Welcome to WAM Updates

WAM Updates are short, informal posts that put the spotlight on small, but exciting, Museum-related projects, such as the addition of a new painting or sculpture to a gallery. They also serve as updates on staff, new services or programs, and other WAM news.

We hope you like reading the Updates! If you are interested in learning about something specific, or have a suggestion for a WAM Update, please update us at wamupdates@worcesterart.org

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Happy Anniversary! The WAM Docent Program Marks a 50-Year Milestone

Every year nearly 20,000 visitors—including hundreds of Worcester Public School students—experience the Worcester Art Museum on a docent-led tour. Next week, we launch our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the docent program, the cornerstone of the Museum’s education program and vital to its mission of connecting people, communities, and cultures through the experience of art. 

“These devoted volunteers are great lovers of art, whose commitment to sharing that passion comes through with every Museum conversation,” says Aileen Novick, manager of public and education programs, which includes the docents. 


Docent Cathryn Oles leads a tour with students from Worcester's
 Jacob Hiatt Magnet School  in 2016. 



The docent program began in 1970, when Richard C. Mühlberger, the then-curator of Museum Education at WAM, announced a new initiative to train a corps of volunteer gallery instructors to expand group tour services for the following year.

Women who “expressed an interest in art and an affection for WAM” were invited to participate in a 30-week training program, which began on September 28, 1970. Classes were conducted in the galleries and designed to give the volunteer guides a working knowledge of the Museum’s permanent collection.

The 82 female participants enthusiastically embraced and rose to the challenge. The first docent-led tours of the Museum were offered to college instructors and public-school principals in September 1971. By April 1972, 51 docents had conducted 445 tours. 


 Some of the Museum’s early docents are pictured here. 


With each subsequent training session, parameters changed. In the mid-1970s, classes met for 16 months, the course syllabus included an in-depth survey of the history of art and methods of visual presentation plus the study of the WAM Collection. Written applications were required, and participation was limited to the 19 most qualified candidates.

The program continued to adapt to the needs of the Museum and community. In the 1980s, trainees were especially encouraged to develop participatory activities for children. In 1981, the Docent-in-the- Schools (DIS) program provided a three-lesson experience with a specific theme for children from the Worcester Public Schools. Docents went to schools before and after they visited the Museum.

Otti Levine, a 31-year WAM docent, participated in the DIS program at Elm Park Community School. “This was a great program for the children. They were always excited to come to the Museum,” she recalls. “There was a special bond formed with the docent and the students because of these visits.”

A college student recognized Otti from the DIS program years later. “She told me she was getting a degree in art!” she recalls. This feedback inspires Otti’s role as a docent. “Because of the interaction with people, I can really make them see, engage, and appreciate art,” she explains.

In 1987 additional coursework was added to introduce the docents-in-training to the critical-thinking skills necessary to integrate information with the experience of looking at works of art. And by the 1990s—and continuing through today—docents became even more proficient in introducing art and the Museum’s collection and exhibitions to visitors of all ages. 


Ginny Powell-Brasier engages with a captivated audience
of school children on her docent tour. 



Some current docents are children of the early volunteers. Leslie Vigneau’s mother, Jean Miles, was a member of the second docent class of 1972 and a Docent Emeriti. “My mother continually told me I should become a docent because it was such a special time in her life,” Leslie explains.

Leslie eventually joined a class and has been a docent for 11 years. “My mother’s health began to decline around that time, and I would bring her to the Museum and attend classes with her. We even did a few tours together,” Leslie said. Jean continued as a WAM docent until her death in 2017.

“My mother was right,” she adds, “I love being a docent! I am a retired teacher and that really helps with tours. I am most comfortable with children.”

In 1994 men joined the ranks of WAM docents. Paul Mahon, a former science professor and longtime collector of Asian art, became a docent when he retired from academia in 2007. He relished the opportunity “to teach about magnificent art while standing in front of it, and no grading, to boot!” Becoming a docent allowed Paul to incorporate knowledge he acquired while visiting hundreds of museums in Europe and Asia.

“I enjoy sharing my love of art with visitors of all ages, from cub scouts to seniors,” he says. “I also love training fellow docents in STEAM tours where my science background is especially helpful.” 


Paul Mahon, a former science professor and longtime collector of Asian art,
 became a docent when he retired from academia in 2007. 



Jan Ewick, tour programs supervisor, has worked with WAM docents for nearly three decades. “These dedicated volunteers share their passion for art, the Museum, and discovery with visitors of all ages each year,” she said. “Their contributions of time and knowledge are immeasurable and, in keeping with the Museum’s mission of connecting people, communities, and cultures through the experience of art, our docents truly walk the walk.”

These sentiments are echoed by Director of Education and Experience Marnie Weir, "We couldn’t do what we do without our docents. They are an incredible group, whose engagement and enthusiasm tell such a special story.”


WAM docent Mary Dowling explains the significance of The Scarlet Letter VI 
during a gallery 
tour.  Tim Rollins and K.O.S. (founded 1982), 
The Scarlet Letter VI, 1993, oil and acrylic on book pages mounted on canvas,
Gift of Rosalie T. Rose in memory of Sidney Rose, 2012.94 


Look for more docent-related content in future WAM Updates, as the Museum pays tribute to its volunteer art ambassadors on their 50th anniversary of connecting people, communities, and cultures through the experience of art. 



—By Cynthia Allegrezza, Marketing coordinator
    September 24, 2020


Friday, September 11, 2020

Talking with the Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program Alumni: Richard Streitmatter-Tran

We wrap up our special weeklong feature on the Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program (SEA-AiR) with Rachel Parikh, WAM’s Assistant Curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Art, speaking with 2019 participant, Richard Streitmatter-Tran. 

Richard was born in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. Adopted by an American family in Massachusetts, he grew up on Cape Cod. He moved to Vietnam over 15 years ago, living and working in Ho Chi Minh City. Richard established himself as an international artist with his solo and collaborative work featured throughout the world. To learn more about his artistic practice, visit http://diacritic.org


2019 SEA-AiR alumnus, Richard Streitmatter-Tran. 

Rachel Parikh (RP): Why did you want to participate in WAM’s SEA-AiR Program?

Richard Streitmatter-Tran (RS-T): Although I was born in Vietnam, I grew up on Cape Cod as an adopted child in Massachusetts and my formative memories during childhood were created there. The Northeastern accent, the particular smell of the ocean, and the history and culture of the state are all familiar to me. Except for a few years in the U.S. Army and two years of college in California, I returned and completed my BFA at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. It was there that I met David Thomas, Director of the Indochina Arts Partnership (IAP), and, through the generosity of this organization, I received a scholarship to join the MassArt study trip to Vietnam. This was my first time in Vietnam since my birth. It was such an amazing experience that, a few months after finishing at MassArt, I relocated to Vietnam in 2003.

I approached this residency as closing of a circle. My experience as a professional artist has been solely in Vietnam, although the images I grew up with and have a great affection for are painters from my childhood. I remember my grandmother had a painting in the living room that was either a copy of or a derivative painting by Winslow Homer—fishermen in yellow raincoats battling the choppy, dark waters of the Atlantic Ocean. 

I had been focusing on watercolors for the last couple of years and wanted to look at three painters in WAM's collection that evoked the images and environment of growing up in the 1970s and 1980s on Cape Cod—Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and Edward Hopper. I hoped to learn more about their processes and techniques to determine if they might be useful to me when painting on silk or watercolor ground.

It also coincided with the end of the IAP after more than 30 years. In a sense, my career began with the opportunity afforded me to visit Vietnam through the IAP. Coming to the Museum also allowed me to mark the ending of the IAP and, by returning home, to understand the many entanglements between my life as a Vietnamese adoptee and Massachusetts citizen. 


RP: I think that is such a beautiful way to look at the residency, and such a personal one too. It must have been such a profound experience. Any highlights for you?

RS-T: I cannot say there was one highlight, the entire experience was amazing! To me, spending a lot of time in the Higgins Education Wing studio was invaluable. And that was made possible because of the amazing WAM staff, from security to the curators and the front desk who extended the hours I worked into the evening whenever feasible. Everyone was so helpful. I even created a series of  WAM staff portraits.

The residency allowed me to meet several people from the community connected to the program as sponsors, including the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts. I highly valued my time at WAM as my wife in Vietnam was pregnant with our first child, so each day away needed to be spent well. I completed many works at WAM from painting to sculpture culminating in a public exhibition at the Worcester Pop Up and later at the Midway Artist Studios in Boston.

Oh, and I was able to taste Chinese American food and authentic clam chowder once again! You do not find that easily in Asia.


Richard at work during open studio hours at WAM. The residency holds
weekly studio hours so that visitors can meet the artists and see what
 they are working on, and artists can engage with the local community. 



RP: That is great, and congratulations on your baby boy, as well! You mentioned wanting to study New England artists. How did the residency experience impact your art?

RS-T: I have a deeper appreciation for the history of American Art predating the advent of modernism and the contemporary period. It was somewhat meditative for me to focus on this again. I came away knowing what direction I wanted to explore further. Also accessing the paper archives at WAM and seeing the actual paintings and drawings from those aforementioned artists was something I never thought was possible.


RP: What about your artistic practice? Was that influenced by your time here at WAM and studying these artists?

RS-T: Yes, I came away with a broader appreciation for art. Rather than focusing on career-oriented strategies or new techniques, I could see a longer, larger picture of the history of art. I left feeling that someday I could tap into these experiences to create future works. By being in America for an extended period, the first in 17 years, I focused on my feelings toward America, both fondly and critically. In a sense, it made my new home in Vietnam feel more like a home. I could revisit my youth, explore some deep memories, and emerge more complete as a person and as an artist. On a side note, I brought back a lot of sculpture supplies and paints that I cannot find in Southeast Asia, which will certainly be used in my new works. 


RP: I understand those sentiments completely, also having lived abroad for a while. Apart from Homer, Sargent, and Hopper, were there any other artists or works that inspired you?

RS-T: I enjoyed the sculptures in the Southeast Asian collection. I also visited with the WAM Conservation Department to see the Museum's conservators working on artworks. This was something entirely new for me—the meeting of science and creativity. During the last days of our residency, WAM opened its With Child: Otto Dix / Carmen Winant exhibition with Dix’s grandson coming from Germany to give opening remarks. This was a unique opportunity.


Head of Shiva or King, Cambodia, 12th century, stone
on  marble base. Museum Purchase, 1923.1



RP: Do you have any favorite objects at WAM?

RS-T: I was amazed by the Chapter House (1927.46). How a museum could integrate this installation into its own architecture is mind-blowing. And, upon stepping inside, you feel the history of the space. I visited it often to admire its Gothic arches.


RP: What have you been working on since your residency?

RS-T: The residency was one of the last big periods of production for me. When it ended, I flew to Japan to install a work, which was in part created at WAM, for the Setouchi Triennale. I also had to prepare for my solo exhibition in Hong Kong for January 2020, after which I planned to focus on raising my newborn son.

Shortly after my Hong Kong exhibition, the world suddenly changed because of COVID-19, and most of my planned exhibitions for 2020 were cancelled or postponed. I am currently teaching children’s art classes until my galleries can resume their normal activities. It is hard to believe that less than a year ago I was at WAM—the difference then between Vietnam and Massachusetts is now as vast as the world a year ago before the pandemic! 


This painting is part of Richard’s series,
“Bless the Beasts and Children 2020” (2019-20), 
 which is made up of eight portraits of protestors from different
parts of the world.  It was on view at De Sarthe Gallery in Hong Kong
 this past July. Image courtesy of De Sarthe Gallery. 



The Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program is supported by the IAP Fund at WAM, the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts under Ahn Vu Sawyer, The Crawford Foundation, and Robert and Minh Mailloux.


—September 11, 2020



Thursday, September 10, 2020

A Conversation with the Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program Alumni: Jennifer Teo

Our third special feature on the Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program (SEA-AiR) focuses on 2019 participant, Jennifer Teo, from Singapore. She represented the Post-Museum, an artist collective she co-founded in 2007. The Post-Museum’s mission, as Jennifer states, is 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.” 

Rachel Parikh, our Assistant Curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Art, caught up with Jennifer about her time at WAM and what she’s currently working on. 


2019 SEA-AiR alumna, Jennifer Teo.


Rachel Parikh (RP): Why did you want to participate in WAM’s SEA-AiR Program?

Jennifer Teo (JT): Since the Post-Museum is about community, I thought it would be a great way to connect and engage with one in the United States, particularly one with such a strong American-Southeast Asian presence.

RP: What are some highlights of your time during the residency?

JT: I really enjoyed the trips Vivian Li (former Associate Curator of Asian and Global Contemporary Art) organized, especially the day trip to MASS MoCA in North Adams. I also made some lifelong friendships during my time in Worcester.


RP: How, if so, did the residency impact your art and artistic practice?

JT: With Post-Museum, I work mainly on social practice projects and I hardly have time to make things in a studio space. This residency provided a lot of time, a big studio, and a lot of material to start thinking about making things again. I was able to work on some solo projects and generate ideas for the Post-Museum. I also had the opportunity to launch Worcester’s first Really Really Free Market. It is a temporary market system based on an alternative gift economy.


RP: Can you tell me more about the Really Really Free Market and its outcome at Worcester?

JT: The point is not 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. It was great to see something that the Post-Museum has executed throughout Southeast Asia take root and shape in the United States. I thought the event was successful. We had people offering all types of things—including guided meditation for 20 minutes! 


Worcester’s first Really Really Free Market in September 2019 at WAM,
organized by Jennifer on behalf of the Post-Museum.



RP: That is great, and I am sure you found it insightful, especially when comparing the experiences of the Really Really Free Market in different communities.

JT: Yes, and it was wonderful to represent the Post-Museum in this way.


RP: I know your work is more community-based, is very interactive, and is a social experience, but were there objects in WAM’s collection that inspired you or were your favorites?

JT: Honestly, I found WAM’s collection very inspiring, and I love various pieces in all the different sections. For example, Nam June Paik’s Robert Goddard, 1995 (1997.108]) Edward Hick’s The Peaceable Kingdom (1934.65), John La Farge’s Peacock Window (below), and Benjamin West’s Pharaoh and his Host Lost in the Red Sea (1960.18) by Benjamin West, and the ancient Egyptian Ibis with Priest (1947.8). 


John La Farge (American, 1835-1910), Peacock Window, 
1892-1908, stained glass (leaded and plated opalescent glass,
colorless glass, cloisonné glass, fused glass, copper coil,
copper foil, cold paint and glazes, various colored putties and resins).
 Museum Purchase, 1909.11 



RP: What have you and the Post-Museum been working on since your residency?

JT: Post-Museum participated in the 2019 Singapore Biennale with an installation of our Bukit Brown Index. Bukit Brown is a historical cemetery that has been on the brink of destruction due to the new construction of roadways. Various works, ranging from performance art to large-scale installations, addresses the cemetery from various perspectives. At the Singapore Biennale, we had a performance-based installation.

Currently. we are busy working on a new social practice project, which involves upcycling old clothes and planting rice. I've also been working on some paintings, installations, photography, video, and text-based works.



The Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program is supported by the IAP Fund at WAM, the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts under Ahn Vu Sawyer, The Crawford Foundation, and Robert and Minh Mailloux.



—September 10, 2020



Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Visiting with the Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program Alumni: Nguyễn Kim Tố Lan

Continuing our weeklong feature on WAM’s Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program (SEA-AiR), Rachel Parikh, Assistant Curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Art, talks next to Nguyễn Kim Tố Lan about her experience as a resident artist at WAM in 2018 and what she’s been working on since.

Based in Ho Chi Minh City, Lan is a multidisciplinary artist that works with various media to create enhanced interactive experiences. She helped found the Sao La Collective, an independent artist collection in the southern region of Vietnam. 


2018 SEA-AiR alumna, Nguyễn Kim Tố Lan.


Rachel Parikh (RP): Why did you want to participate in WAM’s SEA-AiR Program?

Lan: To me, WAM's SEA-AiR Program provides a great opportunity for both artists and audience participation. I was invited by Nhung Walsh who oversaw the Indochina Arts Partnership (IAP) at that time and I was thrilled to learn about this program designed for Southeast Asian artists. It means a lot for the diverse community in Worcester as well as the artists who attend. I also love that the program is organized at an art museum, where artists can learn and be inspired by the collections and history.


RP: What was a highlight of your time at WAM?

Lan: There are so many! The very warm welcome from Mr. David Thomas (founder of the IAP) and Vivian Li (former Associate Curator of Asian and Global Contemporary Art); the welcome dinner at James Welu’s (Director Emeritus at WAM) home, listening to his stories, and seeing his famous ice-cream cart; the tour of Worcester; and participating in the StART on the Street Festival.

I also appreciated Matthias Waschek’s (Jean and Myles McDonough Director of WAM) tour of the Museum, talking about the collection, and showing us the Conservation Department. 

However, my most precious memory was when my fellow resident artist, Thế Sơn, and I stayed with the immigrant Vietnamese families. I loved listening to their personal histories. I am grateful to Vivian for her help and support of my work and assisting me in finding background information for ongoing projects.


Lan’s work at the StART on the Street Festival 2018.
 The umbrella consists of cellophane panels depicting scenes reflecting,
 as Lan states, the “home inside of us."



RP: That’s so wonderful! You mentioned Vivian supporting your work. Did the residency have
an impact on your work and/or artistic practice, then?

Lan: Yes! The residency gave me a chance to discover a different cultures and environments, broaden my views, and the opportunity to concentrate on my art and visit contemporary art collections in America. The program opened new topics and directions in my artistic practice and inspired me to go deeper into history and mythology. I became more interested in immigration. I also had the chance play and work with different materials and experiment with new techniques as well.

Those are the things I was looking forward to achieving through the residency.


RP: It sounds like the residency was such a rewarding experience for you and I am thrilled to hear it! You mentioned WAM’s collection several times. Were there any objects from the collection that inspired you?


Lan: I would say the Hunt Floor Mosaic. I found it interesting in the way it connects with space and architecture through its huge body; the way it was created for the floor; and how the mosaic functioned as art itself. The forms of ancient art such as stained glass, mosaic, fresco, and their function regarding place, community, culture, and religion, have always attracted me. Besides that, I am also interested in the migration process and the story of an object moving from one place to another place, through time.
 

Worcester Hunt Floor Mosaic, Roman, Antioch, early 6th century, cubes of marble and limestone
 embedded in lime mortar. Excavation of Antioch and Vicinity funded by 
the bequests of the Reverend Dr. Austin S. Garver and Sarah C. Garver, 1936.30


RP: Any others? Or favorite objects?

Lan: I loved this small painting, Houses in Riegsee, by Gabriele Munter. I was drawn to the strong, bold colors. I also love how Münter was a passionate female artist who had a great art career and even some influence in Kandinsky’s art! She was one of the few females who dared to be an artist at that time—I find that inspiring.


Gabriele Munter (German, 1877-1962), Houses in Riegsee, 1909,
oil on pressed board. Stoddard Acquisition Fund, 2018.40



RP: What have you been working on since your residency?

Lan: When I returned to Vietnam from the residency, I felt more energetic and found more inspiration and materials for my art practice. However, I am a slow worker. I prefer to give it more time as well as looking for an appropriate time and space to fit some of the ideas. Through my artist collective, Sao La, we created a local space called "Cù Rú Bar." Last year, we moved it to Dalat, a highland city covered by nature as we want to have some distance with the mechanical urban life, and have more interaction with elements of nature. It took quite a lot of time since we had to build up everything in a new city.

I am still nurturing that project together with my fellow artists by running the space and gaining new knowledge about nature as well as exploring the human relationship and its survival concept with nature. I am also eager to learn new skills and love to experiment by switching my artist role to a farmer sometimes. To me, these experiences link with the uprising idea I worked with during my residency—examining the significance of the moon in culture and religion.


The Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program is supported by the IAP Fund at WAM, the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts under Ahn Vu Sawyer, The Crawford Foundation, and Robert and Minh Mailloux.


—September 9, 2020

 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Catching up with the Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program Alumni: Nguyễn Thế Sơn

This week WAM’s “Around the World” series on social media travels to Southeast Asia and will feature the Museum’s Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program (SEA-AiR). Launched in 2018, SEA-AiR invites two emerging artists from Southeast Asia for a six-week residency at WAM. 

The program’s objectives are threefold: to support emerging artists from Southeast Asia, where the infrastructure and institutional support for contemporary artists are scarce, or, in some extreme cases, nonexistent; to create meaningful connections between the community of artists, Southeast Asians, and the general public in Worcester with the art and culture of Southeast Asia; and to focus on the internationally diverse connections within Worcester and the vital global role an encyclopedic museum, such as WAM, plays in its community. Artists can create, do research, give talks, participate in workshops and events, hold Open Studios, and visit nearby institutions.

Since we couldn’t hold our traditional residency this year due to COVID-19, we thought this is a great opportunity to highlight the program and showcase our talented alumni artists: Nguyễn Thế Sơn (2018), Nguyễn Kim Tố Lan (2018), Richard Streitmatter-Tran (2019). and Jennifer Teo (2019). 

Rachel Parikh, our Assistant Curator of Asian and Middle Eastern Art, caught up with each artist, and their interviews will appear in WAM Updates throughout this week, beginning today, with Nguyễn Thế Sơn. You also can follow this feature on WAM’s Facebook and Instagram accounts! 


Nguyễn Thế Sơn, 2018 SEA-AiR alumnus 

Thế Sơn was one of our first participants of the Southeast Asia Artists-in-Residency Program. He is a curator and professor of fine arts based in Hanoi, Vietnam. Fascinated by life on the streets, especially street vendors and other low-wage earners who are so easily overlooked, Thế Sơn uses his photography to create multi-scale, layered, and sculptural dioramas that reflect his street experiences.


Thế Sơn’s The Carriers in front of Worcester’s City Hall.
The work features life-size photographic dioramas of a
 female street vendor selling vegetables from Hanoi and  a
 male shipper driving his motorcycle from Ho Chi Minh City.


Rachel Parikh (RP): Why did you want to participate in WAM’s Southeast Asia                            Artists-in-Residency Program? 

Thế Sơn (TS): I thought it would be a great experience for me to connect with the Vietnamese            community in Worcester and to experiment with my public art project in a totally new social environment. 


RP: What was your favorite memory of the program?

TS: I have so many wonderful memories of when I was in Worcester! But I think the highlight was the StART on the Street Festival. It was so much fun to interact with a lot of local people. I also loved the amazing POW!WOW! mural project in Worcester.


RP: Do you have a favorite object in the WAM Collection?

TS: I do! It is Nam June Paik’s Robert Goddard, 1995. I have always loved Nam June-Paik's work and was happy to see one at the Museum I find his work complex and inspiring, and like the interactive elements of his work, which I try to achieve in my own art.


Nam June Paik (American, born in Korea, 1932-2006), Robert Goddard, 1995, 
1995, aluminum structure, wooden cabinet, electronic components,
neon glass tubing, two video sequences. Museum purchase with funds
from Mary H. and Donald R. Melville, Linda and John Nelson,
and the Theodore T. and Mary G. Ellis Fund, 1997.108 


RP: Did the program impact your artistic practice? How? 

TS: It did. It made me think about how my art interacts with the community—and different    communities, especially when I am working on a public art project. 


RP: What have you been working on since your residency in 2018?

TS: Since my residency in 2018, I have become more focused on public art projects, both curating and creating. I continue to think more and more about making art for the larger community in this way, such as an outdoor museum for everyone. I have been working on a lot of these around Vietnam, most recently, at Phuc Tan, and also in the Netherlands. I also have done solo exhibitions in Vietnam, Seoul, and Hong Kong. 


Thế Sơn’s Street Vendors, part of the 2020 Phuc Tan Public Art Project.
The work depicts silhouettes of female works at the river wharf, executed in
scrap iron. The highly reflective surface mirrors views of the river.


To see more of The Son’s recent work and projects, please check out the Journey to the Windmill Land and the Contemporary art project in the basement of  National Assembly of Vietnam.


The Southeast Asia Artist-in-Residency Program launched in 2018 in partnership with the Indochina Arts Partnership and the Southeast Asian Coalition of Central Massachusetts under the leadership of Anh Vu Sawyer, is made possible through the IAP Fund at WAM. Additional support is provided by the Crawford Foundation and Robert and Minh Mailloux. WAM is very grateful to the Indochina Arts Partnership, and its founder David Thomas, for their generous donation. This gift will help to ensure the continuation of this residency program and IAP’s mission to promote cultural exchange between Southeast Asia and the U.S. through the arts.


—September 8, 2020

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Minding Museum Collections and Loans During a Pandemic

When museums across the country temporarily closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many things happened all at once: Exhibitions were rescheduled, projects were postponed, and many of us learned to do our work from home. WAM and our colleagues around the world have worked hard to ensure we continue to serve our communities and connect you to the collections we care for. We made new plans to replace the old, and we adapted to a world that none of us had experienced before.


Ali Rosenberg, WAM’s Assistant Registrar, takes the dimensions of
a recently arrived loaned object while preparing it for
 studio photography. 


This new world included significant disruptions to the global transit systems that museums like WAM rely on. To put on comprehensive and engaging exhibitions, we borrow works of art from museums and collectors around the world, and in turn, we loan pieces of our collection to exhibitions far and wide. Works of art travel by truck and plane, through border crossings and customs control. They are often accompanied by collections care professionals from the lending institution, who look after the works along the way.


In March, many museums’ carefully laid plans were put on hold. International flights were cancelled, and those that ran prioritized the shipment of medical equipment (just as we would have hoped and expected they would). Institutional and governmental travel restrictions prevented museum staff from traveling to borrowing museums to oversee the condition checking or packing of loaned objects. Loan and transportation considerations became, to put it lightly, even more complex.


At WAM, we have been in constant communication with museums around the world to ensure that the objects we have been entrusted with are safe, secure, and well cared for. The field has come together to establish new norms in these trying and unprecedented times. We are, for example, making use of digital platforms to enable what has been termed the “virtual courier”: When physical travel is not permitted or not safe, we can still oversee the handling of our collection at other museums from afar. Now, as always, we all rely on the skill and expertise of trusted collections care professionals at other museums to care for our loaned objects as they do their own collections.


While WAM remains closed to the public, we are as busy as ever. We are preparing for new exhibitions, installing new works in our permanent galleries, and, as transit systems resume new-normal operations, continuing to borrow and loan artwork.


Wes Small (left) and Trevor Toney (right), of WAM’s Exhibition Design & Fabrication Departments,
install Smallsword amid the Museum’s 18th-and 19th-century paintings.
The sword, adorned with Wedgwood plaques, is a beloved object of the Higgins Collection. 

Smallsword, plaques by Wedgwood (British, founded 1759), about 1790. Steel, faceted, burnished, blued, and gilded,
 iron, and stoneware (Jasperware). The John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection, 2014.49


In a time of new norms, we are also careful to do this work safely. Gloves have always been a routine part of collections work, but now masks have joined them as an essential part of everyone’s outfit. We all look forward to a time when this pandemic is behind us—when the world feels safer and we can return to some of the norms of the past—but in the meantime, we have a lot of work to do.



—By Ali Rosenberg, WAM Assistant Registrar

September 1, 2020

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

How WAM Spent a Fun “Summer Together” with Worcester’s School Children

A summer without camps? As the school year was coming to an end last spring, parents, students, and organizations were realizing that typical summer camps would not be a reality. A big question emerged: How could summer programs be offered to Worcester’s school children? With the strict social distancing guidelines required to operate during the pandemic, many organizations, including WAM, simply could not operate in-person programs safely. 

While the summer was looking bleak for welcoming crowds of young people into our institutions for fun learning, the Boys and Girls Club of Worcester and Recreation Worcester put out a summer SOS Zoom call. Discussions began among youth-serving city offices, non-profits, and cultural organizations about how to offer a wide variety of programs for all students. The emphasis had to be on the FUN, as we knew many students just completed weeks of homebound virtual learning.

Committees made up of youth workers and educators from organizations throughout the city formed to brainstorm programs and themes that could be offered to each age group: Pre-K and Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle and High School. Ideas flowed with new ways to provide students with art, music, writing, science, physical fitness, games, and social-emotional learning opportunities through a virtual platform. 

The Worcester Education Collaborative offered virtual training on best practices for reaching students during these unusual times. As the new Manager of Public and Education Programs for WAM, this was a great opportunity to see the passion for youth programming from cultural partners throughout Worcester. The discussions among these organizations led to the creation of Worcester’s “Summer Together”—City-Wide Virtual Summer Youth Programming from the City of Worcester Division of Youth Opportunities and its numerous partnerships.

A visit to the calendar shows the wide range of programs offered by working together. Students and families can choose to participate in creative writing and poetry sessions or take in virtual nature walks and animal feedings, or join us for art activities, or select babysitting classes and virtual playgroups. 

“Summer Together” offered WAM’s Education Division an opportunity to reach out to new audiences and to share our collection with more students and families. Preschool students enjoyed story-time sessions that shared a few works from the collection and an art activity. Helmutt, WAM’s trusty mascot, always made an appearance!


Looking rather regal, Helmutt is ready for his preschool session on crowns.


We highlighted our Arms & Armor programs with our “Meet a Knight” programs. Elementary-age students heard from Neal Bourbeau, WAM Programming Coordinator, dressed in his knightly attire about the education and training it took to become a knight and accompanied by a shield-making activity.


Neal Bourbeau, WAM's Programming Coordinator and Resident Knight, with our demonstration shields.


Middle school students learned more specifics from “Neal the Knight” about how the armor worked and were given an activity to create their own piece or suit of armor. High school students had sessions on our large outdoor sculptures and discovered how citizens represent their ideals in art with a look at the new Black Lives Matter mural in downtown Worcester. We offered three sessions for each age group. You can find these virtual programs by visiting our playlist on WAM’s YouTube channel.


A high school virtual program explored our sculpture by Arnaldo Pomodoro (Italian, born 1926),
Rotante dal Foro Centrale, 1966, cast bronze, Anonymous gift, 1971.124

Creating these videos was a learning process for us, as we continue our transition from in-person education sessions at the Museum to virtual programs. Many segments of our “Summer Together” videos can be used in a variety of formats and found their way onto WAM’s social media pages for audiences of all ages to enjoy.

A big supporter of Worcester’s “Summer Together” programming and WAM’s contributions to it is the United Way of Central Massachusetts. We thank them for their grant. In making summer contributions to Summer Together, the United Way’s President and CEO Tim Garvin, stated: “As a community, not only do we want to care for our kids, we want our kids to understand how much hope and support we have for them for a great future. For the agencies, I hope this will give them the finances so they can run wicked awesome summer recreation camps and cultural programs.”

We agree and want the children to know that we miss them, and WAM will do its best to run “wicked awesome” programming for them now and in the future. If you have an idea for a virtual youth program you would like us to consider creating, please email me at aileennovick@worcesterart.org


The local organizations participating in the "Summer Together" program.


—By Aileen Novick, WAM Manager of Public and Education Programs 

August 26, 2020


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Making Art During the Coronavirus: A Chat with Artist Randy LeSage

Each year, WAM'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. Randy LeSage’s four-part series Departure was featured from May-October 2019.

Randy LeSage has taught art classes at WAM for more than 25 years. While the widespread effects of coronavirus have paused in-person classes at the Museum, artmaking is not on hold. Randy reports from his home studio to Lauren Szumita, curatorial assistant of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, with updates on his personal practice during this time and sage advice about freeing the artist within.

LS: How has the coronavirus and its knock-on effects, such as quarantine and social distancing, impacted your practice?

RL: I have been thinking of the nature of trying to make art these days. In some ways making art seems small in relation to the situation with Coronavirus. Yet it also feels like a natural response. Mainly, coronavirus has made venturing afar difficult to draw and paint. But that appears to be becoming less restrictive. I hope to feel more at ease working on site in open areas and park settings, with safe distancing and mask wearing as needed. One does feel some psychological challenge in adjusting to the changed reality.

LS: What is your studio space like?

RL: My studio is a small but useful room. Though cluttered, I try to keep it organized: materials kept in specific stations, some good lighting (a window and adjustable lamplights), a drawing table, an easel, and another plank board table. I can’t work terribly large, but when I’m painting, I can push it up to a 30x40 inch canvas. Otherwise, I can go outside to work.



A view of Randy’s at-home studio.


LS: You exhibited at WAM from May through October 2019. How has your work changed, or not, since then?

RL: Since my exhibition at WAM last year, I have continued with the visual dialogue between nature and the man-made. I continue to make art in other media (drawing, painting, printmaking, collage) related to landscape, figure, and abstraction. 

I recently created some small clay ‘human head’ sculptures, handled in an almost primal manner by carving basic planes, simple scoring, and pushing and pinching the clay without too much agonizing. Because clay can be so malleable, in the past I would get so lost in altering form that I often found myself ending up with a frustrating lump of clay. I recently heard a sculptor mention that clay always wants to go to nature. 

Not knowing quite why I felt inclined to fashion these sculptures, I reflect on how primary and vulnerable these little faceted ‘jewels’ of human form appear and wonder in what place they reside. I placed them together, on simple bases and backdrops. Then I set them against some old, grainy black-and-white photographs of past industry, a subject that has endured for me. 

This low-tech, somewhat childlike, almost anachronistic setting seemed to fit with them. The scale makes the clay heads appear large, yet they are vulnerable. They reminded me of the sculptures on Easter Island, only here the settings are old industry. Sentinels that are slowly deteriorating, noble, clumsy, enduring.




Fracture Sentinel II: Lapointe Machine Tool showcases Randy’s explorations in clay.  

LS: You've mentioned that explorations in clay represent a new direction of your work. When is the last time clay make a significant appearance in your work? And what’s the value of working outside of your preferred medium?

RL: Two years ago, I taught a class at WAM called “Your Primal Landscape.” While students mainly worked in drawing and painting, the Museum had a wonderful exhibit of contemporary Japanese sculptors creating ‘archaic’ clay vessels [Archaic Avant-Garde: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics from the Horvitz Collection, on view October 27, 2018 – March 1, 2020]. I brought the class to view the basic primary forms and how the artists utilized the nature of clay to exhume expressive directions. The students responded strongly to it, so we had a class working with the primal aspects of clay. 

As I recently created the clay head sculptures, I kept the freshness of the medium in mind. In that spirit of seeking directness and simplicity I placed these human heads against the backdrop of some old photographs and graphics related to labor and factories. It’s low-tech and kind of a hoot.



Working Sentinel is an example of Randy’s intent to seek directness and simplicity
 in his art by placing the clay human heads against the backdrop of old photographs
 and graphics related to labor and factories. 


LS: Many people are using their free time in quarantine to explore creative pursuits. From those who have years of experience to those just looking to get started, do you have any advice on how to unlock your creativity at home?

RL: I think it’s vital to try to keep challenging your creativity, working in new mediums and with varied points of view. Reflecting on and celebrating the wonders of life, nature and our interactions are primary. Whether as a pastime, or as a consistent way of life, we can find solace and advantage through art. It’s part of being a more complete human. I think we have a chance to better recognize the basic impact art can have for us and our environment.

As an instructor and maker of art, I must remind myself as well as my students that you have to make art to make art. Don’t be afraid to put paint on canvas, make a mark on paper, or push a piece of clay around. We all need to play a bit, stay open, and let something happen. It could be that sudden feeling of being taken aback by a color you put down next to another color, or the way one shape relates to another. It can feel remarkable, heavenly, provocative. As the musician, Chet Baker, put it, “let’s get lost.”



Randy captures a lone figure clutching a lunch pail against a desolate cityscape in his Walking to Work oil painting.


This monotype, Changing Landscape: Shifting Planes, features horizontal landscape planes receding in space. 


All images courtesy of Randy LeSage.

August 18, 2020


Friday, August 7, 2020

Carefully Conserving a Museum Treasure: the Worcester Hunt Mosaic

The Worcester Hunt Mosaic is one of the most impressive and iconic objects within the Worcester Art Museum. In addition to being among the first artworks visitors see when they enter the grand Renaissance Court, the floor mosaic’s compelling narrative can be viewed from any side.
 
The early-6th-century mosaic was excavated from a villa at Daphne in ancient Antioch (modern-day Turkey) in 1932. Hunting was an aristocratic pastime and a common theme in mosaics and other forms of art at Antioch, and more generally in the Roman world. The figures in the scene, hunters on foot and horseback attacking lions and tigers with swords and bows, face outward to the perimeter of the mosaic.


Fig. 1. Antioch, Roman, Worcester Hunt Mosaic (early 6th century). Cubes of marble and limestone
embedded in lime mortar. Excavation of Antioch and Vicinity funded by the bequests of the
Reverend Dr. Austin S. Garver and Sarah C. Garver 1936.30


The Hunt Mosaic, which was brought to the Museum in 1936, has seen many conservation campaigns over the years (Fig. 1). When the mosaic arrived at WAM, it was maintained primarily by mosaic artists. These initial conservation attempts unfortunately resulted in the use of nonreversible oil paints for in painting, inaccurate reconstructions of portions of the scene, and misplaced integration of tesserae from the borders of the mosaic into the central composition.

Additionally, the mosaic was perceived as an extension of the Museum floor rather than a work of art as it is today. Visitors walked on the ancient stone surface. Occasional performances and even dance parties took place on the mosaic. To protect the mosaic from damage from such activities, between 1937 and 2000 there are records of multiple instances of coating application and removal on the mosaic. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a more preventative approach was taken. All coatings were removed from the mosaic surface and a permanent railing was installed around its perimeter. Coating stone is not a conservation approach taken today.

Conservators now focus on developing treatment protocols that are minimally invasive and easily reversible. It was only in the 1990s that the Hunt Mosaic received professional conservation attention for the first time.

Due to its placement in the floor and its position near a Museum entrance, the mosaic easily accumulates dust and debris. Caring for the mosaic today involves the attention of the WAM conservation staff who regularly vacuum the mosaic and simultaneously keep an eye out for any damages or concerns. In the past year, in situ conservation work was conducted to continue conserving the mosaic (Fig.2). 

Fig 2. The WAM conservation team works in situ on the Hunt Mosaic in the Renaissance Court
before the Museum temporarily closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19.


In the early 2000s, small areas of loss were filled with painted, plaster tesserae (small pieces of tile) that eventually wore away. In addition, as a result of natural wear over time, thin cracks in these plaster fills began to form. The resulting area of damage needed to be stabilized by removing broken plaster tesserae and replacing them with new ones (Fig. 3 A & B). The cracked plaster tesserae were excavated using small scalpels, micro chisel tools, and a hide mallet. New plaster fills were cast directly from a silicone mold taken of the mosaic (Fig. 4). Plaster tesserae were cut to size, toned to match the exact color of the surrounding mosaic, and secured in place with a conservation--grade adhesive mixture (Fig.3 C & D). These meticulous steps guarantee creating a seamless transition with the original mosaic stone. 


Fig. 3. The intricate conservation process includes removing loose tesserae (A);
clearing crumbling fill material (B); placing new tesserae in areas of loss (C);
 and in painting white plaster tesserae with conservation grade pigments (D).


Fig. 4. A silicone mold of mosaic tesserae and the resultant cast plaster fills. 


From the early 1930s to the present day, the Worcester Hunt Mosaic is the focal point of the Renaissance Court at WAM. The preventative and less invasive techniques conservators now use will help preserve the mosaic for the future. We look forward to welcoming you back to the Museum this fall for you to see and experience the remarkable mosaic once again.


—By Elle Friedberg, WAM Pre-Program Intern in Conservation, and Paula Artal-Isbrand, WAM      Objects Conservator
August 7, 2020


Sources
“Hunting Scene.” Worcester Art Museum. Accessed July 6, 2020. https://www.worcesterart.org/collection/Ancient/1936.30.html. 

Becker, Lawrence, and Christine Kondoleon. The Arts of Antioch: Art Historical and Scientific Approaches to Roman Mosaics and a Catalogue of the Worcester Art Museum Antioch Collection. Worcester, MA: Worcester Art Museum, 2005.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

A Near-Disaster Meets a Fortunate Ending for Three Orantes at WAM

What is an orante figure and why are three so special to the Museum? To find out, let's take a closer look at these rare sculptural treasures from ancient Greek and Roman times.

The three large female terracotta statues pictured here (Figs. 1-3) were excavated in the late 1800s from ancient underground tombs in modern-day Canosa, a town in southeastern Italy that was heavily influenced by Greek culture in Antiquity (4th through the early 3rd centuries BCE). The role of these terracotta statues, which were once painted in bright colors, was to mourn or pray over the deceased laid out to rest in these family tombs. Their raised arms and hands are gestures of prayer. This is why they are known as orantes—from the Latin verb orare meaning to pray.




Fig. 1. South Italian, Orante Figure, 4th-3rd century BCE, Terracotta with white slip,
Stoddard Acquisition Fund, 2008.50


Fig. 2. Greek, Funerary Statue of a Young Maiden, 500–450 BCE, terracotta,
Museum Purchase, 1927.45


Fig. 3. Orante on loan to WAM (E22.10)


Today, fewer than 50 orante figures survive in museums around the world, and only eight of them are in U.S. museums, three of which are at the Worcester Art Museum. The three statues at WAM have fascinating modern histories filled with occurrences of disaster, good fortune, and serendipity alike.

Two orantes (Figs. 1 and 2) were purchased as a pair from a dealer in London in the 1920s. Sadly, one was severely damaged in transit across the Atlantic Ocean as one can appreciate in this photo (Fig. 4).





Fig. 4. The Funerary Statue of a Young Maiden (1927.45) orante broke in many pieces
during transit from London to America.


Meant to flank two doorways, the pair no longer served this purpose after the damage, so the disappointed Museum director lost interest and the broken orante was put in storage while the intact one was sold to the New York auction house Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc. in 1946. This auction house was later purchased by Sotheby’s.

It was not until the mid-1990s—when objects conservation as a specialty in the field of art conservation was first introduced to the Worcester Art Museum—that the broken orante was rediscovered in storage and earmarked for conservation. During the treatment, WAM contacted Sotheby’s to inquire about the 1946 sale of the second intact orante in hopes of learning more about its current whereabouts.

Due to the rarity of this genre of sculpture, it was surprising to hear that an orante had been offered on consignment to be sold by Sotheby’s the previous week. I was asked to share archival photos of the sculpture in question and, to everyone’s amazement, it was the same orante WAM sold in 1946! I also learned that the sculpture was in Tasmania, Australia—literally on the other side of the world!

Fortunately for WAM, the owner of the sculpture and Sotheby’s agreed that the Museum could purchase the orante directly from the art dealer and thereby bypass the planned auction. 

After more than six decades, eight different owners (as we learned from Sotheby’s), multiple restoration campaigns, and a trip halfway around the world, the second orante was to be reunited with its former companion at the Museum. I went to pick it up in New York City and couriered it on a truck (Figs. 5 and 6) back to WAM in February 2008.  





Fig. 5. Picking up the second orante (2008.50) from Sotheby’s in New York City,
and bringing it back to Worcester.


Fig. 6.  Orante Figure, 2008.50



The second orante, which showed signs of having broken after it left Worcester, had been extensively restored so that the entire original ancient surface was buried under many layers of modern paint. At WAM, it was fully disassembled (Fig. 7), all the old restoration materials removed, cleaned, and reassembled. Susan, Costello, the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Objects Conservation, masterfully conserved and restored the reunited pair of orantes to their current state.  





Fig. 7. The second orante (2008.50) taken apart during conservation.


Well, the story continues because there is still one more orante to join the duo. While Sue was busy working on the two precious orantes in our conservation lab, I received a phone call from an anonymous person. He asked if the two ancient female statues in the conservation lab were rare. I replied that they are indeed quite rare. The caller then said, “I know of a dealer who has one for sale, but I can’t go into further detail” and hung up. That evening, as I was driving home to Somerville, I got stuck in a traffic jam and decided to take an alternate route. The detour took me past an art gallery in Cambridge, which had an orante in the window! Of course, I knew it was the one the caller spoke of earlier that day.  

A short time later the caller contacted me again to tell me he purchased the orante and would offer it to WAM on a long-term loan. He thought it would be ideal for WAM to have not one, not two, but three orantes. 

This third orante needed conservation treatment, which was skillfully undertaken by Sue’s successor, Kari Dodson. The three orantes were finally displayed for the first time in the initial Jeppson Idea Lab exhibition I curated in 2013. 

I invite you to visit these three ladies now on permanent view in our Greek Gallery when WAM opens again this fall. To learn more about them, see photos of the tombs where they came from, the exhaustive conservation process during which fascinating discoveries were made, and view images of orantes in other museums, please explore this content on the comprehensive iPad that accompanies the sculptures. In the meantime, this content is also available to view on our website.

Finally, this iPad features an interactive section where adults and children can help paint these statues with bright colors again!



—By Paula Artal-Isbrand, WAM Objects Conservator

August 5, 2020


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