WORCESTER – After being shut-down for roughly six-and-a-half months because of COVID-19, Worcester’s “hidden jewel” is once again open for business amid social distancing.
Mask-wearing art lovers couldn’t wait to be reacquainted with some “old friends” just hanging around.
The “hidden jewel,” the 124-year-old Worcester Art Museum and the “old friends” are Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” (1908), Paul Gauguin’s “Te Faaturuma (The Brooding Woman)” (1891) and, on loan from the Detroit Institute of Arts, Vincent van Gogh’s “Portrait of Postman Roulin” (1888).
On Thursday, WAM members were allowed into the second largest art museum in New England. Next Wednesday, the general public is invited back. Members and nonmembers are required to reserve timed tickets in advance at worcesterart.org.
Jonathan Kranz of Ayer said it feels “fantastic” to be back in the museum after roughly a six-and-half-month hiatus.
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“The artwork feels like old friends that I have missed for months,” Kranz said. “So it’s great to be reunited with them.”
Kranz said the museum is a “favorite spot” of his and his favorite art pieces are Paolo Veronese’s oil painting “Venus Disarming Cupid” (about 1555), the French Chapter House (1150-60 and 1180-90 limestone) on the first floor, and a roomful of 17th Century Dutch masters, which he remarks, are “magnificent.”
“I live in Ayer, so that’s only about a half-an-hour from here,” Kranz said. “And, for me, it’s an opportunity to see great art without having to go to Cambridge and Boston. It’s about an hour. It’s much more crowded. And, I think, the Worcester Art Museum is, really, one of the greatest collections of old masters in the East Coast. And, it’s totally unrecognized. People walk right by and they don’t realize it. Right here.”
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Jeffrey Cave of Atlanta just became a member so he could come to Thursday’s reopening for members. This was his first time in the museum and he was thrilled, especially by the priceless Japanese artifacts.
“I have long known that the Worcester Art Museum is a hidden jewel and I wanted to see for myself before it was too late,” Cave said. “It’s quite wonderful.”
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Andrew Royce and L.J. Carrol of Framingham joined the museum in February. Both were itching to come back and were thrilled to see some of the Higgins Armory collection and always love to see the Chapter House.
“It feels good to be back in any museum,” she said. “It’s good to be here.”
It turns out that chivalry is not only alive and well at the Worcester Art Museum but it’s wearing a face mask and practicing social distancing to boot.
Adorned in a recreation of late-15th Century Gothic-style armor, “Neal the Knight” (aka WAM’s program coordinator Neal Bourbeau) greeted art patrons as they entered the museum, while standing on the museum’s outer steps, Lisa Kirby Gibbs, president of WAM’s Board of Trustees, proudly declared “The art museum is back!”
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Worcester Art Museum has stayed positive throughout the difficult times, Gibbs said.
“When the museum closed in March, it was such a tremendous pivot by the staff and Matthias (Waschek, director of the museum) and his team,” Gibbs said. “The response was so thoughtful, yet immediate, and the board was so behind everything that the staff did. And our board is so united and collaborative and pro-active and has been meeting actively throughout this as has our staff.”
Christina Proffitt, senior manager of institutional giving, said she was so excited that the museum was open again.
“You don’ really know what you miss until it’s taken away from you,” Proffitt said. “And I longed to see the art objects in person. And we haven’t been able to until now.”
The museum closed its doors on March 13. Julieane K. Frost, senior marketing manager, said members and the public have been eager to return to the museum.
“People are so ecstatic,” Frost said. “There is something very peaceful and comforting about being in the presence of art. So this is something that people are craving.”
Following state and local guidelines, visitors (including members) are required to reserve or purchase timed tickets in advance; all staff and visitors (ages five and older) are required to wear a mask inside and practice social distancing; maximum group size of five visitors; and all visitors must enter and exit through the Salisbury Street entrance.
“There are no groups. There are no public programs, no tours,” Frost said. “For the time being, this is walking through the gallery only.”
The museum sold 22 advance tickets for Thursday and expects more members during the weekend. Under its new security guidelines, the museum can accommodate 30 people per hour (or 180 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), Frost said.