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Vacation to MA 2013: Visiting the Higgins Armory Museum (one last time)

higgins armory museum

It’s the end of an era. During our recent vacation to Massachusetts we had to stop by the Higgins Armory Museum one last time. They are transferring their collection to the Worcester Art Museum in January 2014 following the closure of Higgins Armory at the end of the year. Why are they closing?

“Like all museums, Higgins has been faced with the challenge of long-term sustainability,” says Suzanne Maas, Higgins’ interim executive director. “The original endowment for the institution was only $17,000, and yet it has managed to survive all these years thanks to the driving creativity of dedicated staff to deliver engaging programming and unrelenting support from the local community. To ensure the long-term sustainability of the core collection, we decided to move it to the Worcester Art Museum and combine our greatest strengths with theirs.”
“The trustees’ decision to transfer the collection is driven by the inescapable reality that excellent programs and strong attendance alone, without a significant endowment, cannot sustain Higgins Armory as an independent institution,” says James C. Donnelly, Jr., Esq., a long-time trustee who has served as the president of Higgins since 2009.  “Combining with the Worcester Art Museum will keep this tremendous asset for the community and preserve John Woodman Higgins’ legacy for generations to come.”

During our visit I sat down to watch an informational video about the museum and learned a lot of things I’d never known – I thought I’d share some of that information here, paraphrased from their website and my memory. The museum was founded by John Woodman Higgins, a prominent Worcester industrialist during the early 1900s. He had been fascinated by tales of knights in shining armor since he was a young boy and he spent a lifetime building his collection of armory. Despite the country suffering from the economic Depression, Higgins was doing very well for himself and his collection grew quickly.

His museum was built in 1931 after his wife insisted that he find somewhere else to store his collection which was beginning to seriously clutter their home! The result of her “nagging” was one of the first all steel and glass curtain-wall structures built in America and one of the few significant collections of knightly armor outside of Europe. See what can be accomplished when we insist on better storage solutions?

Higgins has been a consistent location for school field trips for years and they even held sword fighting lessons, birthday parties, summer camps and more. One of my favorite things about Higgins Armory as a parent is their amazing kids’ play area that has armor for kids to try on, puzzles to complete, a giant chess set, blocks of all sizes to build castles with and arts and crafts projects.

The kids made personalized shields during our trip this year and had so much fun picking out emblems and colors to symbolize their personalities. We wandered through the exhibits one last time, soaking in all of the details – the beautiful swords and suits of armor, the knights on horseback and various relics and decor.

I am going to miss this wonderful museum but I am very happy they were able to move the collection to the Worcester Art Museum – I think it will be in good hands there and I’m glad it will be remaining in Worcester.

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