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

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Examining the Spooky Illustrations of Widdicombe Fair by Pamela Colman Smith

October in New England conjures images of colorful leaves, cozy hearths, and chilly nights, but for many it also brings to mind ghost stories, folklore, and things that go bump in the night. One such story has been passed down through the popular and whimsical folk song, “Widdicombe Fair,”¹ from Devon County in England.

First recorded in print form in the late 19th century, “Widdicombe Fair” is believed to have originated decades earlier. Some historians speculate that the names featured in the song belonged to 18th-century locals, while others believe they could refer to the Welsh tradition of the Mari Lwyd.² In 1899, the tale was published by Sabine Baring-Gould in book form and illustrated by artist Pamela Colman Smith. Each of Smith’s plates is represented in WAM’s collection of works on paper.


Fig.1: Pamela Colman Smith (American, active England, 1877–1950),
Untitled (Widdicombe Graveyard) plate 12 in Widdicombe Fair (1899),
 photomechanical relief print with and pochoir handcoloring on cream wove paper
trimmed along border, mounted on original cream wove paper sheet,
Sarah C. Garver Fund, 1997.75.12


The story told in Pamela Colman Smith’s Widdicombe Fair begins with a man named Tom Pearce lending his old mare to a group of men to assist them as they head for the fair. The names of these men include “Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.” They form the chorus of the folksong, which is repeated throughout. In it, they promise to bring back the poor horse, but when the time comes for their return and the troupe fails to appear, Tom begins an extensive search. Tom despairs as he finds his mare has taken ill and died, likely from the burden of carrying so many men. 

Their weary journey is immortalized in the full lyrics of the "Widdiecombe Fair" folk song: 

Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare
All along, down along, out along lee.
For I want to go down to Widdicombe Fair
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

And when shall I see again my old grey mare?
All along, down along, out along lee.
By Friday soon or Saturday noon
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
 
So they harnessed and bridled the old grey mare
All along, down along, out along, lee.
And off they drove to Widdicombe fair,
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
 
Then Friday came and Saturday soon
All along, down along, out along lee.
Tom Pearce’s old mare hath not trotted home
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
 
So Tom Pearce he got up to the top of the hill,
All along, down along, out along lee.
And he sees his old mare a-making her will,
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

Tom Pearce’s old mare, her took sick and died
All along, down along, out along lee.
And Tom he sat down on a stone and he cried
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

But this isn’t the end of this shocking affair, 
All along, down along, out along lee.
Nor though they be dead, of the horrid career
Of Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

When the wind whistles cold on the moor of a night,
All along, down along, out along lee.
Tom Pearce’s old mare doth appear ghastly white
Wi’ Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
 
And all the long night be heard skirling and groans,
All along, down along, out along lee.
From Tom Pearce’s old mare and her rattling bones
And from Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawk,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all³

Even today, on windy moonlit nights, Devon locals say you can see the white ghost and rattling bones of the overburdened horse and hear the groans of the men. Smith incorporates the oral tradition of the folksong in the final plate of the series, shown in Fig. 1, as townsfolk gather around the tombstones of the song’s chorus. A closer look at the stones shows various life dates, ranging from 1760 to 1794, over 100 years before the publication of these prints. All the principal characters have long since departed, and yet their spirits live on through the singing of “Widdicombe Fair” and Smith’s spooky illustrations.  

Widdicombe Graveyard, highlights the lyrical tale’s status as a ghost story. Originally this plate (Fig. 2) was positioned at the beginning of the book, but ultimately moved to its culmination. At first one sees a robust horse bounding over a hill; however, closer examination reveals the outline of the moon passing through the mare’s hooves. Aside from a touch of delicate yellow highlighting around the inside edge of the horse’s linework, the horse merges into the gray night sky, implying it may be an apparition not a living animal. The effect is subtle, whimsical, and a touch unsettling. 


Fig. 2: Pamela Colman Smith (American, active England, 1877–1950),
 Untitled (Ghostly Mare) plate 13 in Widdicombe Fair (1899),
 photomechanical relief print with pochoir handcoloring on cream wove paper
 trimmed along border, mounted on original cream wove paper sheet,
Sarah C. Garver Fund, 1997.75.13 


In addition to Widdicombe Fair’s haunting subject matter, people more often recognize Pamela Colman Smith for her design work on the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. She was commissioned to make the deck by British poet Arthur Edward Waite. While he wrote the guide for interpreting the cards, the art for all 78 cards was hers alone. The tarot deck was published a decade after her Widdicombe Fair book illustrations. In both the book plates and the tarot deck she uses the same stylized initials “PCS” in the bottom-right corner. 

Smith was well known in occult circles and was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a late-19th century secret society interested in the paranormal and metaphysical. Some speculate her contribution was downplayed because she was a biracial woman of Jamaican descent. Today, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is one of the most famous tarot sets in the world, and it is featured in media such as The Haunted Mansion, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Exorcist franchise, and even The Simpsons


—By Gabrielle Belisle, Fellow for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

    October 21, 2020

__________________________________

¹ Common variant spellings include Widecome and Widdecombe.

² The Mari Lwyd is an old Welsh Christmas tradition in which a horse skull is mounted on a pole and carried by a man hiding beneath a cloth. He would be accompanied by a group of men and would travel house to house singing to request entry. If the owner of the house relented, the group would be welcomed for refreshments before moving on.

³ Taken from the version written on Wikipedia

Friday, October 16, 2020

Have 30 Minutes? See Some Cool Art via a Zip Zoom Tour!

Zip Tours are a popular offering from our WAM docents. They provide a quick-tour option where visitors learn about just a few works of art within a 30-minute period. Many visitors appreciate a shorter tour that allows them to see works they know in a new way, or to see artworks they have not viewed before. 

A fun part of our tours is the discussion that takes place between the docent and visitors and between the visitors themselves. Since the Museum was closed for several months, due to the pandemic, our docents and visitors missed these art discussions. We created a solution: FREE virtual Zip Zoom Tours!

Our first program, "John Singer Sargent's Portraits" launched live via Zoom on Wednesday, October 7.  Docent Susan Gately shared a brief background of Sargent and provided details of his stays in Worcester at the Worcester Club. During a part of the conversation, viewers saw our large Sargent portrait, Lady Warwick and Her Son, paired with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Sargent portrait of Worcester woman, Mrs. Edward L. Davis and Her Son, Livingston Davis


Left: John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Mrs. Edward L. Davis and Her Son,
Livingston Davis
, 1890, oil on canvas, Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
Frances and Armand Hammer Purchase Fund, M.69.18 
Right: John Singer Sargent, Lady Warwick and Her Son, 1905, oil on canvas,
Museum Purchase, 1913.69


While looking at these portraits, viewers noted the differences between Sargent’s clients in Europe and America. One participant commented that she felt like Mrs. Davis was a woman who looked like she would “get down in the mud” to play with her son. Viewers sensed that Davis would be an interesting woman to converse with about her life and Worcester in the late 19th century. The textures and details of the women’s attire were also of interest to the virtual audience.

Another slide compared WAM’s Sargent 1890 portraits of Worcester women Lizzie B. Dewey in the red dress and Mrs. Alexander H. Bullock in the black outfit. The 30-minute discussion was rich with comments on the two women’s vastly different styles and depictions.



As these presentations take place on alternating Wednesdays, our next Zip Zoom will be held Wednesday, October 21 at 12:30pm. 

“Inspiration from Laocoön,” will explore how artists continue to be inspired by this famous Hellenistic sculpture. WAM docent Cathryn Oles will reflect on Nancy Graves’s 1988 sculpture, also titled Laocoön. She will reveal elements of the innovative stainless steel, bronze, and black enamel work that are reminiscent of the original sculpture. Here's an opportunity to learn about more works inspired by Laocoön and to share your thoughts on the artworks presented in this Zip Zoom Tour.



Register in advance for the October 21 virtual tour here. After enrolling, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Zip Zoom discussion.

Select a Zip Zoom Tour that matches your interests by perusing our Fall 2020 schedule below and then register here. All virtual tours begin at 12:30pm.

November 4: WAM docent Brad Barker examines Paul Revere’s print of the Boston Massacre.


Paul Revere, The Bloody Massacre Perpetuated in King-Street Boston
on March 5th 1770,
 Boston, 1770, engraving with hand coloring,
gift of Nathaniel Paine. Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society


November 18: Explore Roman Hairstyles in the Museum’s Collection with WAM docent Mark Mancevice.

Roman, Bust of Venus, first century BCE,
white marble, Museum Purchase, 1914.57

December 2: WAM docent Deb Wallace delves into James McNeill Whistler’s elegant Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket, a portrait of his mistress, Maud Franklin. 


James McNeill Whistler (American, 1834–1903), 
Arrangement in Black and Brown: The Fur Jacket (1877),
oil on canvas, Museum Purchase, 1910.5


December 16: The Etruscan Cinerary Urn up close with WAM docent Barbara Eaton.


Etruscan, Cinerary Urn, 160–140 BCE,
 terracotta with traces of polychrome,
Museum Purchase, 1926.19


December 30:  Explore American abstract expressionism with WAM docent Peter Stultz. Learn more about painter Joan Mitchell’s Blue Tree (about 1964), a member of the American abstract expressionist movement.


Joan Mitchell, Blue Tree, about 1964, oil on canvas.
 Museum purchase, 1965.392

A virtual Zip Zoom Tour is an ideal way to learn more about WAM’s extensive art collection from the comfort of your home. Find additional information on these upcoming Zoom tours here.

We look forward to seeing you at an upcoming Zip Zoom!


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

October 16, 2020


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