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 16, 2019

Deck the Halls - WAM's Seasonal Celebration

In honor of the holiday season, WAM has decked our halls with a dozen festive trees!

From the "Worcester Tree" celebrating the city's businesses and institutions to the "Candy Tree" dripping with (artificial) sweets to the "Tree Spirits" on the Renaissance Court balcony, each creation brings a unique look to brighten our lobbies and galleries.

This year's holiday display was planned and arranged by Sally Jablonski of Herbert E. Berg Florist, with the help of the rest of her staff. Sally has been a friend of the Museum for close to thirty years. WAM contacted her in July to discuss plans to refresh our holiday decorations and expand their presence in the Museum.

Sally Jablonski and the "Rockin' Music Tree"
"I had no idea what the scope of the project would be," Sally remembers, but almost immediately, she began putting together ideas. "Once they told me how many trees they would need, I started surfing the internet, looking at art books, coming up with as many ideas as I could." Some of these included upside-down trees (such as the "Origami Tree" in the Lancaster Lobby) and mannequins decorated as trees (from which came our four "Tree Spirits"). Michelle Lowell, also of Herbert E. Berg Florist, helped develop the designs for this project.

There were many challenges along the way. The "Worcester Tree" is covered with creative ornaments and memorabilia donated by Worcester businesses and organizations, which Sally was gathering right up until a few days before the trees were erected. Meanwhile, she collected every retro item from the 70s and 80s she could find - toys, board games, records, old telephones, comic books and more. "I didn't know how it would all come together," she admits. Working with guest designer Julie Lapham, she created the "Retro Toy Tree" and the "Rockin' Music Tree," a pair of towering artificial pines in Salisbury Hall, framing the corridor leading to the Photo Revolution exhibition which inspired them.

Perhaps the biggest challenge was the "Manzanita Tree, a gold-painted rubber tree dripping with crystal ornaments, designed to stand in the Chapter House. "Almost right away, it started to fall apart from the humidity." Sally took the tree home, recreating it in a smaller (and sturdier) design, and brought it back the next day, ready to display.

The final version of the "Manzanita Tree"
Sally revealed that she found the four "Tree Spirits" the most fun to create. "They were difficult. I didn't even know how they would stand," she explains. "But difficult doesn't mean not fun." For these, she traveled into Boston, gathering materials she thought might be interesting to work with, from artificial pine cones and berries to peacock feathers. She was delighted with how they turned out, each one a unique creation.

Sally says she was largely inspired by her own holiday memories, going to see the Christmas display at Denholm's storefront in downtown Worcester, and spending the holiday at her grandmother's house. She hopes that visitors to WAM will walk away with new holiday memories, and that the trees will bring them joy and fun.

Sally will be returning in January to create an arrangement for WAM's Flora in Winter event; she has been an arranger since the 1990's (when the event was known as Tribute to Flora). Her 2020 arrangement is "still in the idea stage" - she has been paired with a work of art from WAM's collection to interpret through flowers, and is now researching designs and color palettes for inspiration.

We look forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

"Deck the Halls" will be on view through January 5, 2020.

- Sarah Leveille
Digital Media Specialist
December 16, 2019

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Meet CMAI Artist Matthew Gamber

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 Matthew Gamber, an Associate Professor in the Visual Arts Department at the College of the Holy Cross.

Matthew Gamber’s series, This is (Still) the Golden Age, is a unique set of images created by pressing a piece of photographic paper to the screen of a cathode-ray television. The TV provides both the light source and the subject (a program or commercial) projected directly onto the photographic paper. The resulting still images are somewhat abstract–as the moving images are rendered into blurry shapes–yet still recognizable. He writes about the process and his inspiration in this interview with Lauren Szumita, Curatorial Assistant of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.

Matthew Gamber, Leave it to Beaver, from This is (Still)
the Golden Age, 
2006, gelatin silver print, (c) Matthew Gamber
LS:  To start, how did you come to be connected with Worcester?
MG: I have been teaching at College of the Holy Cross since 2014, having taught at the school once before in 2008. In the time between those two appointments, I met many artists in the area, many of whom have become close friends and colleagues.

LS: We are excited to feature works from your series This is (Still) the Golden Age at WAM. Can you explain more about the process of creating this series?
MG: I wanted to create an image where the light was both the subject and the object. I began by thinking about the crossover between broadcast media and photography. On a primary level, photographs record the absence or presence of light. As contact prints (or photograms), these are a direct index of an object, but they also have the artist’s desire to have touched, which is an artistic gesture. What one sees is the recent absence of the object touching the light-sensitive surface–its residual shadow. The television image, the electronic image, its transmission exist in a continuum within the larger electromagnetic spectrum of which visible light is a small fraction.

LS: The images in this series date to the mid-2000s, but many of the featured programs, like The Brady Bunch, are much older. Were these developed from previous negatives, or were these re-runs that you caught on TV?
MG: Sports broadcasts, like Wimbledon, were captured at the time of the initial broadcast as if it were a decisive moment. However, several were reruns. Many postwar sitcoms, in particular, exist because they were first shot on film and then edited before broadcast. Our access to these programs could have only happened through A) the foresight of properly archiving the episodes and B) networks discovering an audience for resyndicated content. These shows replay continuously, and if one hasn't seen them, they can be rediscovered by a new generation. I am experiencing the episodes as my parents' generation might have first encountered them. When I made these cameraless negatives from the television, to me, it was as if they were broadcast for the first time.

LS: Since you captured the image by turning the television on, not sitting and waiting for a certain shot, did you have an idea of what the final product would look like?
MG: Before the widespread use of magnetic recording, which could transduce signals and could be replayed in the future, early television programs were broadcast into the atmosphere and lost—essentially live theatre seen at a distance. My technique requires that the television unit be in a completely darkened room. I am unsure of what the image will be when it comes up to full brightness on the cathode ray tube. This series was created from a long series of failures. For me, it was a discovery about what photography's shortcomings were in its ability to create a meaningful document of something in our everyday experience.

LS: I think one of the most exciting things about this work is that it's a type of cameraless photography. Can you comment on your practice?
MG: For me, it is the mistakes at the seams of intent that generate meaning in the artwork. I was interested in using photography for purposes for which it was not intended to be used. I tried to bring 19th-century thinking to bear on the 21st-century as a way to understand these what might be considered common uses of photography. In a sense, I wanted to create a kind of alternate history where Anna Atkins had tried to collect television broadcasts, rather than the wide variety of British flora. I wanted to imagine what it might have been like if one had skipped over the rise of Kodak and the development of what we know as photojournalism, cinema, or the vernacular.

LS: You seem to have this interest, in this series and others, in isolating different aspects of photography and exploring them a little bit further, maybe breaking down the value systems.
MG: Which came first: an idea or a technique? I'm not challenging any traditions of photography insomuch as I’m trying to understand why images are made the way are. I'm fascinated with the evolution of photographic conventions, whether intentional or entirely accidental. I'm interested in challenging rules we accept as a means to understand how conventions began.

LS: Is there anything that you hope viewers will take away from your work?
MG: I hope that viewers will make a connection between the photographs in the Photo Revolution exhibition. I was inspired by many of the artists whose work is in the show. I hope visitors see a shared dialogue in reevaluating what photography can show us. In the 1960s and ‘70s (in parallel development with MFA programs in academia), you find a number of young artists mining photography's past, challenging conventional uses of the medium. It was a means to explore aspects of lived experience that are not easily documented through a lens.

Works from This is (Still) the Golden Age will be on display in WAM’s Sidney and Rosalie Rose Gallery until March 29, 2020.

   Lauren Szumita
Curatorial Assistant of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs
December 10, 2019

Monday, November 4, 2019

Brief History of Photography at WAM

In preparation for our upcoming exhibition--Photo Revolution: Andy Warhol to Cindy Sherman--we asked WAM's Stoddard Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, Nancy Burns, to explain some of the background of WAM's world-class photography collection.

Honey Locust and Leaf Pod
Anna Atkins (1989.9)
The Worcester Art Museum organized its first exhibition dedicated solely to photography in 1904, in a time when the new medium had not yet become fully accepted into the domain of fine art. Few museums at the turn of the century demonstrated such a progressive approach to photography. The Museum’s founder, Stephen Salisbury III, deserves much of the credit for WAM’s early venture into photography. Salisbury was an avid collector of photography and impressed upon Museum leadership the importance of the medium nearly from the day the doors opened.

WAM acquired its first photograph, a daguerreotype—the earliest photographic process—as a gift in 1901 (Portrait of a Young Girl; 1901.1279). Six years later, the collection expanded significantly when it received a cache of 107 daguerreotypes, albumen prints, and tintypes as part of a bequest from Salisbury. Though the Museum continued to receive photographs as donations from benefactors, only one photograph had been purchased by the Museum before Stephen Jareckie was appointed as the first dedicated curator of photography in 1962. With Jareckie at the helm, the Museum began to collect aggressively.

There have only been three curators of photography in the nearly six decades since the department began: Jareckie, David Acton (now Curator of Photography at the Snite Museum at the University of Notre Dame), and myself. Jareckie and Acton deserve the lion’s share of praise for the Museum’s rich holdings. Between them, they acquired over 90% of the 4,000+ photographs over the course of fifty years. At present, WAM’s highly respected collection of photography spans the history of the medium, beginning with an 1840s cyanotype by British photographer Anna Atkins to a 2019 photo-relief by the Vietnamese artist Thế Sơn Nguyễn.

As the Worcester Art Museum looks toward the future of photography, we recognize a significant shift that has taken place in the past two decades. Photography is no longer solely a paper-based medium. Rather, with the advent of digital photography, it migrates instantly from screen to screen. Today, people engage with photography almost exclusively using digital platforms like tablets, cell phones, and computers. Society’s new “frames” are social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram. In fact, museums and galleries are some of the last places where one finds contemporary photographs on paper. As an encyclopedic collection, the Museum is always looking back and forward. Looking to the years ahead, WAM considers the exciting possibilities presented by photographs that exist beyond the page.

Our upcoming exhibition - PhotoRevolution: Andy Warhol to Cindy Sherman - will look at art from the 1960's 70's and 80's, including photographs, works incorporating photographs, and works inspired by photography. You can learn more about the show on our website.

Nancy Kathryn Burns
Stoddard Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs
November 4, 2019

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Five Questions about the Silk Road

1. What was the Silk Road?

The Silk Road was not a single road at all, but a network of trade routes connecting China to trade partners throughout Asia, Europe and portions of Africa. Depending on the time period, at least three overland routes operated at a time, plus the maritime (sea) trade routes.

2. What cultures were connected by the Silk Road?

China can be considered the “anchor” of the trade routes, and their oldest trading partners were likely the nomads of the central Asian steppes, and settlements in Thailand and along the Ganges River in India. Across the centuries, many other cultures became involved, including Persia, Parthia, Japan, Rome and other Italian cities, Vietnam, Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, Egypt, the Indonesian islands, and other civilizations in the Near East and the Arabian Peninsula. Because goods were traded indirectly – passing from merchant to merchant down the road – some wound up in surprising places, such as silks from China in a 6th century German burial.

3. What goods were exchanged on the Silk Road?

Silk was one of the major exports from China, which kept the secret of its creation (silkworms) carefully hidden for thousands of years, but arguably the trade of horses and camels was more important in sustaining and expanding the Road. China, unable to raise good cavalry horses for its army, exchanged silk for horses from steppe nomads, who in turn traded the silks and more horses further west and south for other desirable products, such as grains. Spices were also widely traded, especially along sea routes, as well as incense, glass and other luxuries. Precious metals and stones were exchanged – China imported a great deal of gold and silver from the west, and some of the oldest trade on the routes (dating as far back as 5,000 BCE) was of jade, a stone highly prized for carving.

The Silk Road also saw the exchange of ideas – from artistic styles to technologies to religious – and, occasionally, diseases.

4. When was the Silk Road established?

As stated above, some jade trade can be traced as early as 5,000 BCE, although the more extensive trade for horses likely began closer to 2,000 BCE. Other portions of the Road had their own histories, but many scholars date the Road to the 1st century BCE, when China consolidated routes to India and to Western powers, including Persia and Rome.

Trade along the Road rose and fell with the civilizations surrounding it. The major periods of trade occurred under Han Dynasty China (particularly 130 BCE – 200 CE), T’ang Dynasty China and the Byzantine Empire (especially the 8th century), and the Mongol Empire (13th-14th century).

5. How long did it take to travel the Silk Road?

The land route from Rome to the Chinese capital of Chang’an (modern Xi’an) was roughly 4,300-4,500 miles. A single traveler could make the journey in around a year, and some diplomats and envoys are recorded doing this (though most took longer, due to the complications of travel). However, merchants generally only traveled short distances, exchanging goods at the next large city before returning home. Depending on how long an object waited to be bought and carried along the next leg of the journey, it could be in transit for years, even decades!

The sea route from Egypt to eastern China could be quicker, but was also much longer – ships needed to sail around the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent, and Mainland Southeast Asia, a distance of at least 7,500 miles – and even more prone to disruption by weather. Traveling by sea took anywhere from 6 months to over a year.

Performers from India Society of Worcester at WAM's 2017 Diwali celebration
Curious to learn more? Come to WAM’s upcoming Fall Community Day – Travel the Silk Road! Held in partnership with the India Society of Worcester and the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts, this FREE* day will include crafts, music, stories, food and activit
ies from countries all along the traditional Silk Road. We hope you will join us on Sunday, November 3 and travel the Silk Road!

*Admission and most activities are free, though some workshops will have an additional charge.

- Sarah Leveille
Digital Media Specialist
October 17, 2019

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Trouble with Pregnancy: A Forum on Art and Reproduction

Held in connection with the exhibition With Child: Otto Dix/Carmen Winant, WAM's upcoming Forum, The Trouble with Pregnancy, reflects on the often troublesome imagery, literature, history, medical, and social issues surrounding pregnancy. To explore these issues, we have invited a range of speakers, including medical and health personnel, poets, art historians, and curators. Each will bring a unique perspective to the question of how pregnancy and childbirth are presented and discussed in our society, historically and today.

Marcia Lagerwey, guest curator of "With Child: Otto Dix/Carmen Winant."

One of the speakers, Sara Shields, MD and author of Woman-Centered Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth gives us a preview of what she will discuss during the Forum:

A woman-centered care approach to reproductive health including pregnancy, labor, and beyond, asks us to transform practices and systems that are currently provider-centered, fetus-centered, and technology-centered.  Talking about the unspoken parts of woman-centered reproductive care reminds us to listen for the issues that often lie just beneath the surface. This includes looking at all the ways the current US maternity system is not working well for all women in this country--the shocking disparities in maternal mortality and infant mortality rates along with the realization of how racism impacts these; the rising cesarean section rate and medicalization of the birth process; the recognition of postpartum mental health issues; the renewed conversations about sexual abuse across a woman's lifespan; and the increased awareness about how common pregnancy losses and infertility are.  All of these topics come up as we think about and react to this exhibition, With Child: Otto Dix/Carmen Winant.  While these topics are challenging and difficult, talking more transparently about them can be transformative and can help us find more holistic, healthy solutions to these issues.

Our hope is that these presentations will provide a basis for both celebration and thought, and drive conversation and discussion throughout the day. We will explore many themes, including: pregnancy in times of war and political turmoil; the absence of pregnancy and birth as major themes in art; the creative impulse in the visual and verbal arts; and, most relevant to today, the growing voice of women in making medical decisions about their own bodies.

Please join us on Friday, October 18, for either (or both) of the two sessions, morning and afternoon, in WAM's Higgins Education Wing Conference Room. Admission is free. RSVP to aileennovick@worcesterart.org or at 508.793.4341.

The Forum is organized in partnership with the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester County Poetry Association, and Worcester State University.

More information can be found on our website, and on WAM's Facebook Event for the Forum.

- Marcia Lagerwey
Guest Curator, With Child: Otto Dix/Carmen Winant
October 10, 2019

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Smelting Iron with the Vikings

I recently had the opportunity to take part in a medieval-style iron smelt organized by Hurstwic, a locally based but internationally active group that reconstructs Viking Age culture. During the past year Hurstwic has been working to rediscover the Vikings’ techniques for extracting iron from iron ore. I couldn’t pass up this rare opportunity for a hands-on experience of medieval ironworking. The techniques of smelting iron ore had a major impact on weapons and armor in the Middle Ages, and I have often spoken about ironsmelting in my work as a curator. But there’s nothing like hands-on to learn how something really works!

Jeffrey Forgeng (center) with Hurstwic members at the furnace.
It was a hot summer day, not the friendliest weather for tending an ironsmelting furnace. We all helped mix clay, sand, water and manure to build the furnace, and we took turns feeding iron ore and charcoal into the top of the furnace so that the flames could work their magic. Bit by bit, the heat converted the iron oxide into pure iron while melting out the silicates in the ore. There was a tense moment near the end of the smelt when the furnace cracked under the intense heat, but our expert Vikings patched it up quickly, and at the end of the day we were rewarded with a fine, workable mass of metallic iron.

Carefully adding ore and charcoal to the furnace.
I can guarantee I will never look at a medieval sword quite the same way again!

Have a look at the technology of Viking Age ironsmelting and learn more about Hurstwic.

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

Don't miss our Arms and Armor Presentation "The Viking Age" on October 12th!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

WAM Represents USA on International Museum Board

Earlier this month, I had the honor to be reelected to a position on the board of ICOMAM, the International Committee for Military and Arms Museums and Collections. The ICOMAM meeting took place as part of the triennial gathering of ICOM, the International Council of Museums, which was held in Kyoto this year. ICOMAM is one of many specialist groups under the umbrella of ICOM.

Seven of the ten ICOMAM board members were present in Kyoto. See names below.

ICOMAM has hundreds of members from around the world. The organization serves to build networks and foster communication among professionals in the field. We meet every year in a different location, hosted by one of our member organizations. Our annual conference combines presentations from members with site visits to local museums. We also publish a biannual magazine—I coedit the magazine, along with a colleague in England, formerly of the British Royal Armouries.

All of these activities are steered by the ICOMAM board, on which I am now serving my second 3-year term. This photo of the new board was taken in Kyoto. As you can see, we always try to have a wide geographical range, with particular representation from large and influential countries. I am very honored to be representing the United States amidst this distinguished group of colleagues!

You can learn more about ICOMAM here: http://network.icom.museum/icomam/

--Jeffrey L. Forgeng
Higgins Curator of Arms & Armor and Medieval Art
October 1, 2019

Pictured from left to right above:
Gozalov Parvin Fakhraddin Oglu, Public Union "CASTLE" for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and Historical Monuments, Baku, Azerbaijan;
Elena Lazareva, Central Armed Forces Museum, Moscow, Russian Federation;
Michał  Dziewulski, National Museum, Krakow, Poland;
Paul van Brakel, National Military Museum, Soest, Netherlands;
Andreja Rihter, Forum of Slavic Cultures, Ljubljana, Slovenia;
Ilse Bogaerts, Royal Army Museum, Brussels, Belgium;
Jeffrey L. Forgeng, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester MA, USA

Not present in Kyoto: 
Prem Singh Basnyat, Military Museum, Kathmandu, Nepal;
Mark Murray-Flutter, Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, UK;
António Manuel Diogo Velez, Military History and Culture Directorate, Lisbon, Portugal)

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Modernizing Modern Art in the Donnelly Gallery: The Art of Museum Reinstallations

Seven months ago, Erin Corrales-Diaz, WAM’s assistant curator of American Art, asked me to devise a new display of American Impressionist works, in preparation for the reinstallation of the Museum’s James Corcoran Donnelly Gallery. This long-term installation would trace the development of Western art between 1890 and 1945, a period of societal change fueled by industrialization and the two World Wars across America and Europe. I welcomed the opportunity to revitalize the gallery and enhance WAM’s exceptional collection of American Impressionism through Modernism.

Three of our American Impressionism paintings,
including Girl Playing Solitaire (right).
In the project’s beginning stages, I collaborated with Erin—along with WAM’s Director of Curatorial Affairs and James A. Welu Curator of European Art Claire Whitner and Curatorial Assistant Olivia Kiers—to create preliminary gallery mockups and compose wall text.  These tasks were jointly divided between me and Olivia, who focused on telling the story of twentieth-century American and European Modernism.* Meanwhile, I selected twelve to fifteen Impressionist paintings and created different options for their placement based on size, visual symmetry, and themes posited. For instance, I decided to place John Twachtman’s contemplative Waterfall (ca. 1890) next to Childe Hassam’s sunny seascape Sylph’s Rock, Appledore (1907). Both works “flow” with one another, and at the same time demonstrate how American artists looked to New England’s untouched landscapes for inspiration.

Additionally, I helped unite on one wall three portraits depicting elite cosmopolitan women, particularly Frank Weston Benson’s angelic figure in Girl Playing Solitaire (1909). Each portrait significantly captures the diverse ways American Impressionists romanticized modern, feminine beauty of the twentieth century. After finalizing the preferred gallery mockup with curatorial staff, I crafted corresponding labels for each artwork, along with one larger wall text to provide context, and so helped curate a cohesive, streamlined display of American Impressionism that joins together modernist works. As a result, visitors entering the gallery are welcomed with a balanced arrangement of canvases that seamlessly transition from radiant portraits of young women in white to uncanny Surrealism.

As the curatorial staff brainstormed display ideas, we focused on exhibiting key works that not only aesthetically and chronologically complemented each other on the walls, but also promoted inclusivity and diversity in WAM’s collection. Cecilia Beaux’s Helen Bigelow Merriman (1908) – one of the Museum’s few paintings by Gilded Age female artists – resided in storage for years. Furthermore, Beauford Delaney’s Portrait of Gaylord (1944) and Sir Jacob Lawrence’s The Checker Players (1947) were chosen to highlight the cultural impact of African-American artists, writers, and musicians on New York City’s Harlem Renaissance. We believed these works deserved more gallery representation.
Paintings in the Donnelly Gallery, including City Interior (center).

Other museum staff members made significant contributions to the gallery refresh. Credit goes to WAM’s Director of Education and Experience Marnie Weir for editing rough drafts of labels by curatorial staff. Her guidance helped us refine our language and create relevant content that would boost audience engagement with the art. Rita Albertson, WAM’s George H. and Sybil F. Fuller Term Chair in Conservation and Chief Conservator, provided information on each painting’s condition and frame, some of which were incorporated into labels for American Impressionism. The registrar and exhibition design teams, led by Chief Registrar Gareth Salway and Exhibition Designer and Chief Preparator Patrick Brown, pulled off a variety of tasks: these involved moving artworks to and from storage, mounting wall vinyl, and supervising over the beautification of the gallery, which was repainted white for an updated, spacious look. Art handlers Wes Small and Trevor Toney diligently worked behind-the-scenes to ensure the initial preparation of the gallery went smoothly. These aesthetic improvements show that curators aren’t the only people involved in the setup of museum exhibitions—it truly takes a village!

Through each individual’s efforts, the new display successfully weaves together multiple perspectives—those of expatriates, women, and people of color. Cross-cultural influences abound throughout the gallery, with the wall text narrating how American and European artists spread their ideas. As a result, hidden connections between Impressionism and Modernism are revealed. One could even argue that Childe Hassam’s The Breakfast Room, Winter Morning, New York (1911), while featuring an ideal modern woman as the subject, reflects the rise in early twentieth-century urbanization, a major theme in Charles Sheeler’s City Interior (1936), which looks across from Hassam. Despite embodying distinct styles and interpretations of modernity, each painting in the gallery speaks to the other.** By bridging the gap between Impressionism and Modernism for contemporary audiences, the re-installed Donnelly Gallery fulfills WAM’s core mission of “connecting people, communities and cultures through the experience of art.”

Elizabeth Fox
Curatorial Assistant
American Art Department
September 26, 2019

*Olivia's article, titled "Celebrating Modernity in the Donnelly Gallery," can be found in the most recent issue of access magazine.

**Ironically, Charles Sheeler studied drawing and painting under the American Impressionist William Merritt Chase at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1903-6).

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Spotlight: Meet the Gardeners of WAM's Art Garden!

If you've visited the Worcester Art Museum this summer, you've probably seen the Art Garden growing in our Stoddard Courtyard. A joint project with the Southeast Asia Coalition of Central Massachusetts (SEACMA) and the Regional Environmental Council, WAM's Art Garden features Southeast Asian edibles grown in a milk crate structure designed by artist Andrew Mowbray. The plants grown this summer include purple perilla, fish mint, mustard greens, and especially Vietnamese lettuce!

Earlier, I sat down with three of the volunteer gardeners from SEACMA, elders in Worcester's Vietnamese community who take care of the three community gardens (the other two are located in downtown Worcester). These gardens are repeatedly harvested and replanted throughout the summer; the produce is sold in small shops and farmer's markets in the city, or shared as gifts in the community. After our conversation, they provided me with a good deal of lettuce (which is like Romaine, but with a buttery, slightly bitter taste) and several serving suggestions - lettuce with rice noodles, lettuce spring rolls, or using cut-up steak to make lettuce wraps with fish sauce.

Volunteers, artist and WAM staff gather to celebrate a successful summer!
"The gardens are helpful," says Son Ho. "It gives people a job to do, it connects them back to the community and their roots, and it's beautiful."*

Son Ho moved to Worcester from Saigon six years ago, and for the last five has worked at SEACMA. Warm and friendly, she does much of the talking, saying that her work with the Vietnamese community "matches her personality." Formerly a farmer, she loves working in the gardens especially, and looks forward to the planting every spring. "It feels good to have something I know, from my homeland."

Quyen Truong, Dong Nai province, arrived in Worcester four and a half years ago. He also works part time at SEACMA, where he interacts with the Vietnamese community, and is very enthusiastic about the gardens. "Having a garden is like having a child," he explains. "You nurture it and watch it grow. I'm very happy to have it."

On the other hand, Cam Tu Le grew up in a city and doesn't know much about gardening. "They just tell me where to water," he says. "It's very fun." Cam Tu teaches Vietnamese as a second language at SEACMA, and recently completed a course at QCC; he is now continuing his studies in mechanical engineering at WPI.

All three have been working in SEACMA's community gardens for the past few years. "When things are growing, there's a lot of pride that comes out of those moments," says Quyen.

"It's beneficial to the community as a whole," adds Cam Tu.

Anh Vu Sawyer, Executive Director of the Southeast Asian
Coalition of Massachusetts
One of the most important benefits is the opportunity for the elder volunteers to work closely with the younger, bridging the generational gap. Whereas Son, Quyen and Cam Tu are relatively recent arrivals, many of the youths have lived most, if not all, of their lives in America. They go to American schools, and grow up speaking little or no Vietnamese, leaving them feeling disconnected from their family and their past.

Sharing the gardens creates an opportunity to build those connections. "We work with the youth volunteers, actively teaching them how to tend the garden and water plants," says Son. These seemingly simple tasks serve as a gateway to deeper conversations, giving the youths a chance to learn about the community's history and culture.

Thu Nguyen, Director of Projects for SEACMA, explains that the program is also vital to the mental health of the older members of the community, who can come to feel isolated in the unfamiliar city. "This is active, socially engaging. It helps them feel normal, familiar, at home." Many of the elders have gardens of their own and come alive every summer when the time for planting arrives. The community gardens give them a chance to share this love, and interact socially with other gardeners.

"It's good to have exercise, to go out and be with people," says Quyen.

"I love having the gardens," adds Son. "It makes you healthy, it makes you happy, gives you clarity of the mind. It's so meaningful."

Over the course of the summer, all three have visited and worked in WAM's Art Garden. "It's very pretty compared to the other places," says Son. "Not just a patch of dirt. It has a vibe and energy. You get to decorate the place and have it look beautiful."

"Let's make an appointment," she laughs, "and come back every year!"

-- Sarah Leveille
Digital Media Specialist
September 24, 2019

*Translations provided by Thu Nguyen.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

This Weekend: The Unique Experience of "With Child"

This Saturday marks the opening of With Child: Otto Dix / Carmen Winant, my first exhibition as a guest curator for Worcester Art Museum. In the rush to put the finishing touches on the show, as well as the many events going on this week, I find myself pausing to reflect on its significance. I’ve known since the beginning of my research, now several years ago, that With Child would be a unique experience, offering our visitors a number of “firsts.” Here are a few highlights of this unique show:

Marcia Lagerway, standing between Dix's The Pregnant Woman (1931) and
Hippold-Ahnert's Sitting Pregnant Woman (1932, left).
  1. The first exhibition of Otto Dix to focus on the theme of pregnancy and childbirth, despite it being a theme he returned to many times throughout his career.  This, itself, provokes the question: why have critics ignored a theme that was clearly so important to him?
  2. The first to feature a dialogue between the works of a 20th-century German male artist (Otto Dix) and 21st-century American female artist (Carmen Winant). Each artist brings a unique perspective, while remaining dedicated to the goal of facing the experience of childbirth and pregnancy head-on.
  3. The first exhibition at WAM to provide, through both the labels and the brochure, a variety of voices of art and literary critics, journalists, medical practitioners, and Dix family members. Contributors include Dix scholar Olaf Peters, CUNY Art History professor Michelle Vangen, and the artist Carmen Winant herself.
  4. The first display outside of Germany of a painting by Gussy Hippold-Ahnert, master student of Otto Dix.  Her Sitting Pregnant Woman (1932) will be hung beside the Museum’s The Pregnant Woman (1931), depicting the same model from two different angles – Hippold-Ahnert’s revealing the model’s face.
  5. The first showing of Otto Dix’s Pregnant Woman (1966) outside of Germany.  This painting was his final nude portrait, and his last on this theme.
  6. The first visit to WAM by Otto Dix’s grandson, Leander Dix. He and artist Carmen Winant will be leading Opening Day tours of the exhibition at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. — this Saturday, September 21.  All tours are free with admission, but will be first-come first-served, so be sure to arrive early!
From left to right: Carmen Winant, Leander Dix and Marcia Lagerwey.

There is no “objective” curatorial voice on the walls in the exhibition, inviting visitors to draw their own conclusions and respond with their own feelings to this powerful theme in art. There is no “right” response to either the exhibition as a whole or to individual works, and we hope to encourage conversations in our exhibition response book, in the community exhibition located in the Higgins Education Wing, and in related programs.

With Child: Otto Dix / Carmen Winant is a focused exhibition with an unusual and relevant theme, and we look forward to welcoming you to it and hearing what you think and feel.

--Marcia Lagerwey
Guest Curator, With Child: Otto Dix / Carmen Winant
September 18, 2019

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

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