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, September 12, 2019

Meet CMAI Artist Randy LeSage

Each year, Worcester Art Museum's Central Massachusetts Artist Initiative (CMAI) invites two artists who live or work in the greater Worcester area to have their art showcased in a solo installation in our Sidney and Rosalie Rose gallery, alongside other contemporary artists in our permanent collection.  The Current CMAI artist is Randy LeSage.

Randy LeSage shows several new works
in WAM's printmaking studio
Horizontal and vertical lines create shadows, the suggestion of buildings, trees and hills against a dark sky.  The landscape seems oddly familiar, one of the many 19th century factories that still dot the area, placed against the fields and waterways of the New England landscape.

However, the four prints of Randy LeSage’s Departure are not true landscapes, depicting an actual location; they are generalized, abstracted, and as the eye flows from one to the next there is a loss of structure, the rectilinear format giving way to something more fluid and irregular.

“The changing nature of the landscape has been a frequent condition of many of my works,” says LeSage, who has also created prints and paintings with titles such as Landscape Movements and Shifting Landscapes.  “The works that comprise Departure have…a relatively abstracted character.  This allows me to work in a freer manner than depicting specific forms and structures of a landscape or seascape.”

Demonstrating his process (see video below), LeSage begins by laying down lines to define the space on the paper, creating a balanced visual image – often incorporating common elements across a print series, such as right angles and deep curves – then introduces random elements to break that balance.  Sometimes balance is restored as he works, other times he pushes the imbalance as far as it will go.  “The idea is to surprise yourself,” he says, adding diagonal lines that were not present in previous pieces.  “You can’t repeat yourself, or the work dies.  It may have felt good the first time, but it has to keep changing.”

Two different versions of the same park
view, by Randy LeSage
Constant experimentation and change are also a hallmark of his body of work.  Scattered across the nearby tables are a wide variety of pieces: detailed line drawings of fictional landscapes; rough sketches of people seen on park benches; an impressionistic painting of trees in a field reminiscent of Monet, paired with an angular abstraction of the same scene.  Lesage explains, “the more abstract work I do, it naturally seems to call for a balance through more empirical study and specific accounts of everyday environment.  Vice versa, when more empirical or representational, the need for abstraction.”

Many of the works reflect the same visual elements and themes, particularly related to New England’s industrial landscape, and the heritage of the mills and factories of the industrial revolution.

A sketch of people in the park, and the more
detailed painting developed from it.
As a lifelong resident of Massachusetts, LeSage grew up immersed in that history and culture.  “I worked in a box factory, my parents in a shoe factory, other family members in other mills and factories.”  Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, that was the norm for many urban families, especially those of immigrant descent: generations were raised in company housing, worked their whole lives on the factory floor, and watched their children step into the same roles.  “There was a certain mentality, an orientation to that working class.  It was a struggle, and a separateness, being part of that community.”

By the time LeSage finished high school in the 1970s, the industries of central Mass were already beginning to wane.  “Now a lot of those old factories are stores or apartments, but they continue to populate our New England landscape.  It’s a past age, but it’s still amongst us.  It hasn’t been wiped away.”

Randy LeSage's artwork, Departure, will be on view in WAM's Sidney and Rosalie Rose Gallery through October 6, 2019.

-- Sarah Leveille
Digital Content Specialist
September 12, 2019

Departure by Randy LeSage, a series of four
abstract prints inspired by New England urban landscapes.


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Move Oolong, Nothing to Tea Here


Moulton Tea Service, featuring Sugar dish, teapot, and creamer.
Made by Ebenezer Moulton, c. 1800-1810.
Gift of Annie Sprague Weston in memory of
Frederick William Paine, 1937.52-54.
I’m sipping from one of my novelty tea mugs as I write this update.  Though I drink a hot Earl Grey nearly every morning, I never stopped to think about what I am drinking from (beyond joy at an odd cat mug, of course).  At the start of my summer internship here at the Worcester Art Museum, I was assigned to study a silver tea service.  I was skeptical at first: how much could I really learn from a teapot?

I began my research by examining the tea set, because the markings and physical appearance of an object can tell as much about it as written notes or the historical record.  This silver tea service has three pieces: a teapot, a sugar dish, and a creamer.  All three have squared handles, engraved decorations, and the initials “JW” inscribed in an oval medallion on one side.

I continued by researching texts, starting with newspapers, old exhibition catalogs, and several books on the general topics of tea and silver.  Looking at secondary sources, including Sweetness and Power by Sidney Mintz and Empire of Tea by Markman Ellis, I began to understand the context of this tea set.  The pineapple-shaped finial at the top of the teapot alludes to the fact that the tea and sugar served with the set, like the pineapple fruit, were imported.  Merchants brought in sugar from the Caribbean, where enslaved and indentured workers cultivated and processed the raw sugar cane.  Wealthy patrons purchased sugar in large solid cone-shaped blocks; servants would cut pieces with special scissors, called sugar nippers, to fill the sugar bowl for serving.  Tea imported from China was an extremely expensive commodity; despite how common it is today, it didn’t become popular in the United States until the mid-eighteenth century.

Ebenezer Moulton, Sugar Bowl, c. 1800-1810.  Gift of
Annie Sprague Weston in memory of
Frederick William Paine, 1937.52
I was most curious about the people who had purchased the tea service.  Why did they buy it?  How did they use it?  Who purchased it, and for whom?  I dug into the museum’s curatorial files, searched for receipts from the artist, and scrutinized old estate files for any mention of this tea set.  When the service was given to the museum in 1937, the owner attributed it to her grandmother, Judith Weston, whose initials “JW” might be those marked on the set.  Without receipts or specific documentation for the service, it’s not possible to confirm absolutely that Judith Weston was the original owner.  There is little information about Judith at all: she lived in Duxbury, Massachusetts, married Gershom Weston of a shipbuilding family, and had several children.  Silver was often a marriage gift, so it is possible that Gershom ordered this service when he and Judith were married in 1820, although it was made at least ten years earlier.

An example of  a tea caddy, complete with a lock, for
storing loose tea leaves. American, c. 1800, Bequest
of Stephen Salisbury, 1907.152
Whether this tea set belonged to Judith or to a different woman in the Weston family, it was likely used for hosting company.  In a wealthy household, serving tea was one of the few tasks a high-class woman might perform in front of guests.  Women executed every step of serving tea with the utmost care, from opening the tea caddy to take out leaves, to pouring the water at the right temperature, to choosing to use sugar or not depending on the type of tea (yes for black tea, no for green).  As I drink my own sweetened green tea in a ceramic coliseum-shaped mug, it’s hard to imagine this kind of ceremony.  But the tea and sugar served in this set would have been as much a luxury as the silver itself, and making a show of serving it like this was a way to display the owner’s affluence and sophistication.

When I first set off to study the Moulton service, I had no idea how extensive and complicated a story it could tell.  It has made me look closer at other silver and furniture pieces in the museum to imagine what stories they might carry as well.

Toni Armstrong
Luce Curatorial Intern for Museum Diversity
American Art Department
September 10, 2019

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Stuart Pyhrr Visits the Higgins Collection

Stuart Pyhrr (right) and Jeffrey Forgeng
discuss a pair of gauntlets
Curators, educators, and other staff at the Worcester Art Museum are hard at work planning for the future gallery dedicated to the arms, armor, and Medieval Art in the Higgins Armory Collection.  The exhibition will incorporate nearly the entire Collection – over 2000 pieces – with the exception of objects that cannot be on permanent display due to conservation concerns.  To accommodate the sheer number of objects, the installation will include a variety of display types, which could include open storage drawers, wall cases, and gallery displays with mannequins.

In preparation for the new gallery, WAM’s Higgins Curator of Arms & Armor and Medieval Art Jeffrey Forgeng has been reviewing every object in the Higgins Armory Collection.  The review has several purposes, including determining the best way to present each object in the installation.  Additionally, spending time with each object has allowed him to identify pieces in need of conservation treatment.

As part of this collection review, WAM has brought in several consultants to discuss various aspects of the installation.  Last week the Museum had the pleasure of hosting Stuart Pyhrr, Distinguished Research Curator in the Department of Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  According to Forgeng, Pyhrr is considered the foremost scholar within the arms and armor scholarly community.

Pyhrr became interested in arms and armor at a very young age, and began his nearly fifty-year career at the Met while in graduate school at NYU.  Since then, he has served in a number of positions within the Department of Arms and Armor, including as the department’s head from 1988 to 2013.  Pyhrr is currently researching and assembling provenance information about arms and armor in the Met’s collection, with a focus on pieces that have not been extensively published.

Pyhrr with WAM's Pembroke Armor,* his favorite
suit in the Higgins Armory Collection
It was invaluable to hear Pyhrr’s insights about specific pieces within the Higgins Armory Collection and to watch his analysis methodology.  We are thrilled to have had this opportunity to share our collection with and learn from such an experienced curator and scholar!


-Sydney Kasok
Curatorial Intern, Medieval Art and Arms & Armor
September 5, 2019

*"Three Quarter Field Armor, possibly for Henry Herbert, second Earl of Pembroke" (Northern Italian, Milan, 1560-1570). Steel (once blued) with gilding, brass, iron, with modern leather. The John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection, 2014.12.


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Richard Streitmatter-Tran: Artist-in-Residence

Richard Streitmatter-Tran, watercolor painting on silk
Stop by Richard Streitmatter-Tran’s Open Studio any Wednesday, and you will find a dozen projects underway.  Silk stretched over reclaimed frames.  Sketches and studies stuck against the wall.  Plates covered with watercolor portraits.  Woodshavings from a giant marionette arm he carves by hand.

“When people come, I want them to see something happening, not just a finished work,” he explains.  “I want visitors to see a working studio, a work in progress.” Piles of books on New England art – from impressionist painters to photographers – cover other tables, where he browses them for inspiration.  It’s very easy to become caught up in his enthusiasm for these projects – it’s as if everything he sees sparks a new idea.

Born in Vietnam, Richard came to America when he was adopted at 8 months old.  He grew up on Cape Cod in what he calls a “working class New England family.”

“Cape Cod is a time capsule,” he says, “where they still have soda fountains and AM/FM radios.”  He spent his formative years surrounded by the artwork of New England greats, including Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper.  “I’m very fond of Edward Hopper, his paintings of Cape Ann.  There’s places I grew up that still look like that.”

Sketches for future portraits
Richard attended the Studio for Interrelated Media (SIM) at Mass College of Art, where he studied new media, performance, and immaterial work.  “I had a strong conceptual basis, but I couldn’t draw a stick figure,” he laughs.  At first, this wasn’t a problem – the ideas he developed could be manufactured in other ways – “but it didn’t feel like it was really expressive of my own self.”

After graduating, he taught art, and was soon asked to develop a drawing course.  With no practical experience, he taught himself to draw, starting with the basics.  “It was slow, but there was pleasure in the incremental improvement,” he says.  “I started doing more work with my hands.  Sculpture comes naturally to me, painting and drawing is still more of a struggle.”

In 2003, he moved to Vietnam, where he has built most of his artistic practice.  As a working artist, he has presented in Asia and Europe, but never before in America.  “Part of this residency is coming back home,” he says, jokingly referring to himself as “the prodigal son.”

Richard's diptych, "Inconsolable" and "Crushed,"
acrylic on muslin, will be on display at the
Worcester Pop-Up Exhibition
“Lately I’ve been working with watercolor on metal and silk.  I thought it would be pleasant to come visit the New England greats, try to reconcile their techniques with my work now.”  He quickly learned that the thick watercolors of Homer and John Singer Sargent didn’t work on silk – “if you load it up, it drips through” – but he nevertheless tries new ideas every day.

One thing he hopes to emulate is the timeless nature of Hopper’s paintings, creating something that in fifty years will still feel distinctly Worcester.  “I’m not sure how I’ll accomplish that yet.  I don’t want to be too obvious.”

He also has two projects inspired by a recent trip to a Thailand studio: a sketch of a sarong, currently being developed into a large diptych partly inspired by the depiction of clothing and form in John Singer Sargent’s portraits of the elites; and the enormous marionette arm, a scaled up version of one from Thailand, which he is carving from pieces of an old fence by his family home, which was torn down in a recent storm.  “I love the grey of the pine when it’s been exposed to the salt air,” he says.  “It’s a very Cape Cod look.”

You can see Richard Streitmatter-Tran's work at any of the following events:
  • Tropical/Temerate Exhibition @ the Worcester Pop-Up (20 Franklin Street); Wednesday, September 11, 6-9 PM 
  • Saturday Open Studio (Worcester Art Museum); Saturday, September 14, 12-2 PM
  • StART on the Street (Park Avenue); Sunday, September 15
  • Third Thursday Artist Talk (Worcester Art Museum); Thursday, September 19, 6-8 PM

-- Sarah Leveille
Digital Content Specialist
September 3, 2019



Monday, August 26, 2019

The Really Really Free Market Comes to Worcester!


Jennifer Teo (second from left) with the organizers of
the Tokyo RRFM
Jennifer Teo of Singapore is here representing the Post-Museum, an artist collective she co-founded with Woon Tien Wei in 2007.  The two had been working as artists for at least a decade at that point, and were growing disillusioned with the Singapore art scene – which they found highly capitalistic, focused on a “top-down” vision of art imposed by government and commercial museums and art galleries.  “We wanted something more open to everyone, more meaningful activities, not just being busy for the sake of being busy.”

When Jennifer and Tien had an opportunity to rent a gallery space, they seized the opportunity to fill a void they saw in the Singapore cultural landscape, creating a relaxed, open space for artists, students and anyone from the larger community interested in joining in or simply socializing.  “The Post-Museum is focused on people creating the culture they want.”  From 2007 to 2011, they ran a combined gallery and studio space for artists, the only such place in Singapore to be entirely self-funded.  Artists and community members were able to gather, socialize and create art outside the constraints and pressures of the institution.

Although the physical space has since closed, the Post-Museum continues to work in Singapore, focused on commissioned projects, art activities, and most importantly community building.  “We wanted to get people to participate, come together, and work to make a better world.  It’s not just about the art, it’s the social part of the art, creating culture from the ground up.”

Singapore Really Really Free Market
One of the most important projects connected with the Post-Museum is the Really Really Free Market, a temporary market session passed on a gift economy, hosted by a horizontally-organized collective.  Effectively, a RRFM is something like a flea market where any and all goods and services are available for free – at the Singapore RRFM, currently one of the longest-running RRFMs in the world, people bring everything from old clothes and books to freshly baked pastries, and offer their knowledge as yoga instructors, tarot card readers, or just lend a listening ear and a free hug.  There is no price on anything, nor even a sense of bartering.  Jennifer explains that the point isn’t to acquire goods or find a deal; it’s about challenging how we assign values to objects and services, and building ties within our community.

All kinds of services can be found at the
Singapore RRFM
“It’s like a picnic,” she explains – the food might be the first thing you notice, but it’s not really what brought everyone there.  “For a time, there is total freedom.  Everyone has a good time, everyone makes friends.”

Jennifer has come to Worcester to organize our first RRFM on September 8, 2019.  Though she brings her expertise from Singapore, as well as various other cities in Indonesia, Japan, Thailand and the UK where she has helped to establish RRFMs, she sees this not as a personal project, but as “seeding” a new chapter – creating a team that will keep the movement going after she has left.

Everyone has something to contribute!
If you’re interested in joining the project – as an organizer or just a volunteer for the day – contact Jennifer Teo at Jennifer@post-museum.org and put WRRFM in your subject line.  You can also meet with Jennifer at any of our upcoming Southeast Asian Artist-In-Residence Open Studios, beginning Wednesday, August 21.


-- Sarah Leveille
Digital Content Specialist
August 26, 2019

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

From Anvil to Guild: Medieval and Renaissance Armorers

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

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

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

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

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


Sources:



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

Friday, July 26, 2019

Plein Air Film Series: McQueen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 22, 2019

Interview with Lauren Morocco, Salisbury Cultural District Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for more information about the Salisbury Cultural District

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


Friday, July 12, 2019

Drill Like a Medieval Soldier

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, June 6, 2019

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


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

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

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


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Clemente Program: Connecting Learners, Transforming Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Leveille
Digital Content Specialist
May 28, 2019

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Glazing Through Ceramics at Winterthur

Wedgwood Portland Vase pitcher nineteenth century
Wedgwood Portland Vase pitcher,
nineteenth century
On April 4-5, 2019, I ventured down the Brandywine Valley to participate as a scholarship recipient in Winterthur Museum’s annual conference Ceramics Up Close: Hands-On Study Days. Over the course of the program, collectors and visiting scholars like myself took part in hands-on workshops and presentations dedicated to the study of ceramics. The forum’s main speakers included ceramics experts such as the Birmingham Museum of Art’s Chief Curator of Decorative Arts, Anne Forschler-Tarrasch, PhD, who oversees the nation’s largest collection of ceramics ranging from Vietnamese stoneware to Wedgwood pottery. In her presentation, she displayed highlights from the BMA’s Beeson Wedgwood Gallery, including an eighteenth-century jasperware copy of the Portland Vase, which is almost strikingly similar to two mid-nineteenth-century copies in WAM’s collection (1901.7 and 1937.142).1 The BMA’s ongoing efforts in documenting their Wedgwood collection involve identifying potential fakes through XRF analysis. For instance, one black basalt teapot with caneware design was determined fake due to its rough unglazed interior and large portion of cobalt not found in other Wedgwood stoneware.2

Anne Forschler-Tarrasch with Wedgwood pottery
Anne Forschler-Tarrasch with Wedgwood pottery
Amanda Isaac, the Associate Curator of Mount Vernon, discussed George and Martha Washington’s numerous dinner services at Mount Vernon (e.g. Society of the Cincinnati service), explaining how they acted as powerful social currency and agents of sociability in eighteenth-century America.3 Colonial Williamsburg’s Curator of Ceramics and Glass, Suzanne Hood, highlighted this fact while describing the Foundation’s collection of Chinese export porcelain, as part of her exhibition “China of the Most Fashionable Sort: Chinese Export Porcelain in Colonial America.” During her workshop, she provided pre-1775 examples of export porcelain that were owned and used in Colonial America based on archaeological evidence found in historic sites like Williamsburg. These pieces included serving dishes with lotus decoration and a platter featuring Indian textile patterns, which are inspired by plants like hibiscus and pomegranate native to Southeast Asia.4 According to Hood, rather than commissioning specific colors and patterns, eighteenth-century consumers concerned themselves with purchasing the most fashionable porcelain brought over from abroad. Finally, Leslie Grigsby, Winterthur’s Senior Curator of Ceramics and Glass, led her workshop on ceramics inspired by literature (e.g. Aesop’s Fables), ending the conference on a delightful note with her lecture on ceramics celebrating the English monarchy up to King George III’s reign.

Leslie Grigsby
Leslie Grigsby
Ceramics Study Days at Winterthur was a positive, enriching experience that allowed me to connect intimately with decorative arts professionals and exclusively handle rich collections of ceramics. Most importantly, I learned how ceramics served wide-ranging functions as important commemorative vessels and status symbols that dictated colonial taste and consumption. As Curatorial Assistant at the Worcester Art Museum, I currently work on projects involving the reinstallation of the American art galleries. One of the galleries will feature approximately thirty decorative objects, including Chinese export porcelain, that integrate with the fine arts and explore the cost of luxury in the British colonies. By witnessing some of the finest examples of ceramics during my time at Winterthur, my hope is to utilize the knowledge gained to better educate and foster appreciation for American decorative arts, because objects like ceramics have fascinating histories that can broaden our understanding of early America.

[For more programs and enrichment opportunities at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, visit the link here.]

-Elizabeth Fox, Curatorial Assistant, American Art Department

April 8, 2019

India textile patterned platter 1770
India textile patterned platter 1770
1 In her workshop demonstration, Forschler-Tarrasch presented a nineteenth-century copy of Wedgwood’s Portland Vase in pitcher form, which closely compares in quality to WAM’s copies. Conversely, the BMA’s eighteenth-century Wedgwood Portland Vase is a first-edition copy made of higher quality (hence its softer, lighter blue jasperware with a gray tinge).

2 Various Wedgwood fakes from the twentieth century can be attributed to one Staffordshire potter, J. Palin Thorley, who formerly apprenticed at Wedgwood Factory before immigrating to the U.S. in 1927.


3 The Society of the Cincinnati service was commissioned by Revolutionary War veteran and Society member Samuel Shaw, who brought the service over from Canton (Guangzhou) in 1784.


4 The platter does not show a “tobacco leaf” design, as formerly understood by collectors. 



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