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  • About WAM

    Considered a “classic American museum,” the Worcester Art Museum has built a 35,000-piece collection that spans over fifty centuries. The Museum was founded in 1896 by Stephen Salisbury III and 50 prominent citizens of Worcester and opened to the public in 1898. The original collection consisted mainly of works on loan, along with plaster casts of famous ancient and Renaissance sculpture.

    In 1905, the wealthy Stephen Salisbury died, leaving his extensive collection of mostly American art to the Museum. He also bequeathed $3 million to the institution, allowing it to aggressively collect art in the subsequent decades. It was through a number of significant gifts and purchases that the collection of the Museum today was formed. From the time of the first director, Philip J. Gentner, to the current Director Matthias Waschek, the Worcester Art Museum has been committed to acquiring works from all time periods and places.

    original building worcester art museum

    Worcester Art Museum, 1896, an architectural rendering by George C. Halcott

    Worcester Art Museum Milestones
    1904: One of the first museums to exhibit photography as a fine art
    1910: The first museum in the nation to purchase works by Claude Monet
    1919: One of the country's first museum/public school collaborations established
    1927: The first museum to bring a medieval building to America
    1932: A sponsor of the major excavation at Antioch, one of the four great cities of ancient Rome
    1987: The first museum to create an Art All-State program for high-school artists
    1993: The originator of the first exhibition of Dutch master Judith Leyster
    1998: The first museum to focus its contemporary art program on art of the last 10 years

    The Museum building has expanded several times over the years, in 1921, 1933, 1940, 1970 (Higgins Education Wing addition), and 1983 (Frances L. Hiatt Wing for special exhibitions; study and storage area for prints, drawings, and photographs; and an expanded conservation area).

    Since less than 5 percent of its permanent collection is on display, the Museum organizes temporary exhibitions in three major areas: Contemporary, Asian and Prints, Drawings and Photographs (PDP). These exhibits allow visitors to experience more of the permanent collection as well as to view important works on loan.

    Education Programs
    The Worcester Art Museum is home to one of the country's first museum/public school collaborations, established in 1927. This long-term commitment to schoolchildren in the central Massachusetts region continues today with thousands of school children visiting the museum for a tour and/or a gallery/studio/workshop as part of their schooling. Fourth grade Worcester Public School children all visit the museum each year for a tour as well as participate in pre- and post-visits that support their classroom curricula.

    In addition to these collaborations with the schools, the museum welcomes thousands of adults and families for informal and formal learning experiences in a wide range of educational and experiential programs, such as community days, public and private tours, art carts, exhibition opening parties, gallery interactives and iPads, lectures, scavenger hunts, artist talks, arms and armor demonstrations, and much more.

    Studio Class Program
    The studio class program at Worcester Art Museum offers a wide variety of educational opportunities for youth, teen and adults, enrolling over 3,000 students annually in classes and gallery studio workshops. The Higgins Education Wing, opened in 1970, contains studios and classrooms, a professional printmaking studio, a computer studio, and an exhibition space for student works.

    Classes and workshops include traditional studio courses, interdisciplinary instruction, art history lectures, and internships. There are also programs and resources for teachers, including teacher in-services. The studio class program provides generous scholarship aid to youth and adult students based on financial need. Through this funding, one out of three children and one out of five adults attend classes at no charge.

    The Worcester Art Museum Library, open to all, is a non-circulating bibliographic resource containing nearly 45,000 titles. Approximately 45,000 slides, primarily reflecting the collection of the Museum, are available for loan. The Library is operated in association with the College of the Holy Cross.

    Conservation Department
    Founded in the 1930s as one of the first of its kind in the country, this department is dedicated to the care and preservation of the collection and employs a number of highly trained conservators. The Worcester Art Museum was the first to share with the public information about paintings detected through radiography and infrared photography. The department recently received $1.8 million in grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for staff, training, and equipment.