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, March 19, 2020

Turn to art for perspective

Winslow Homer, The Gale, 1883-1893, oil on canvas, 1916.48

Dear Members and Friends of WAM,

Art through the ages often reflects uncertain times--such as the present--either by highlighting them or by suggesting different narratives and points of view. When you visit museums like the Worcester Art Museum, with art collections from a wide timeline and range of cultures, you will find scenes of war, suffering, and human struggle in all walks of life. Our arms and armor collection--one of the world's strongest--is a testimony to the human desire to establish order in an unpredictable world. Our Colonial portraits show the longing for stability in an era of extreme hardship. The Buddha heads in our Asian galleries project serenity, while history suggests a different reality.

During unsettling times, art also helps us cope. Scenes of violence and loss can put our own troubles into reassuring perspective, while images of beauty can give us a sense of refuge and calm. The Worcester Art Museum's collections encompass the breadth and universality of our shared human experience, which nurture our hope for the future.

Although we are closed (like every other museum in the country), WAM is still your museum, and it is still here for you. You may be unable to walk through the galleries right now, but you can still experience the transformative power of art through our website and social media platforms. If you are not already following us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, I invite you to join us there where we are actively sharing images, insights, and opportunities for you to enjoy the WAM collection in a whole new way.

We appreciate our city's leadership and our community's support during this challenging time. Many people have reached out to ask how they can help while the Museum is closed. Please consider making a gift to the WAM Fund. Your support will help us continue to fulfill our mission of "connecting people, communities, and cultures via the experience of art" while we are closed.

All of us at the Worcester Art Museum thank you for your ongoing support and wish you and your families well. Together, we will overcome our problems--just as many previous generations have so ably done.


Matthias Waschek
Jean and Myles McDonough Director

 P.S. Donate to the WAM Fund online by clicking here.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Revere and the Boston Massacre

On March 5, 1770, a group of British soldiers stationed in Boston fired on a crowd of colonial protestors, killing five and wounding six more. This act – the latest in a series of escalating conflicts between revolutionary-minded Bostonians and supporters of the Crown – became known as the Boston Massacre.

The Bloody Massacre, Paul Revere

Today, every American History textbook discusses the Massacre, often alongside an image of Paul Revere’s famous print, describing it as one of the major inciting incidents of the Revolutionary War. But the real story is much more complex, and closely involves that very print.

Through the late 1760s, colonial support for the Revolution was growing, but by no means unanimous. Separatist organizations, especially the Sons of Liberty, worked not only to resist policies of the British Crown but also to excite colonists (who were often more concerned with getting on with day-to-day life) into active rebellion. In Boston, this tended to result in groups of laborers harassing loyalist shop owners, vandalizing stores that sold British goods during the boycotts; this, in turn, led to more troops being quartered in the city to “keep the peace.”

By early 1770, there were approximately 2,000 British troops in a city of 16,000 colonists. Tensions rose higher, and increasingly fights broke out between the revolutionary colonists and groups of soldiers.

On the night of the Massacre, a crowd of such protestors had been threatening a lone soldier guarding the Custom House on King Street. The situation quickly escalated: the soldier, Hugh White, called for reinforcements and struck at colonists who came too close to him; the crowd responded by pelting him with ice and snow; bells rang throughout the city, summoning more colonists who expected to find a fire, but instead encountered a near-riot. By the time Captain Thomas Preston arrived with several more soldiers, the crowd had grown to perhaps two or three hundred.

Accounts are confused as to what came next. The soldiers quickly became mixed up in the crowd; some witnesses said the rioters threatened to kill the soldiers, attacking with stones or even clubs, or tried to pull them into alleys; at some point, the soldiers started firing, but it is unclear who (if anyone) ordered them to do so. When everything settled, three colonists were dead and eight more wounded; two of whom would later die of their wounds.

Revolutionary leaders in Boston hoped to use the tragedy to rally people to their cause, both in the colonies and in London, but needed a sympathetic narrative. Days after the Massacre, supporters of both sides began gathering eyewitness testimony of the riot as well as accounts of interactions between soldiers and colonists in the days before. Pamphlets were published relating these accounts, including A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre, which framed the growing tension as a series of unprovoked attacks on peaceful civilians. Meanwhile, loyalist publishers pushed forth the story that the protestors were uncontrollably violent troublemakers.

It was in this climate that Henry Pelham, a young engraver from Boston and half-brother of renowned portraitist John Singleton Copley, created a print he titled The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or the Bloody Massacre. The scene depicted a crowd of helpless colonists (dressed as gentlemen) being ruthlessly gunned down by harsh-faced soldiers in a neat line.

The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, Henry Pelham
Pelham showed an unfinished version of his print to Paul Revere, an older and better established craftsman with a printing press of his own. Revere immediately recognized the power of the scene and quickly produced his own near-identical version.

Revere’s act would not have been considered “theft” or plagiarism as it would be today (printers frequently copied images in those days, and did not always credit the original artist) but Pelham later admitted he felt taken advantage of. Revere, thanks to his connections with local shop owners and with Boston printers Benjamin Edes and John Gill (publishers of the Boston Gazette and Country Journal), had his prints widely distributed throughout Boston within three weeks of the Massacre, with 200 copies available in local shops for between 8 pence and 1 shilling. Some prints were colored by artist Christian Remick, who used simple but bold colors, especially the red of the soldiers’ uniforms and the victims’ blood, to make the image more striking. Pelham, meanwhile, took another week to get his prints available, by which time the market was already flooded with Revere’s.

The image itself was phenomenally successful. In addition to regular prints, which were purchased and displayed by sympathetic Bostonians, Edes and Gill produced a broadside using Revere’s print and five columns of text from their newspaper. These were posted in public places throughout the city, where anyone could read an account of the events.

During and after the trial of the British soldiers, variations of the image appeared by other artists. For example, a smaller, simplified relief cut, also made by Revere, appeared on a broadside published in 1772, decrying the lax sentencing of the guilty parties and the lack of justice in this case and in the death of Christopher Seider, who was killed in a conflict two weeks before the Massacre (this broadside on view at Concord Museum).

Broadsheet published by Isaiah Thomas, detail.
Image by Paul Revere
The use of propaganda, pamphlets and images continued throughout the Revolutionary War, though images of the Massacre were replaced by more recent events.

In 1832, William Stratton of Boston created a new copperplate version of the print, reviving the Massacre in the public consciousness (a print of this is on view at the Concord Museum). Soon, prints were again available by multiple artists, recreating the scene for political publications, historical textbooks, and collectors. Though there was some variation between images (some were more chaotic, some attempted to incorporate further historical details, and those intended for abolitionist publications prominently featured Crispus Attucks*), the basic structure and symbolism of Revere and Pelham’s original prints remain recognizable. Sixty years after the Massacre, these images created for propaganda were now viewed as historical fact, and became the basis for our modern understanding of the events of March 5, 1770.

So, why do we continue to remember this print as Revere’s and not Pelham’s? Once again, Revere had on his side a combination of name recognition, good connections, and plain luck – we know that his 200 prints were widely distributed, more so than Pelham’s, and perhaps more likely to be kept, thanks to their connection to a well-known Founding Father. Two hundred and fifty years later, over 70 copies of Revere’s print survive – while only two remain of Pelham’s.

*Widely believed to be the first victim of the Massacre to die, Crispus Attucks was a mixed-race dockworker and former slave living in Boston; in the mid-19th century, he became a prominent symbol of the Abolitionist movement as the first martyr of the Revolution.

For the first time in Massachusetts, five versions of the Massacre print -- including Revere's and Pelham's -- can be seen together as part of the Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere exhibition, organized by American Antiquarian Society. Visit the exhibition at WAM to see them all!

Sarah Leveille
Digital Media Specialist
March 5, 2020

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Meet Legion III Cyrenaica

Reenactors from Legion III Cyrenaica with the armor and shields of a Roman legion.
Reenactors from Legion III Cyrenaica with the armor and shields of a Roman legion.

Legion III Cyrenaica was formed around 35 BCE in the city of Cyrene.* The five-thousand-man unit, originally loyal to Marcus Antonius, defected to join Octavian** during the Battle of Actium in 31 CE. After his final victory over Antonius and Cleopatra, Octavian garrisoned the Legion in Egypt, where it remained throughout the first century.

While small detachments may have joined military campaigns across the empire, the main body of the Legion stayed at the double-fortress of Nikopolis, along with troops of the Legion XXII Deiotariana. There, they acted as a local police force, protected the borders and maintained control of the Nile, administered mining operations, and manned outposts as far as Thebes and along the Red Sea. Much of a Legionary soldier’s service was spent not in active combat but in quiet guard duty and engineering work – the Legions also maintained fortresses and built roads, bridges and even amphitheaters throughout the empire.

Legion III left Egypt around 120 CE, relocated to Bosra in Syria (modern-day Jordan), where it actively served until around 430, making it one of the longest-lived Roman Legions on record.

Legion III reenactors bring a variety of  replica materials to help visitors  understand life in ancient Rome.
Legion III reenactors bring a variety of
replica materials to help visitors
understand life in ancient Rome.
Today, Legion III Cyrenaica is the name of a New England based living history organization. Formed in 2004, they seek to portray life in a first-century Roman Legion (including soldiers and non-military civilians connected with the army) as accurately as possible. These enthusiastic historians recreate ancient everyday life through a combination of research and experimental archaeology – crafting replicas of artifacts and testing them out in real-world contexts. This allows them to learn not just about the objects, but about the people who made and used them.

Join Legion III Cyrenaica at our Spring Community Day, Festa Roma, March 14, 2020 – an all-day celebration of ancient Rome. The Legion will have interactive tables and displays, where visitors of all ages can try on a Roman helmet, lift a Scutum shield, try writing as the Romans did on wax tablets and papyrus, learn about Roman foodways, and about Legionary and Auxiliary soldiers, their arms, armor and equipment. There will even be a special “Kiddie Cohort” activity where you can try maneuvering in roman tactical formations under Latin and Greek commands!

*Located in modern-day Libya; this is likely the source of the title Cyrenaica
**Later Augustus, first emperor of Rome

Meet Legion III Cyrenica at WAM Spring Community Day 2020: Festa Roma

Sarah Leveille
Digital Media Specialist
February 27, 2020

Friday, January 17, 2020

Flora in Winter: Behind the Scenes

Flora in Winter is the biggest event of the year for the Worcester Art Museum. Every January, thousands of visitors come to see our galleries bloom with dozens of floral works, bringing a bit of spring to the dead of winter. The highlight of the four-day event is the Interpretive Floral Designs, two dozen captivating arrangements by some of the region’s top florists, paired with and interpreting selected artworks throughout the Museum. But what does it take to plan an event on this scale?

Designers may choose to focus their interpretation on
color, shape, light effects, or any other aspect.
Here is a summary of the year-long process, according to WAM Director of Education and Experience Marnie Weir:

February/March: Pre-planning begins almost immediately after the previous Flora ends! WAM staff members meet with our Flora Co-Chairs: Kim Cutler, Kathy Michie and Sarah Ribeiro. The team makes decisions on priority issues, including dates and themes for the coming year – this year’s theme is Epic Bloom!

Commercial arrangements occupy
public Museum spaces.
Spring: Our departments of Education and Registration begin selecting the artworks for interpretation. This is no easy decision. Do we want to highlight popular works or draw attention to lesser-known ones? Which works have been interpreted in recent years? Are some of the choices scheduled to go on loan, or be cycled out of the Galleries before January? Locations for commercial arrangements are also selected – works by garden clubs and professional florists, placed in public spaces such as the Lancaster Lobby and Renaissance Court balcony.

Late Summer/Early Fall: Invitations (and a list of selected artworks) are mailed to our selected arrangers, who RSVP with their top choices. We do our best to match designers with their first or second choices! Once these are finalized, arrangers can begin planning their creations, sending us updates on their plans, inspirations and designs.

Fall: Now that the arrangers are settled, it’s time to think about everything else – we contact performers, caterers and other talent for the Friday night Flora party, and we begin developing related programming for the weekend. We also start to get the word out, including a “Save the Date” on our website and plans for printed fliers and social media.

December: The entire four-day schedule is finalized, and Marketing produces the promotional fliers, which are mailed to several thousand constituents, including many Massachusetts garden clubs. Meanwhile, our volunteer docents begin planning their tours – doing further research on the selected artworks, and sharing their knowledge of botany and floral design.

January: With all of the paperwork finalized, we design and print specialized Flora in Winter maps, showing the location of every arrangement throughout the Museum, alongside statements provided by the arrangers. Nearly every staff member will be involved in some way over the four-day event, so we all participate in training and preparation to ensure everything goes smoothly.

Tuesday: With Martin Luther King Day on Monday, nearly all the prep work must be done on Tuesday, while the Museum is closed to the public. Galleries are set up with pedestals and tables for the arrangements, lighting is prepared, and additional signs are posted to point the way to workshops and lectures. There is also often some final coordination with outside performers and businesses.

Wednesday: Commercial arrangers deliver their works and set them up throughout the public spaces.

Visitors can enjoy art and arrangements together!
Thursday: At 6 AM, arrangers and staff begin to arrive. Most of the arrangements are at least partially pre-made, but our designers know to expect anything – it can sometimes take as much as two hours to get every detail right! Once all designs are complete and gallery spaces cleaned, the docents have a special tour to see the finished arrangements and discuss ideas and interpretations. Finally, doors are opened to the public at 10 AM!

There is no event at WAM quite like Flora, and we hope you will take the opportunity to see our galleries in bloom.

Learn more about the event – including programming schedule and prices – on our website!

Sarah Leveille
Digital Media Specialist
January 17, 2020

Recent WAM Updates