in Tunisia and Japan at Guadalcanal. The outcome of the war was still far from certain, and even the Caped Crusader was recruited into the effort. In the main story of this issue, Batman and Robin visit the historians of Gotham University for a glimpse of America’s future. Professors Proe and Con offer two possible visions—one a dark and violent world where Batman and Robin have to fight German and Japanese occupiers, the other a brighter future in which they prevent a planned invasion and bring about an Allied victory. Inspired, the Dynamic Duo rush out to invest in War Bonds, “as many as this money will buy!”

Many thanks to Ted VanLiew of Superworld Comics for the loan of these vintage Batman comics!

- Jeffrey L. Forgeng, Curator of Arms & Armor and Medieval Art

Friday, October 10, 2014

Take a seat!

Have you noticed there are more chairs around the Museum lately?  It started with the KNIGHTS! exhibition, where we provide comfortable bean bags chairs in Helmutt’s House for our younger visitors.  Now, chairs are popping up in other galleries, too.  It’s all part of our effort to help you feel more comfortable while visiting the Museum – and also to give you more flexibility in their visit.

The latest addition are black Thonet Chairs  in the [remastered] and American galleries.  First designed by Michael Thonet in 1859, these chairs are fixtures in cafes all around the world. At WAM, we invite you to enjoy these new chairs and make yourself feel at home. Feel free to move the chairs around -- up close to look at a specific detail in a work of art or farther away to get a full view of the work. Or, move the chairs together in the galleries to have a conversation or to read one of the books available in the [remastered] galleries or Salisbury Court portable libraries. The seats are there for your enjoyment. We hope you like them.

Happy seating!

- Adam Rozan, Director of Audience Engagement.

P.S.  By the way, our bean bag chairs are designed by FatBoy. We love the colors of these bean bags, the size of them and can’t help smiling every time we see people sitting in them.

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