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Art and Artifact: Bullard’s Portraits at WAM

LEFT: Richard Wilson and Mary Elizabeth Ward Wilson, about 1902 RIGHT: Hattie, Clarence and Louis Ward, about 1901


TYPE

REDISCOVERING AN AMERICAN COMMUNITY OF COLOR: THE PHOTOGRAPHS OF WILLIAM BULLARD

WORCESTER ART MUSEUM

55 SALISBURY STREET

WORCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS

THROUGH FEBRUARY 25, 2018

By J. Fatima Martins

When does a historic object become an art object? It is understood that objects move from history into the realm of art and culture when the object’s utilitarian purpose becomes secondary and we appreciate its artistic merit, technical sophistication and beautiful sublime qual- ities. The object can then be displayed alone as universal — loved by all — instead of particular — loved by only a few. As an art object, because of its beauty, it breaks open the barriers that divide us, negating race, gender and religion.

This understanding is one of the many considerations and questions that rise up as we look at the photo- graphs made by previously unknown William Bullard, active from 1897-1917, who lived and worked in the mixed- race Beaver Brook neighborhood of Worcester, Massachusetts in post-Civil War America.

The exhibition “Rediscovering an American Community of Color” at Worcester Art Museum (WAM) — which was facilitated by Nancy Burns, assistant curator of prints, drawings and photo- graphs — is presented primarily within a history arrangement, with an attempt at defining Bullard’s distinctive style. From the exhibition: “William Bullard’s portraits retain the specificity and sharp focus of early 20th-century studio portraiture without the artificiality found in commercial photography.”

The reason for the history arrangement/narrative presentation of the exhibition is that the majority of the research was conducted by students of Janette Greenwood, who worked on the project during her public history seminars at Clark University over a four-year period. This research is extremely important and ongoing. Greenwood has published the book “First Fruits of Freedom: The Migration of Former Slaves and Their Search for Equality in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1862-1900.” She is the curator of the exhibition at WAM.

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