The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming

On view September 18, 2021 to March 20, 2022

The Salem witch trials were an extraordinary set of events that led to the deaths of 25 innocent men, women, and children between May 1692 and March 1693. More than 300 years later, artistic imaginations remain engaged by the personal tragedies and grave injustices of this historic crisis.

In this exhibition, explore two creative responses by artists with ancestral links to the trials. Each project speaks to the historical trauma evident in the authentic trial documents and 17th-century objects also on view in the gallery.

The fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s Fall/Winter 2007 collection In Memory of Elizabeth How, 1692 was based on research into his ancestor Elizabeth How, one of the first women to be condemned and hanged as a witch in July 1692. McQueen’s work reclaims How’s power and memory from the false accusation that led to her unjust execution. He also mined historic symbols of witchcraft, paganism, religious persecution, and magic as potent inspiration for his fashion design.

Photographer Frances F. Denny’s series Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches in America reclaims the meaning of the word “witch” from its historical use as a tool to silence and control women. Her portraits re-envision witchery by celebrating the spectrum of identities and spiritual practices found in today’s witch community.

In this experience, a multitude of voices will share their personal histories and perspectives, drawn from authentic documents, artist statements, and interviews.

TOP IMAGE: Alexander McQueen, Evening dress, from the In Memory of Elizabeth How, Salem, 1692, Ready-to-wear collection, fall/winter 2007. Velvet, glass beads and satin. Gift of anonymous donors in London who are friends of Peabody Essex Museum, 2011.44.1. © 2019 Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Bob Packert/PEM.