The history of armor – in war and culture – is at the center of a fall exhibit at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA). “The Age of Armor: Treasures from the Higgins Armory Collection at the Worcester Art Museum” opens on November 6th.
“We are presenting for the first time to the public of Toledo an exhibition of weapons and armor from the Higgins Armory collection, which is the second largest collection of weapons and armor in the Americas,” said Sophie Ong, Hirsch Curatorial Fellow at the TMA. “It’s an exhibition that highlights the use of armor from the ancient world up to the turn of the 20th century, and truly examines the technological innovation and artistic brilliance of metallurgists and gunsmiths, who could handle this very material. hard in practical objects to worn objects, but also very decorative and amazing that were revered in their time.
Assembling an armory
The Higgins Collection was assembled by John Woodman Higgins, an early 20th century industrialist from Massachusetts who grew up loving stories of knights. He started buying armor pieces in Europe in the 1920s and in 1931 decided to open his own museum dedicated to the collection. The Higgins Armory remained long after Higgins’ death in 1961, eventually closing in 2013 when the collection moved to the Worcester Art Museum.
When the TMA had the chance to present pieces from the Higgins collection, the museum enthusiastically agreed. “We do not have any examples of European armor in our collection, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to show not only armor at the Toledo Museum of Art, but also examples from one of the collections. most important armor in the world, ”said Ong. .
A journey through time
“The Age of Armor” presents more than 80 pieces from various eras. The majority of the exhibits in the exhibit will focus on European history, although artifacts from a variety of other cultures will also be on display, including examples from Japan and India. The oldest piece is an ax blade from Middle Kingdom Egypt which dates from 2000-1750 BCE.
The exhibition will be divided into 14 sections, classified by chronological period or by theme. Visitors will receive many pieces of historical context in the form of a text and an audio guide created for the exhibition. Some TMAs pieces, including samurai armor, will be on display alongside the Higgins collection.
“There is a chronology under the theme [structure], so the last two sections are actually The Decline of Armor, followed by Armor in the Modern Era, which actually includes an item made in Worcester, Massachusetts where the Higgins Armory Collection was built and resides today, ”said Ong. .
Beyond the battlefield
It may seem somewhat unusual for a museum devoted to fine arts to display tools of war. Ong, however, points out that this exhibition emphasizes not only the martial function of the armor, but also its importance in social and political life.
“The museum displays handcrafted objects that tell stories about artistic creation as well as the industry. Here in Toledo, we are very familiar with the combination of art and industry, with our way of thinking about glass in the city, ”she explained.
Ong hopes visitors will come away from “The Age of Armor” with a greater appreciation for the art involved in the creation of the pieces on display. “The exhibit definitely tells the story of the armor, both from a general perspective but also with individual stories that different combinations have to tell.”
“The Age of Armor: Treasures from the Higgins Armory Collection at the Worcester Art Museum”, exhibited in the Levis Gallery of the Toledo Museum of Art from November 6, 2021 to February 27, 2022.