Building a new home for a beloved collection
Acquired by the Worcester Art Museum in 2014, the Higgins Armory Collection is the second largest collection of its kind in the Americas. Encompassing arms, armor, and metalwork from around the world and spanning from antiquity to the 19th century, the collection is particularly known for its rare grouping of European suits of plate armor from the 15th to 17th centuries. To house and display this important body of objects, WAM is converting 4,000 square feet of existing space into a permanent gallery installation. This state-of-the-art arms and armor gallery will display the bulk of the 1,500 plus-objects in the Higgins Armory Collection through an innovative design solution that will allow visitors to see a large quantity of artwork in both traditional and non-traditional exhibition spaces.
A major component of the Museum’s installation plan is to rethink traditional ideas for accessibility, both physical and intellectual, in ways that support WAM’s strategic priority of increasing access, equity, inclusivity, and diversity at the Museum. That includes deploying a range of interpretive modes—some of which the Museum has been piloting in its renovated Medieval Galleries—to support and engage audiences with an array of interests, learning styles, and abilities. Among these are: hands-on, tactile interactives, giving visitors an opportunity to address their curiosity about, for example, the weight and feel of armor; new digital tools that will provide in-depth information on objects in the galleries’ open storage; “static interactives,” such as wall maps highlighting key locations for armor production or use; and new approaches to in-gallery seating that provides a relaxing place from which to study the objects—and encourages visitors to do so.
WAM will also continue its unique, ongoing program of live interpretation around its arms and armor collection, including costumed presentations that feature knights and samurai, as well as more informal mobile “art carts,” staffed by educators and docents, which offer mediated hands-on experiences. Supported and enhanced by a substantial corps of reenactors who volunteer at the Museum regularly, the program provides visitors with in-person opportunities to learn about the arms and cultures of ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, and Renaissance swordfighters.
Currently in the design phase, WAM’s new arms and armor installation is expected to open in 2025.
- Open Door Arts
- Clark University
- College of the Holy Cross
- The Oakeshott Institute
- Worcester Public Schools
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)
- George I Alden Trust
- Fred Harris Daniels Foundation
- Ruth H. and Warren Ellsworth Foundation
- The Fletcher Foundation
- George F. and Sybil H. Fuller Foundation
- The Francis A. and Jacquelyn H. Harrington Foundation
- Bradley C. Higgins Foundation
- Hoche-Scofield Foundation
- Institute of Museum and Library Services
- The Manton Foundation
- Mildred H. McEvoy Foundation
- National Endowment for the Humanities
- Stoddard Charitable Trust