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  • Worcester Art Museum Publishes Interactive CD-Rom on Early America

    (WORCESTER, MASS., April 26, 2002) - Early America meets contemporary technology in a new CD-ROM published by Worcester Art Museum.

    The disc, entitled Early American Art: A Window on History and Culture, uses a current medium to study a bygone era-colonial America and the early Republic, from 1670 to 1830. Dozens of paintings from Worcester Art Museum's collection are intertwined with furniture, silver, music, poetry, oration and reference notes to provide a rich sense of the life and times of people living in early America.

    The CD-ROM is Worcester Art Museum's first venture in multimedia publishing. This interactive reference tool is designed to enhance classroom learning and complement the resources of any institutional or home library. David Brigham, Worcester Art Museum's curator of American art and director of its collections and exhibitions, is the project director.

    “The idea of this CD-ROM is to use art as a framework for studying early American history. By examining the art and culture of the period, we broaden our understanding of the behavior, tastes and values of people living in early America,” said Brigham.

    The CD-ROM format enables users to design their own experience. Five content areas serve as points of entry into the study of early American history. “One Family” examines the portraits and mansion of the Salisbury family of Massachusetts. A sign of their affluence and stature, the Salisburys commissioned multiple portraits by some of the most popular portrait artists of their day, including Gilbert Stuart and Chester Harding. Their home shows how architecture changed in use and was updated as new styles evolved. A section on “The Puritans” uses portraits and belongings to explore both orthodox culture and the more materialistic values of the emerging merchant class in late 17th-century Boston. Portraits, costumes and gravestones help us define “Gender Roles” for men and women and parents and children living at that time. "The New Nation" explores both the landscapes of early America and its political environment. This section offers a close examination of Ralph Earl's Looking East from Denny Hill (1800), an early look at the city of Worcester from Denny farm in Leicester, and his brother James Earl's portrait of the Revolutionary War General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. “Style” showcases the Mannerist, Rococo and Neoclassical styles evident in architecture, furniture, textiles, and silver. Users may note how Paul Revere adapted his silver work as new styles became popular.

    The CD format also allows users to decide how deep into a topic they wish to explore. Each screen features concise captions, and users may select oral or written narration for background and interpretation of each work of art. Links at the bottom of the screen invite users to explore further. A section of “Study Tools” provides users with information about the artworks featured in the CD-ROM, a list of related resources, and study questions to prompt thought and discussion. In “Study Tools,” users may also listen to and learn more about special recordings of carefully chosen music that accompanies each section.

    Based on x-rays done in the Worcester Art Museum's conservation lab, users may examine a pair of early American portraits (John Freake and Mrs. Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary, 1671-74) to see how the original paintings were altered by the artist to reflect new fashions. Users adjust control bars to compare the final painting to its x-ray, infrared image, and line drawings representing the portraits prior to and following the artist's changes.

    Early American Art: A Window on History and Culture, has already earned critical acclaim. David Jaffee, associate professor of history at the Graduate Center and City College, CUNY, said the CD-ROM is a “visually arresting and historically compelling view of Early American life and culture. Whether your interests run to consumerism or gender roles, the CD offers a cutting edge cultural history through an imaginative use of electronic media. David Brigham and his colleagues have gone well beyond the museum's significant collections to incorporate an amazing array of music, poetry, and historical documents that further our understanding and appreciation of the visual arts, architecture, and material culture of colonial and early national America. Students, scholars, and many others will find the Early American Art CD's thematic approach easy to navigate and spellbinding to view. An achievement in new media that makes American culture come alive.”

    Elizabeth Johns, professor emerita of the history of art at the University of Pennsylvania and a fellow at the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross, offered, “The Worcester Art Museum's CD Early American Art is a treasure. Providing close examination of such jewels in the museum collection as Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary and Capt. Thomas Smith's Self-Portrait, it offers students pathways into the intriguing relationship between works of art and the time in which they were made.”

    Early American Art: A Window on History and Culture on CD-ROM is available for $29.95 in the Worcester Art Museum Shop, 55 Salisbury Street, Worcester, Mass., or by mail order. For information and an order form, call the Museum Shop at (508) 799-4406 ext. 3053.

    The CD-ROM was produced by Pagano Media for the Worcester Art Museum. Major support for this project was provided by The Henry Luce Foundation. Additional generous support was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, Hoche-Scofield Foundation, The Sudbury Foundation, and Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

    Museum Background

    A cultural jewel of New England, the Worcester Art Museum first opened to the public in 1898. Its exceptional 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints and drawings is displayed in 36 galleries and spans 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from Egyptian antiquities and Roman mosaics to Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Its extensive four-season studio arts program enrolls 6,000 adult and youth students each year. Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (sponsored by Commerce Bank), and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and full-time college students with current ID, and FREE for Members and all youth 17 and under. Admission is also FREE for everyone on Saturday mornings, 10 a.m.-noon (sponsored by The TJX Companies and Massachusetts Electric Company). The Museum is located at 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, Mass., easily accessible from the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), Route 290 and Route 9. Expanded parking is available near entrances on Salisbury, Lancaster and Tuckerman streets. For more information, call (508) 799-4406.