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, January 28, 2019

Henry Ossawa Tanner’s The Annunciation shines in the American paintings galleries

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation, 1898, Oil on canvas
Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation, 1898,
 Oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art
A temporary addition to the American paintings galleries (Gallery 332) allows the Worcester Art Museum to tell a more complete story about American painting in the nineteenth century. On loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Annunciation, by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), will be on view at WAM until February 25.

The son of an African Methodist Episcopal minister, Henry Ossawa Tanner often painted religious subjects that explored the presence of the divine in human life. Discouraged by the racism he experienced in the United States, Tanner left for France in search of artistic acceptance. While abroad, he traveled to the Holy Land and later incorporated his experiences into his paintings. The Annunciation references the moment when the Archangel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1: 26-38). Tanner radically reinterpreted the biblical scene, casting Mary as an awkward adolescent dressed in Middle Eastern peasant clothing and the angel as an abstracted vertical flash of light. In forgoing traditional religious holy attributes like a halo or angel wings, Tanner humanizes the moment and creates a modern version of the spiritual narrative. The Annunciation brought Tanner critical acclaim and became the first of his paintings purchased by an American art museum.

You can learn more about this remarkable painting by taking a docent-led tour on Saturday, February 16 at 1pm. Titled “Henry Ossawa Tanner and the Emergence of African-American Fine Art,” this extended Zip Tour takes place during Black History Month.

-Erin Corrales-Diaz, Assistant Curator of American Art

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Works of art remind me of home

My wife has been an artist her whole life. She is an oil painter and art teacher, who can recite the names of all of the greats. When I first met her, she was a student in Art College in Calcutta. We moved to the United States together with big dreams. We were excited at the prospect of a country filled with opportunity and promise. We got married and a few years later, we had our first child. A baby girl. In 1984, we packed up what we had and moved to Worcester, Massachusetts with that three-month old baby. We had both immigrated to the United States just a few years before. Everything felt new. There was so much about the United States that I had not learned yet. When we first came to Worcester, so many things still needed translation--words, customs and traditions.
Even with all of the newness, the thing that always felt familiar to us was art. It spoke all languages. We could look at a painting and feel its message, with no need for explanation. No worry about choosing the right word, or understanding its tone. Art made us feel like we were a part of this new place. It was something that was natural in a land where everything else needed to be learned. There was something here we already understood.
Today, my family has been in Worcester for over thirty-four years. I know all of the roads by heart. It is truly my home. I worked in the pharmaceutical industry for years while we raised our two children, while my wife taught art and always stayed close to it. When it became time for me to retire, I wanted to return to the place that had made me feel welcome when I was a stranger in a new place. I now spend several hours a week at the WAM. It’s the perfect part-time job for a retiree. I learn about the paintings and exhibits, and get to watch new faces feel what this place has always made me feel. 

There is so much that I would like to share with someone who is considering visiting the Worcester Art Museum. I am no docent, but nothing makes me happier than sharing the things I have learned from the visiting speakers and brilliant staff here at the Museum. 

One of my favorite things about WAM is the rich collection of Asian art. It is incredible to see the long history of my people represented so many miles from home. Much of this began with Ananda Coomaraswamy, who began bringing Indian art to this area in the early 1900s. Today, Vivian Li, associate curator of Asian art and global contemporary art, carries on that tradition. There are two upcoming pieces I am especially looking forward to seeing on display. The first is A Vegetarian Lion, A Slippery Fish (2013) by Bharti Kher.  Kher was born in London and now lives and works in India. Her perspective is one that feels especially interesting to me, since her sense of both cultures have shaped who she has become and the art that she creates. 

It’s also special to see pieces of my childhood home make their way to WAM. The Museum plans to commission a decorative jhula from the Indian state of Gujarat that will one day be displayed in the Asian Art Gallery. The jhula is a porch swing with room for two. It reminds me of dusty summer days in India. These pieces, like me, are pieces of another world within this one. We bring our culture, traditions, and stories with us. 

To me, that is the beauty of this Museum. You can look at a piece and feel at home and like you are learning something new at the same time. I am proud to be a part of the fabric of the vibrant Worcester community, and even prouder to see not only my rich heritage and culture, but the culture and heritage of so many others, all on display in one place.

-Barin Bando, Guest Services Representative

(Originally from India, Barin Bando moved to Worcester in 1984.  A shorter version of this WAM Update appears in the Winter/Spring 2019 issue of access magazine.)

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Tiffany Ecclesiastical Department: Turning Churches into Art

In the last few decades of the nineteenth century, Boston experienced a building boom. Houses, museums, libraries, and churches all competed to be the most beautiful buildings in the newly settled Back Bay area of the city. Designed by rising architect Henry Hobson Richardson in a medieval revival style he would become known from, Trinity Church became the trendsetter for exteriors. With John La Farge’s stained glass windows installed in the 1880s, Trinity Church became known for its innovative interior as well.

Mt. Vernon, 1930s
The pastors and congregants of other churches looked to Trinity Church for inspiration and an opportunity to stand out in the city. But how did they select the windows and decorations that would adorn their sacred spaces and give meaning to their lives? In the case of the Mount Vernon Congregation Church, previously located on the corner of Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, two sets of their stained glass windows program have been preserved by the Worcester Art Museum, and the paperwork from the 1890s survives to give modern viewers insight into the now-destroyed church.

LCTS design for chancel
Throughout the 1890s, the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company offered printed catalogs to potential buyers, with a variety of window designs they claimed were “historical records, written in lines of beauty, of the growth of the church.” The company also offered to collaborate with churches to offer sketches and estimates. In 1889, the decoration committee of the Mount Vernon church did just that. For the sum of $3,500 (about $98,000 in today’s money), the church contracted with Tiffany designers for woodwork around the apse and pulpit, as well as space for five panels, each depicting one of the Four Evangelists and Christ. The dome of the apse was “cover[ed] in aluminum leaf and decorate[d] with all over pattern and bands, forming panels” with mixtures of glass, metal leaf, wood, and decorative elements. Central to Tiffany’s Byzantine Style as seen in their ideal Chapel at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the goal was to dazzle the eye with overwhelming, jewel-like details.

Angel of the Resurrection catalog

A notice in the Boston Globe on December 18, 1899, mentioned how the pastors used the windows as illustrations for their sermons, describing a now-lost window dedicated to a recently deceased widow who bore her plight “with exemplary patience.” While these decorations helped churches to stand out and attract new members with their art and design, they also offered their parishioners reminders about scripture and a spiritual retreat from the everyday world.

– T. Amanda Lett
PhD Candidate, History of Art and Architecture Boston University and Guest Curator of Radiance Rediscovered: Stained Glass by Tiffany and La Farge.
Tiffany employees at work

Recent WAM Updates