The Worchester Art Museum polishes its new arms and armor collection for a permanent interactive exhibit, just in time for the holidays.
The helmet of Count Franz von Teuffenbach, a 16th-century Austrian nobleman, is part of a full suit of armor in the John Woodman Higgins Collection.
Once upon a time, there were knights in shining armor who had to be rescued themselves. Aye, forsooth. They were an international lot—from England, Japan, Persia—who found themselves homeless when, alas, their beloved sanctuary, the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, made the heart-wrenching decision to close its doors on a freezing New Year’s Day nearly two years ago. But the fine curators at the Worcester Art Museum recognized a priceless trove when they saw one.
The nearly 2,000-piece collection—featuring artwork, exquisitely detailed helmets (one shaped like a conch shell, another from Greece circa 550-450 BCE), and ceremonial armor, including an ornate Flemish front plate—was amassed by Worcester industrialist John Woodman Higgins in the mid-20th century. As part of the Worcester Art Museum’s new permanent exhibition “Knights!,” the collection is now divided into five sections—such as “Good + Evil,” focusing on the violence that arms and armor represent and the moral questions that arise even with ceremonial items, and “Courtly Pursuits,” which explores the idealized world of knighthood.
“The integration of the arms and armor has really changed how we operate,” says Katrina Stacy, the museum’s assistant curator of education. “It was very important to us to become a more family-friendly place. ‘Knights!’ allowed us to do that with more interaction in the galleries, like providing a piece of tapestry you can touch, big magnifying glass sheets you can carry around, a gauntlet [armored glove] you can try on, and 12 iPads throughout the space.”
For an even more hands-on experience, the museum runs a swords class in which wannabe mounted soldiers can practice 12th-century moves and then, just like the museum’s shining knights, live happily ever after. 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, 508-799-4406