Why I finally joined the Worcester Art Museum

If all goes as planned, I will soon be giving birth to a new Worcester resident. My husband and I read the books, memorized nap acronyms, and practiced our swaddling techniques. From what I can tell, there will be plenty of naps and feeding in our future. But, to be honest, I’m still a bit fuzzy about what’s going on in between. How can I fill our waking moments in a way that stimulates the baby while leaving me feeling fulfilled and intellectually satisfied? I think the answer might be waiting for me, 1.3 miles down the road.

I’ve been considering joining the Worcester Art Museum for a while. When I was a child, my father took me to WAM every New Year’s Eve. I vividly remember being impressed when I spotted Paul Gauguin’s ‘The Brooding Woman’ hanging in the European Art Gallery, who I recognized from my third-grade social studies book. This was the first time I had made the distinction between art with a capital “A” and “small-a” art that my elementary school art teacher created for us during class. This is not to diminish its impact on my cultural development. After all, it was Mrs. McPherson who arranged an excursion to see “American Gothic” on display at WAM – another of my most vivid childhood memories.

When my niece was very young, my brother and sister-in-law swore by WAM. I thought maybe they had aspirations of raising an impressionist prodigy, but the truth was simpler than that. WAM was the perfect place to entertain all members of the family. On days when they were exhausted, there was something pretty to look at. On days when they wanted to learn something, there was a fascinating new exhibit to explore. And, on days when they just needed a peaceful change of scenery, WAM could provide them.

I received the recent return of “The Pregnant Woman” by Otto Dix to WAM as a personal sign. WAM’s Spring/Summer guide describes the painting as “an unflinching representation of the female body in late pregnancy, a radical approach that rejects a traditional idealization of the female nude for male audiences.” The bulbous shape of the subject not only looked familiar, but it also sent the kind of message about independent womanhood and working mothers that I hoped would resonate with my future daughter.

On my last visit, I visited the large-scale contemporary exhibition “Us Them We ︱Race Ethnicity Identity”. The exhibition combines textual media, sculpture, photography, prints and paintings to make a complex statement about race and ethnicity through art with a capital “A”. Byron Kim’s series called “Synecdoche” looked like a set of wooden building blocks stacked in our baby’s room. I could imagine her small eyes absorbing the contrast of colors – poplar, oak, walnut, mahogany, cherry and pine. Upon closer inspection, I realized that Kim’s rectangles weren’t made of wood. Each of the 25 canvases was a sample of wax and oil painted to reflect the skin tones of the people in the artist’s life.

I pulled out my phone to see how long “Us Them We” would be displayed. It ends on June 19. Is it too ambitious to plan an outing to the Art Museum for a three-day child? None of the books exceeded that. Only time will tell.

Find me on Instagram to tell me your favorite baby spots. You can message me at @sarah_connell.

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