Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Research: Worcester Art Museum "Then and Now" by Travis Simpkins. Update #49

2014 Highlights …

-The first photo, from 1910, shows the 2nd floor main hall during an early period of transition in the museum's history. At that time, the collection still consisted largely of plaster casts and works on loan, but the process of acquiring original works of Art for the permanent collection had begun to gain momentum… with works by Thomas Crawford, Gilbert Stuart and Joseph Badger intermingled with copies of Classical sculpture. The same spot today, Salisbury Hall, once again reflects a new stage and shift in the museum's development. As the starting point of "Knights!", a transformative acquisition of arms and armor, bold change is evident with a mounted knight on a strawberry pink horse and dual video projections glowing in the openings of the original 1897 windows.
-The second photo pairing, from 1933, was taken shortly after the Renaissance Court building was constructed. The 26-foot long, 500-year-old Flemish tapestry of "The Last Judgment" is theatrically stretched above the trio of archways. Modernist paintings (probably here on loan) flank the openings. A cord hanging to the right closed the curtains, and the tapestry could be raised and lowered via a mechanized pulley system located above the lay lights (which is still there, but the system is in pieces and non-functional).
-I'm usually able to visually connect historic photos with current locations fairly quickly. However, in all honesty, the first image shown here (from 1920) took me a little while to place. It was simply labeled "First Floor, Main Hall" and was taken just after the first addition to the Museum was built. As a starting point, I try to look for visual patterns that ignite some mild spark of recognition, and go from there. The shape of the trio of windows at the far end of the gallery, a large opening flanked by two thinner ones, looked vaguely familiar. It took some imagination, visualizing those three openings extended and reaching from floor to ceiling, and an old image of the current Museum Cafe began to form. Some of the old decorative columns and capitals still frame the doors to the courtyard today. The wall at right in the 1920 photo, a load bearing wall, was removed and replaced with the two large support columns in the center of the Cafe. The door at left in the 1920 photo is still there, leading into the kitchen, but is obscured by the booth constructed in front of it. Also, if you walk around the perimeter of the Cafe today, the original crown moulding can still be seen running alongside the edges of the modern drop ceiling.
-The fourth photo set, from 1938, shows a portion of the damage inflicted upon the Worcester Art Museum when a hurricane passed through the region. The roof was nearly destroyed and the surrounding area was ravaged. When it came time to discuss reconstruction, the administration decided that rather than repair the old roof, they would instead take the opportunity to add a fourth level on top of the 1897 building. It was a decision that still incites criticism today, over 75 years later. At far left in the 1938 photo, the chimney and side of the Director's House can be seen (in the area that is now the courtyard and upper Tuckerman parking lot). Four decades ago, the house was torn down and the surrounding ground leveled to make way for the Higgins Education Wing. At present, the view is further altered by the addition of the 1983 Hiatt Wing, which envelopes the whole east side of the original Museum building.

-The Sketches depict the Neoclassical bust of "Claudine Houdon" and the "Standing Vishnu" sculpture.

-The last photo sequence is the culmination of nearly four months (15 weeks) of repeat visits to the gallery during the exhibit's construction. I started when the gallery was empty, not knowing what the final floor plan would be, and chose about a dozen specific reference points to which I'd keep returning every 7 days. After a few weeks (as the walls went up), it became apparent which views would work, and were worth continuing. From the installation of hardwood floors, to the painting of the walls and horse, it was a remarkable process to observe considering the short time frame. In the end, I created 5 separate 15-week sequential compositions from different points in the gallery.

2nd Floor- Worcester Art Museum. by Travis Simpkins

1st Floor- Worcester Art Museum. by Travis Simpkins

Cafe- Worcester Art Museum. by Travis Simpkins

1938 Hurricane- Worcester Art Museum. by Travis Simpkins

Claudine Houdon. Worcester Art Museum. by Travis Simpkins

Standing Vishnu. Worcester Art Museum. by Travis Simpkins

Knights! Construction. Worcester Art Museum. by Travis Simpkins