More than 300 years after the Salem witch trials, the personal tragedies and grievous wrongs that occurred still provoke reflection as we continue to reckon with the experiences of those involved. In this exhibition, learn more about factors that fueled the storied crisis, including individuals who rose to defend those unjustly accused, and explore two creative responses by contemporary artists with ancestral links to the trials. Both projects directly speak to the historical trauma evident in the authentic 17th-century documents and objects on view and provide a powerful connection between past and present.
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 exhibition, a multitude of voices will share their personal histories and perspectives, drawn from authentic documents, artist statements, and interviews.
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The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum. Thank you to PEM supporters, Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation and individuals who support the Exhibition Incubation Fund: Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard, James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes, Kate and Ford O'Neil, and Henry and Callie Brauer. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.
At a time when the term “witch hunt” has gained renewed agency...the deliberately non-touristy exhibition at the august Peabody Essex, which has the largest collection of original material related to the trials, reminds us that history can repeat itself.