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, 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)

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