Higgins Armory Museum
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Higgins Armory Museum
Higgins Armory Museum
|Location||100 Barber Ave., Worcester, Massachusetts|
|Architectural style||International Style|
|NRHP Reference #||80000514|
|Added to NRHP||March 05, 1980|
Higgins Armory Museum is a public, non-profit museum specializing in the history of medieval armor and weaponry in Worcester, Massachusetts Between the years of 1928 and 1931, John Woodman Higgins built a unique steel and glass structure to house his personal collection of knightly armor. Currently, the museum features about 3,000 pieces that range from medieval and Renaissance Europe to Ancient Greece and Rome, Africa, the Middle East, India, and Japan. It is visited annually by over 58,000 guests. In March 2013, it was announced that the museum would be closing at the end of the year due to a lack of endowment. The collection will be transferred in its entirety at the Worcester Art Museum starting in spring of 2014.
The Museum’s mission is to present the history of arms and armor in a broad cultural context; preserving, researching, exhibiting, and interpreting its collections for the benefit of the general public and specialized audiences. The Museum’s goal is to realize this potential to the fullest, through educational and cultural offerings designed to engage the full range of human diversity within the community.
The Museum was founded by John Woodman Higgins, a prominent industrialist and owner of Worcester Pressed Steel. What began as one man's interest in owning "one really good, genuine suit" soon grew into an unparalleled collection of knightly armor. The collection was formerly housed in Higgins’ family home, and the pieces were simply for decoration. When the collection outgrew the house, Higgins constructed the current building on the property of his steel factory, and moved the pieces there permanently.
The Museum was initially associated with the Worcester Pressed Steel factory. During Higgins’ lifetime, admission to the Museum began with a walk through the armor exhibits and ended with a tour through the production lines. Higgins strongly emphasized the connection between the metalcraft of old and the modern-day technologies of planes, bicycles, and automobiles. However, after Higgins’s death and the subsequent closure of the factory, the modern displays were eliminated and the tours focused solely on the pieces in the museum’s collection.
The museum has been accredited by the American Alliance of Museums since the 1970s, and by 1980, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Although the museum remained in the control of the Higgins family for some time after Higgins’ death, it came under the management of a public governing board in 1979. It is now the second largest collection of arms and armor in the United States, and the only such collection that remains in its original home. On display at the museum are two dozen full suits of armor for battle, jousting, and courtly ceremony, as well as swords, staff weapons, firearms, and artwork.
The building was the first free-standing glass and steel frame structure of its type to be built in the United States. Construction took place from 1928-1931, when Higgins hired Boston architect Joseph D. Leland to design the new home for his collection. It was so innovative that Leland was instructed to build a one-story prototype to prove that the building would stand. The distinctive L-shaped, five-story facility is an extremely rare example of steel frame Art Deco architecture.
The interior walls of the main galleries were constructed of plaster on metal lathe, formed to resemble the stone Gothic arches of a medieval castle. In the spring of 1992, construction of an auditorium with state-of-the-art media capacity, a museum-quality climate-controlled special exhibits gallery, and fully equipped classrooms and education offices was completed. A central HVAC system was also installed to provide the proper environmental climate.
In the dramatically arranged halls, gladiator and “Corinthian” helmets, gauntlets from the Renaissance period, and the helmet of a 19th century French cuirassier are displayed. There are also pieces that depict the courtly life - helmets for jousting tournaments, a crossbow for hunting, a ceremonial gorget, and an anvil that was used to manufacture such pieces.
Additionally, there is an Arms and Armor Around the World exhibit, which features knives and axes from Africa, bow case covers from ancient Islam, a horned kulah khud (helmet) from India, and samurai armor from Japan, among others. Many visitors are especially drawn to the armored dog and horses. There are also full-scale models of jousts and foot tourneys in the Great Hall, where visitors can observe various displays of knights from around the world.
Education and community
The museum is prominent in the local community and hosts a number of educational programs on medieval history and arms and armor, ranging from school workshops and teacher-education to scholarly lectures. Approximately 12,000 of the museum’s visitors are school children from throughout Massachusetts and the New England region whose annual visits are part of their regular social studies or science curriculum. The outreach program of the museum's education department reaches another 4,000 people in five states. In addition to its permanent exhibitions, the museum hosts a variety of exhibits throughout the year and conducts an ongoing series of special programs, symposia, demonstrations of falconry and period swordplay.
Most significantly, the Higgins Armory is a major center of study for Western martial arts. Scholars associated with the museum such as curator Jeffrey Forgeng, William Short, and Ken Mondschein have produced monographs and translations, given papers and sponsored sessions at scholarly conferences, and lectured and demonstrated all over the world. The Higgins Armory Sword Guild, founded in part by Patri J. Pugliese, is a study group that conducts research into Western martial arts and demonstrates at the museum and in the community. Since the summer of 2009, the museum has also hosted an ongoing series of thrice-weekly classes, the Higgins Academy of the Sword, where students learn classical fencing as well as fencing with the historical weapons.
In popular media
Higgins Armory Museum has been featured on the History Channel on multiple occasions, including a special DVD extra that focused solely on the museum.
In April 2011, it was featured on an episode of the hit TV show Ghost Hunters that was titled Knights of the Living Dead.
Past Directors, 1957-present
- Allen D. Warren
- Allen D. Wassall
- Richard E. Ford
- Robert Cahill
- Warren M. Little
- John F. Stevens
- Dr. Joseph Schwartzer III
- Donald Kipp
- Kent dur Russell
- Rena Zurofsky
- Nikki Andersen
- Suzanne Maas
The John Woodman Higgins Armory (Higgins Armory Museum), John H. Beeler, Military Affairs, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Oct., 1985), pp. 198–202
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
- Edgers, Geoff (March 8, 2013). "Higgins Armory Museum to close". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
- Edgers, Geoff (March 27, 2013). "Higgins Armory Museum board votes to transfer collection to Worcester Art Museum". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
- Higgins Armory Museum. "History of the Museum". Retrieved 31 July 2013.
- Duckett, Richard (8). "Higgins Armory Museum to close after 82 years". Worcester Telegram and Gazette. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
- Higgins Armory Museum website
- Classical fencing and historical swordsmanship classes at the Higgins
- Higgins Armory, 100 Barber Avenue, Worcester, Worcester County, MA: 16 photos, 2 data pages and supplemental material, at Historic American Building Survey