An Interview with Membership Coordinator Madeline Grim
What do you think of when you hear the words ‘art’ and ‘Worcester’ in the same sentence? The Worcester Art Museum (WAM) has been an iconic part of the growing Worcester art scene since its opening in 1898. Its dedicated staff wants the community to recognize and share in all that the Worcester art scene has to offer; as part of that mission, the New Worcester Spy will present interviews with WAM staff members over the next few weeks about their favorite pieces in the museum and why art matters in Worcester.
By Timothy Jarvis
Madeline Grim, membership coordinator at the Worcester Art Museum (WAM), spoke briefly to the New Worcester Spy about her favorite piece at the museum: Muddy Alligators by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). Sargent is an American painter, but spent a large portion of his life in Paris and London where he trained and created many of his works. When he visited Florida he felt inspired by his surroundings, as they were much different than Europe. This is when Sargent made the watercolor piece Alligators in 1917.
Muddy Alligators is rarely on display at the WAM because watercolor pieces aren’t typically shown. But, the piece is so loved that “some people will make appointments just to see [the] piece; it’s very popular,” according to Grim.
Grim goes on to explain why Sargent’s piece is her favorite: “One day the curator put out a bunch of prints and watercolor works. As soon as I saw this one, I knew it was my favorite in the museum.”
The painting is quite detailed for a watercolor – it stands out in a crowd. The work shows the variety of ways in which it was created: scratching into the paper to illustrate the alligator’s teeth, applying wax resist to suggest rough textures, and laying on broad brushstrokes to create the tree trunks in the background — it’s no wonder this is Grim’s favorite piece.
“It’s just amazing to me that he could make these figures with watercolor paint,” Grim said. “This part of the alligator isn’t even paint, it’s just part of the paper,” she explained, pointing to the center of the alligator’s back region. It appears to be so well-lit by the sun that it is almost white. At first glance, a viewer might assume white watercolor paint was used to create it, but it’s an illusion created by Sargent: it’s just the paper itself left untouched. This just shows how intuitive a piece Muddy Alligators is, and how skilled a painter Sargent was.
“One can feel the weight of the alligator snapping off the paper; there are very minimal things he did to make this piece stand out,” Grim said.
Grim then handed it off to Nancy Burns, Assistant Curator of Prints, to speak about the history of the piece and Sargent: “It was an important time in his life, as he usually does portraits. A watercolor piece by him is rare. Also, Sargent rarely came to America, so to have piece by him done in America right here is a great thing,” she explained.
Sargent is usually referred to as an American artist, but this is interesting as his time in America was brief; he spent most of it in Europe. “Sargent would come back to America every so often to retain his citizenship,” Burns said. “When doing this he completed a series of watercolor works even thought he was known as a portraitist.” Sargent could get away from portrait work by doing these watercolor pieces in America.
Burns further explained, “Watercolor takes the most confidence to create. With an oil painting or acrylic painting, mistakes can be fixed, but with watercolor, we all know from when we were kids what happens when one tries to fix it.”
As membership coordinator, Grim is responsible for the management and organization of the WAM’s basic level of membership; any donations $200 or below to the WAM is handled by Grim. These donations are usually contributed by individual donors (as opposed to an organization), household contributions, and family memberships.
Grim, who is from the South, concluded by telling the Spy that she feels a personal connection to this piece.
“I love this piece because it reminds me of home, and this has a unique offering to Worcester because it’s tropical and exotic to the people here.”