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, November 14, 2018

Introducing Yesenia Perez

We are pleased to welcome Yesenia Perez, the new Assistant Curator of Education and Experience at WAM!  Yesenia, who started November 1, will oversee project teams for all public education events, plan and coordinate docent training and continuing education, and help create programming tied to our exhibitions.

Originally from Bethlehem, PA, Yesenia comes to us from Georgetown University in Washington, DC, where she completed her MA in Art and Museum Studies, focusing on Education and STEAM.  Her studies included six months in London, where she visited dozens of European museums and art galleries.  She finds the collection at WAM unique in its diversity – not just in the range of the collection itself, but the way the art, themes and even lighting change from one room to the next, creating a new and exciting experience in each gallery.  “Going from the Medieval Arms and Armor gallery to the European galleries on the second floor is like seeing two different worlds entirely, yet housed in the same museum.”

In the video below, Yesenia discusses her favorite piece of art at WAM – “Interior of the Studio of Van Dael and his Students at the Sorbonne” by Philippe Jacques van Bree (1816).  This painting shows eight female art students, a mix of wealthy women pursuing art in their leisure time and professional artists perfecting their craft.

Out of the many upcoming exhibitions and events, Yesenia is especially looking forward to her first Flora in Winter this January, saying she's impressed with both the size of the program and its long history at WAM.  But more than anything, Yesenia is excited to begin working with the community of Worcester, to meet the people who live here and find out why they love their Museum so much, and to better understand the important role WAM plays in the community.


Monday, August 20, 2018

Writing Museum Wall Labels: A Case Study

Recently a new rotation of works on paper--featuring prints and drawings reflecting the Renaissance interest in anatomy--went on view in the Italian galleries. I was asked to create the wall label to accompany it. Wall labels in museum galleries are concise blurbs about a work, or works of art, written in a way meant to be easily understand-able and accessible to the public. Prior to writing the label for this rotation, I had only worked on two labels for photographs in the 2016 exhibition Cyanotypes: Photography’s Blue Period, with each label representing a single work of art. In this case, I needed a label that would tie together and clearly present three works as a single grouping in 150 words or less. It was the same amount of space, but I had to squeeze in discussions of two additional pieces of artwork.

In order to create a cohesive didactic label for three artworks, I had to locate a single central theme to unite them and narrow down my focus. In this case, I focused on the significance of anatomical study to artists during the Renaissance. Understanding how to render the human body accurately was tied directly to successfully depicting a nude figure. All three images include at least one nude figure despite differences in medium, the artists’ personal styles, and the subject being depicted. While the print Bacchanal with a Wine Vat by Andrea Mantegna’s subject is more or less a standard mythological scene, the two other prints are a nude depiction of The Last Supper and a rather theatrical image of skeletal and flayed figures. With three diverse images, the narrative I conveyed needed to be observable to the visitor viewing the grouping of these works. Working within the 150 word limit, I was able to point out one element of each work on paper relating to the overarching theme of anatomical study, while still leaving room for the viewer to make their own observations within the theme and discover the works of art for themselves.


Through my own experience I can say that artwork has so much to say that it feels easier to write a book than it does to write a quick blurb. It is easy to go down a research rabbit hole when writing on a work of art, and thus it can be equally tempting to overwhelm a casual viewer or stray off subject. Sometimes you find more questions than answers. While looking into these objects, I discovered theories about how Skeletons and Ecorches by del Barbiere may have been intended for use as an illustration in an anatomy textbook, but it seemed too embellished with curtains and props for a book of that nature. Could it have had another purpose? If it was intended for a book? If so, which book? I also was fascinated by an ongoing debate over the artist attribution of the drawing of The Last Supper. In the past it was attributed to Rosso Fiorentino, but through formal analysis the curator and others agreed that his association with the drawing was not secure.  In addition to the unknown status of the artist, was this drawing a study for another work of art that exists today? Was it drawn by Andrea del Sarto? What about an unknown student in a workshop? Are there any other artworks or sketches connected to this piece somewhere out there? These questions may never find their answers. Limiting the subject matter discussed in the label prevents it from turning into a book or dissertation, and leaves room for others to enjoy the mysteries and speculation that make art history so fascinating.


--Gabrielle Belisle, Fellow for Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Worcester Art Museum

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Contributions of Southern African American women artists explored

I’m thrilled to announce that my chapter, “Contrary Instincts: Art History’s Gendered Color Line,” was published in Central to Their Lives: Southern Women Artists in the Johnson Collection.
This catalogue, years in the making, acknowledges the achievements of female artists working in and inspired by the American South. Spanning the decades between the late 1890s and early 1960s, the volume examines the complex challenges these artists faced in a traditionally conservative region during a period in which women’s social, cultural, and political roles were being redefined and reinterpreted.

My essay looks at the mutual marginalization of trained and self-taught southern African American women artists. For Boston-born Loïs Mailou Jones (1905-1998), Clementine Hunter (1886-1988), and Minnie Evans (1892-1987), the challenges posed by their race were complicated by an additional barrier: their gender. As limited as the opportunities were for African American male artists, meaningful opportunities were even rarer for women. Trained or untrained, Southern African American women artists had to overcome extreme disadvantages in order to create art. Furthermore, the American South looms over their artwork: the rich and complex cultural and historical dynamics of Southern life are manifested in subject matter, medium, and even reception by the art world. In considering artists such as Alma Thomas (1891-1978), Selma Burke (1900-1995), and Augusta Savage (1892-1962)—alongside Evans, Hunter, and others—this essay seeks to explore their similar struggles, their connections to the American South, and their range of creative expression.
 
--Erin R. Corrales-Diaz, Assistant Curator of American Art

Learn more about Central to Their Lives: Southern Women Artists in the Johnson Collection:  http://www.sc.edu/uscpress/books/2018/7954.html)  

Monday, July 30, 2018

Sainsbury/WAM Fashioning Colors Symposium

WAM partnered with the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, one of oldest organizations devoted to the study of Japan in the UK, to co-organize the symposium Fashioning Colors: New Perspectives on Japanese Woodblock Prints. Held last week at the Sainsbury Institute in Norwich, England, this international symposium brought together ten print and textile scholars and conservators from the UK, the US, and Japan to discuss the intersection of fashion, textiles, and ukiyo-e woodblock prints through the lens of color. The event was conceived as a pre-exhibition symposium for an upcoming show at WAM in 2020 that will draw on our collection of rare early Japanese prints from the late 17th century to late 18th century.

Speakers shared a diversity of fresh perspectives and research, such as Henry Smith (Columbia University) in his talk about the crossover histories between color printing in prints and textiles, and Stephanie Su (Sainsbury Institute) in her presentation about the prestigious kimono house Chiso and its 19th century commissioning of printed paintings to inspire its designers.

Prints, fashion, and textiles were also placed in a global historical context by economist Fujita Kayoko (Ritsumekan University), who discussed the domestic consumption of textile imports in early modern Japan, while conservation scientist Marco Leona (Metropolitan Museum) presented how the introduction of synthetic dyestuff from Europe to Japan dramatically transformed the context for print production. The following day the British Museum hosted a special viewing of works in its storage.

For those who missed the symposium do not despair. The exhibition catalogue in 2020 will feature essays by the symposium speakers so stay tuned!

--Vivian Li, Associate Curator of Asian Art and Global Contemporary Art

Monday, June 11, 2018

Why Curators Visit Art Fairs

Jeff Koons, Swan (Inflatable), 2011-15 This spring I was invited by the Chinese University of Hong Kong to give a series of public lectures for their “Art and Museum Lecture Series.” While there I attended the major contemporary art fair in Asia—Art Basel Hong Kong—that is now in its tenth year. For museum curators, art fairs are important not necessarily just for acquiring art, but for networking with dealers, collectors, and artists in the region and internationally. Special exhibitions, panel discussions, gallery openings, and artist talks happen in and around the art fair. Additionally, art fairs allow visitors to see in person recent artworks by established artists to those up-and-coming. Jeff Koons’ work, the stainless steel sculpture Swan (Inflatable), 2011-15, was a crowd favorite at the fair, as well as the debut of Marina Abramović’s new virtual reality work, Rising, 2017.
Aisha Khalid’s Two Worlds As One, 2017, was another stand out. Two monumental rugs hung suspended facing each other. While the heads of hundreds of steel and gold plated pins created stunningly intricate patterns on the rugs, the tips of the steel pins created a menacing field of sharp pin points on the reverse side. An exciting artist I learned about at the fair was Shinji Ohmaki. His popular large-scale installation, Liminal Air Space-Time, 2018, was simply a single cloud-like fabric constantly hovering and moving in the air by unseen fans. It was a magical respite from the general frenzied pace and visual overload of the fair.

-Vivian Li, Associate Curator of Asian Art and Global Contemporary Art

Friday, May 25, 2018

James Walker's monumental work, The Battle of Gettysburg: Repulse of Longstreet's Assault, July 3, 1863


This past week I presented on the monumental canvas, The Battle of Gettysburg: Repulse of Longstreet’s Assault, July 3, 1863, at the Boston Athenaeum. As part of a sponsored program for the current exhibition, Subscription Campaigns: Contributions in Support of Community, this talk explored the history of the panoramic painting and its subsequent souvenir industry. (You can read about the talk here.)

Six years in the making, James Walker’s twenty-foot long by seven and a half feet wide The Battle of Gettysburg debuted in Boston on March 14, 1870. No less than five major Boston newspapers lauded the work’s sweep and substance, praising its “remarkable minuteness and comprehensiveness and . . . fidelity.” Indeed, several of the generals depicted in the work (Longstreet, Meade, Hancock, Webb, Hall, and others) vouched for its accuracy—and its pathos. After its first appearance, The Battle of Gettysburg embarked on a cross-country tour with owner, the historian John Badger Bachelder, to “delight and instruct” American audiences. The popularity of the picture and the narrative of the battle of Gettysburg generated a souvenir market including guide books, descriptive keys, and small-scale print reproductions. This cottage industry around Walker’s panoramic painting enabled Bachelder to shape Americans’ popular—and persistent—perceptions of the battle.
 
 --Erin R. Corrales-Diaz, Assistant Curator of American Art

Image: James Walker, The Battle of Gettysburg: Repulse of Longstreet’s Assault, July 3, 1863, The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Europe’s Oldest Treatise on Swordfighting

 I’m delighted to report that the new edition of my transcription and translation of Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33 has just become available. Sometimes known as the “Walpurgis Fechtbuch,” I.33 is the oldest known book on swordfighting, having been written in Germany in the early 1300s. I started transcribing and translating the crabbed Latin of this manuscript in the early 1990s, when it was still kept at the Tower of London, and it was this work that first put me on a professional career path in the world of arms and armor. I first published I.33 with the Armouries in 2003, but there’s been a lot of research on this manuscript since then, so the new edition incorporates all the latest findings.

I.33 uses words and illustrations to describe a system of swordplay using a buckler—a small round shield that was used in unarmored swordfighting. Surprisingly, the figures who demonstrate the techniques are a “priest” and a “student.” This suggests that the manuscript may have been produced by staff at a cathedral school, the forerunner of the medieval university. We do know that medieval university students liked to engage in swordfighting, a tradition that survives even today in some German universities. Even more surprisingly, at the end of the manuscript the student is replaced by a woman named Walpurgis. Her presence remains a mystery, a reminder of how much we have yet to learn about the culture of arms in medieval Europe.

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



Tuesday, April 24, 2018

John La Farge’s ‘Most Curious’ Peacock Window

The Peacock Window, completed near the end of his lifetime, is considered John La Farge's most experimental window. Originally, the window was commissioned for a client. However, due to technical challenges surrounding La Farge's signature cloisonné-like technique—in which glass pieces in a copper coil network are fused together—the window was set aside. Fifteen years later, La Farge revisited the window, and it became a personal and experimental project. La Farge was proud of the piece and muses in a letter to a friend that the window is “most curious.” Indeed, La Farge curiously and uniquely weaved multiple techniques. For example, he employed traditional stained-glass techniques, as well as fused glass with organic cracking and texture. He also loosely applied cold paint with a brush, spatula, and even his fingers. By doing so, La Farge achieved an innovative style that created subtle yet complex illusionistic effects, colors, depth, and movement that arguably had never been achieved before in stained-glass history.

Conservators examined the window because of concerns surrounding its questionable structural integrity and aesthetic illegibility. To understand the window’s condition, especially for an experimental piece, it was critical for conservators to first discern the artist’s intent. What elements were originally intended by La Farge? What appears to be damage, dirt, or an unintended application, but may not be? What was unintended by La Farge himself, but ultimately accepted by him? What was never intended by the artist, but are damages caused by later conditions? Which damages could be addressed and improved? Conservators and conservation scientists conducted extensive examinations, scientific analysis, and research to shed light on such questions.  Then, conservators strengthened the structural integrity and improved aesthetic readability, while preserving the artist’s intent and being aware of the window’s complex construction and sensitivities of the various media. Conservators selectively cleaned the window to reduce soot from pollution, improved areas of poor restorations on various layers of the window, mended unoriginal fragmented glass with conservation-grade epoxy, and replaced the brittle and corroding lead border. Conservators collaborated with preparators to create custom framing and special lighting conditions to properly illuminate and safely support the window for display.  All such work helped preserve and bring to life John La Farge’s original intent and the illusionistic effects and colors he sought to create.

- Amanda Chau, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Objects Conservation


Monday, April 2, 2018

New Mission Statement Defines WAM’s Purpose


Recently, the Worcester Art Museum adopted a new mission statement:  The Worcester Art Museum connects people, communities, and cultures through the experience of art. 

The first new mission statement for WAM in several decades, this simple sentence represents the heart and soul of what the staff and Board strive to accomplish at the Museum every day.
The process of writing the new mission statement took several months. A dedicated group of staff and trustees dug deeply to answer four basic questions:

-- What does the Worcester Art Museum contribute?


-- Who does it serve?

-- How does it deliver?

-- Why is this important?

During the journey to a new mission statement, we asked more questions; defined beliefs, values, and principles for the Museum; and worked hard to articulate what its role and responsibilities are to the public and its collection.  The process was demanding, but also exhilarating and tremendously rewarding. 
We discovered that the Museum’s wonderful collection is not only a world treasure, but also a catalyst for building community. Everything we do at WAM—from exhibitions and programs to accessibility and outreach—connects individuals, communities, and cultures through the experience of art.  This is so important, because as the universal language, art can be understood and enjoyed by anyoneregardless of background, knowledge, or physical abilities.  Indeed, for some people, such as those with brain injuries, art is their only form of communication.  Art thus functions as a kind of “social glue” that unites human beings with each other.

I am tremendously proud of the Worcester Art Museum’s mission, and I look forward to working with the Board and Museum staff to ensure it remains our focus in all we do.
 
-Lisa Kirby Gibbs, President of the Board of Trustees

Thursday, March 29, 2018

EXTENDED! Jeppson Idea Lab — Master Vases from Ancient Greece

Co-curator Amanda Reiterman and I are delighted to inform our visitors that this multi-media exhibition was extended. Open since the fall of 2016, this show has been used extensively for teaching classics and archaeology by professors of local universities and colleges. Several classes were even designed and scheduled around this exhibition. Come visit and find out about the exciting discoveries that were made during conservation of these vases. Used for storing wine and perfumed oils these vessels were fully disassembled and reassembled from dozens of fragments. Watch a video that takes you into WAM’s conservation lab and, on an interactive iPad, learn about the fascinating story of these exquisite pots made over 2000 years ago. The show will remain open until further notice.

- Paula Artal-Isbrand, Objects Conservator   


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

#5WomenArtists


During the month of March, in honor of Women’s History Month, WAM joins the National Museum of Women in the Arts and hundreds of other museums around the world in the campaign #5WomenArtists to share important contributions by women represented in our collections. Why is this important? Can you name five women artists? Many people can’t. If you can, it probably takes you much longer to think of five female artists than five male artists. #5WomenArtists directly addresses the gender imbalance in the presentation of art in the United States and abroad, assuring great women artists a place of honor now and into the future.

This year, WAM highlights two female painters from our collections, Mary Cassatt and Grace Hartigan; two photographers, Julia Margaret Cameron and Brooke Williams; and one sculptor, Louise Nevelson. From the 19th to the 21st century, each female artist has made a unique contribution to the history of art.  

The Worcester Art Museum has participated in the #5WomenArtists campaign since its inception three years ago. Other female artists represented in WAM collections include Berenice Abbot, Judith Leyster, Joan Mitchell, Rona Pondick, Kate Sage, Doris Salcedo, Joan Snyder, and Marguerite Zorach.

To find out more about this campaign, see Hashtag: #5WomenArtists and the website https://nmwa.org/womens-history-month. (Also include WAM links.)

--Martha Chiarchiaro, Interim Associate Curator of Education & Experience

Image:  Julia Margaret Cameron, Merlin and Vivien, about 1874, albumen print from wet collodion negative, Stoddard Acquisition Fund, 1986.75

Monday, March 19, 2018

Meet Stephanie Cyr, Worcester Art Museum librarian


Stephanie Cyr joined the Worcester Art Museum as Museum Librarian on November 28, 2017.  In this capacity, Stephanie also serves as the Art Museum Librarian for the College of the Holy Cross.
Most recently, Stephanie served as the Associate Curator at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, where she planned and executed exhibitions.  Her work focused on varied topics from weather and climate, geology, mining, and current subjects such as hydraulic fracturing, to maps of fantastic and imaginary lands in fiction.  During her career as a librarian, Stephanie has worked in reference and readers advisory and cataloging, and brings over a decade of experience in public, academic and special library settings to the Worcester Art Museum library. Stephanie looks forward to working with all visitors to the Museum, and welcomes neighbors, guests and students of all ages to learn about and utilize the vast resources that the library has to offer. Browse dozens of art magazines, read about current exhibitions, or conduct personal research in the reading room, which is open to the public. 

Stephanie holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from UMass Amherst, and a master’s degree in library science from Simmons College in Boston. Her favorite book is Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and her favorite work of art is Thomas Cole’s View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm-The Oxbow (1836). She lives in central Massachusetts with her husband and two young children.
We're delighted that Stephanie has joined WAM! Please stop by the library to meet her when you are next at the Museum.
--Gareth Salway, Director of Museum Services and Chief Registrar

Friday, February 23, 2018

How to Be a Knight: Pietro Monte’s Collectanea

This week marks the appearance of my latest book, Pietro Monte’s Collectanea: The Arms, Armor, and Fighting Techniques of a Fifteenth-Century Soldier. Monte was a renowned Spanish mercenary active in Italy around 1500. He is mentioned multiple times in Baldesar Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier, and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks include a remark about consulting Monte on the technique of throwing spears.

The Collectanea is a detailed technical treatise on “how to be a knight.” Monte tells us about the sports that kept knights in physical shape (wrestling, running, throwing, jumping), as well as knightly martial arts (combat with swords, staff weapons, on horseback, in and out of armor). In an age when almost nothing was written about the design of arms and armor, Monte offers extensive detail about how these objects should be made. This makes his work hugely important for arms and armor scholars, who mostly have to rely on reverse engineering to explain the objects we study.

Monte wrote his book in Spanish sometime around 1490, then published an expanded Latin translation in 1509. I began translating Monte’s Latin text about a dozen years ago. It’s been a challenging project: Latin isn’t a great language for technical writing, and Monte’s Latin is exceptionally bad, so it can be difficult to figure out what he’s trying to say. But the work and wait are finally over, and I’m thrilled to have made this important work accessible to modern scholars and enthusiasts.

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

https://boydellandbrewer.com/pietro-monte-s-i-collectanea-i-hb.html


Monday, January 22, 2018

Flora in Winter Designer’s Quest for the Cup!

Sally Jablonksi, longtime designer for Flora in Winter and, has been selected as one of the top ten designers in the United States to compete in the FTD America’s Cup in Washington DC this year. Ms. Jablonski entered three photos of her arrangement designs from previous years of Flora in Winter. The three works she entered were floral designs for Portrait of a Man with a Gun-Ralph Earl, The Betrayal of Christ, and Christ's Decent into Limbo - Circle of Gillis Mostaert. FTD America’s Cup is a national competition that selects one individual to represent both FTD and the United States in the 2019 FTD-Interflora-Fleurop World Cup Design Competition which is the world’s most prestigious floral design competition. During the course of the competition designers will face time limits, pressure and each other for the right to represent the FTD and the United States. Join us in congratulating and cheering-on Sally as she competes in Washington DC over the 4th of July weekend.

Sally has competed in multiple FTD competitions in the 80’s and 90’s including the 1989 FTD World Competition in Tokyo. Sally has also placed second in the 2012 Connecticut State Floral Design Competition and second in the 2013 Connecticut State Floral Competition Masters. Don’t miss her design this year for The Discovery of Honey by Bacchus, Piero di Cosimo.

To learn more about the FTD competition please visit http://ftdi.com/ftdamericascup/


Monday, January 15, 2018

New Local Artist Rotation Makes its Debut

A John Pagano painting &ndash: Infatuation (A Place to Go)
John Pagano, Infatuation (A Place to Go), 2016,
acrylic polymer on canvas, Collection of the Artist
The Worcester Art Museum is happy to announce the debut of an ongoing art rotation dedicated to artists who live and/or work in the Worcester region. Located in WAM’s “After ‘45” galleries, the rotation seeks to highlight the diversity of artistic talent here in Central Massachusetts. The inaugural display features John Pagano, a well-known local painter whose work is often on display regionally at institutions such as the Fitchburg Art Museum, ArtsWorcester, and most recently in a monographic exhibition dedicated to the artist at Worcester’s contemporary art space, the Sprinkler Factory.

A Worcester native, John Pagano’s paintings characteristically straddle the line between representation and abstraction. Pagano prefers acrylic paint, a medium associated with vibrant colors and crisp edges. Artists often favor acrylics when seeking a more matte, graphic quality to their work. However, Pagano’s use of the hard-edged acrylic paint combined with his expressive style, simultaneously conveys the appearance of fluid and frozen gestures.

Pagano describes Infatuation (A Place to Go) as an aquatic landscape that emerged organically through recurring shapes, colors and markmaking. He specifically notes the “blooming flower-type shape” seen in the three gray forms with sensuous red and pink outgrowths. According to Pagano, these shapes evolve into “a symbol of an infatuation, an attraction, an invention.” This painting is one of two canvases Pagano created in 2016 with the title Infatuation. Both feature the open, blossoming forms.

Pagano’s Infatuation is on view at the Worcester Art Museum until May 6, 2018.

-Nancy Kathryn Burns, Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

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