Spotlight falls again on Bay actress who took giant leap to stardom

Yesterday the team put the finishing touches on our newest exhibition “Nyree Dawn Porter: from local stage to global stardom”. This display explores Hawkes Bay local, Nyree Dawn Porter, looking at her first love and early roots – ballet. At the age of 18 Nyree passed the required qualifications to set up her own ballet studio, which she did in the front room of her mother’s house. There she drew portraits of ballerinas on the walls, purposely elongating elements of the figures to inspire grace and elegance in her students.

In between teaching Nyree pursued acting with the Napier Operatic Society and then “The New Zealand Players”, a travelling group founded by Richard and Edith Campion. Born Ngaire in 1936, she changed the spelling of her name to Nyree when she moved to England in the 1950s. There she shot to fame as Irene in the Forsyte Saga, television’s first soap opera, and Nyree quickly became a household name.

We put out a call to the community to help gather information and items about Nyree’s life and were overwhelmed with the support received. The collective knowledge of a community is a powerful tool – thank you for sharing your stories and treasures with us.

In the exhibition design for Nyree Dawn Porter we have endeavoured to create a sense of the theatre scene which Nyree so loved and also the time period in which she was, literally, the ‘star of the show’. With beautiful stage curtains setting the scene and ballet costumes, designed by Karina Blogg, to try on, along with a ballet barre and mirror, this small exhibition aims to be an immersive experience.

Nyree received a Bafta Award, an OBE, was portrayed on stamps, featured on ‘This is Your Life’ and had ships named after her, truly achieving global stardom.  If you’re a fan of Nyree, a ballet lover, a follower of the Forstye Saga, or interested in stage and film we hope you will enjoy this story.

We, as always, debate and discuss the best mix of exhibitions, stories and objects to showcase. Some exhibitions are important in terms of the current social issues they explore, others focus on sharing the collection, some on telling local histories, and yet more on celebrating different cultures and so on. Getting the mix of exhibitions right is complex, with our target audience the entire community of Hawke’s Bay plus visitors to the region. Everyone wants different things – some are only interested in art, others solely in history, some primarily in design and the list goes on.

We need to find a balance between providing a bit of something for everyone and at the same time playing one of the important roles that museums have within communities – to reflect and explore current social issues and to challenge and unpack current paradigms. When at our very best changing minds and opening hearts.

Nyree photos - Carine (4)


  • The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart, one of the most beloved operas of all time, presented by Wanderlust. Century Theatre, Wednesday 28 March, 7:30-9:30pm. Tickets available through Ticketek.
  • Embroidery workshops with Jo Dixey, 7-8 April, 10:30am – 4pm, $50 per workshop. To book call MTG 835 7781 or email


Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 17th March 2018


Focus on videos as Maori gallery’s evolution continues apace

The museum continues to be busy with visitors, theatre events and exhibition changes. Sometimes we develop new exhibitions and do a complete change-out of a gallery and other times things are more of a curated evolution. Such is the case with Tenei Tonu, our Maori gallery, with a series of new objects and content being added in.

We’re currently putting finishing touches on two videos that will be installed later this month. One is a video welcoming visitors into the gallery, with wero, karanga and waiata. This video provides both an experience and insight into these rituals of encounter. The second video features Rose Mohi, looking at her personal journey to research and relocate the pou of the wharenui ‘Heretaunga Tuatoru’. This wharenui was commissioned by Rose’s tupuna Karaitiana Takamoana, Member of House of Representatives, Eastern Maori. Takamoana employed Ngati Porou master carver Hoani Taahu of Ngati Uepohatu to work on carvings to adorn this wharenui at Pakowhai Pa in Hastings.

One of the sixty-four Heretaunga Tuatoru pou is on display in Tenei Tonu – the only one of these pou remaining on public display within Hawke’s Bay. Distinguished scholar Roger Neich described Heretaunga Tuatoru as “the most scattered meeting house in the world.” In this video Rose explains the history of the wharenui and her journey to reconnect these carvings, which has taken her around the world.

More film will be soon be shown at MTG with Screenies – an independently run children’s film festival run over a three-day period during the school holidays (19-21 April). The festival’s aim is “to enrich children’s experience of media by showing diverse stories from around the world and New Zealand”. As part of the festival Screenies will show a re-digitised “Hairy Maclary 10 Favourite Stories” for younger viewers, first shown in 1983. There will be a special Thunderbirds presentation, a feature film “Not Without Us”, and a selection of the best short films available internationally. More information about this will be available on our website next week.

Also in the Century Theatre we’re delighted to be hosting Mike King’s upcoming I Am Hope Tour. Mike is on a campaign to address and raise awareness about youth suicide, specifically wanting to help people who have suffered, or are suffering, from bullying, depression, low self-worth or anxiety. And further, to provide the knowledge and tools for their friends and family to know how best to support people going through this. There’s been such a huge response to this event that it’s already fully booked. It’s great to know there is interest and action around this subject and hopefully Mike might return so more people can participate in this discussion. Find out more about Mike’s story on

Rose_Sample of balck with insert carving Still002

Michelle Lee – Curator, Maori

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 10th March 2018

Death Mementos: Victorian hair jewellery touching souvenirs of dead

To me, Victorian mourning jewellery containing locks of human hair are some of the most endearing and emotive personal mementos found amongst the collection. This sentimental jewellery was associated directly with the Victoria era: named after Queen Victoria who ascended the English throne in 1837 and reigned for 64 years. In 1861 Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, died from typhoid fever and so great was her grief that for the next forty years she lived a life of mourning. Her emotive state influenced a whole nation, which evolved a mourning fashion, particularly aimed at women, that included societal etiquette, clothing and jewellery.

From the 1850s onwards, Victorians were also influenced by archaeological discoveries of Etruscan, Greek and Egyptian artifacts: designers began making jewellery larger and bolder. Along with gutta-percha, pinchbeak and gold, the material most associated with mourning was jet, a type of fossilized coal. It could be easily carved, was highly polished and light to wear. With mourning, hair art became very popular: by cutting a lock of hair from a loved one after death and weaving it into designs for brooches, rings, watch fobs, bracelets and necklaces, the bereaved were able to keep that person close to their heart.

The archive holds one very moving example of hair that was never incorporated into mourning jewellery: a lock of yellowing white hair, dry and brittle to the touch, dulled with the passing of time and the removal of all natural oils. This lock belonged to William Colenso, tenderly removed after his death on 10 February 1899. Estranged from his wife Elizabeth and daughter Frances, there was no female relative to claim this very personal object and have it fashioned into jewellery to be worn close to the heart. Henry Hill, Inspector of Schools and close friend remarked on this fact when writing about William Colenso’s funeral: “The scene…was sad, and withal, beautiful.  An old man full of years and honours was borne to his last resting place. Yet no wife, no child, no relative was there to mourn his passing…”

Next time you visit the Museum, take a look in the Victorian stairwell case. Nestled amongst the many objects is a very fine example of mourning jewellery: a cameo set in a cord of plaited hair.

Not all hair was intended for mourning jewellery. While searching for items to use in a future exhibition about the Webb family from Ormondville, I came across three small packages of baby hair carefully enclosed in tissue paper. Unwrapping each is a very moving experience because I was aware that this hair, each lock different in colour, texture and curl, was once part of a vibrant human being. On the outside of each package is written the name of the child and age: Louisa, John and William Kerr, all direct descendants of the Webb family from England. So treasured were these children by the Webb family, that these small mementos were carried to the other side of the world in remembrance: poignantly this hair is the only physical thing that remains of their existence.

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, tastes and styles changed radically. The stages and periods of mourning became less defined and mourning jewellery incorporating hair was viewed with repugnance: this style of jewellery has never been revived.

  • Children’s Day at MTG. Drop in Zone featuring various craft activities, and the popular Museum Search. Sunday 4th March, 9:30am to 5:00pm. Free for all.
  • Anderson & Roe Piano Duo. Exploding genre boundaries, Anderson and Roe are as much at home with Mozart as they are with Daft Punk. Thursday 15 March, 7:30pm. Tickets available through Ticketek

Mourning Jewellery_3rd March

Gail Pope – Curator Social History, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 3rd March 2018

Spotlight on artworks of cultural value at the MTG

This week, MTG staff were treated to a talk by Roy Dunningham on the development of our art collection over the decades. As a long-time museum supporter, retired art teacher, and ex-member of the acquisition committee, Roy gave brilliant insight into how we came to hold a wide range of artworks on behalf of all Hawke’s Bay people.

We learned how during the 1970s, many works were bought to support the local arts community, while others from further afield were chosen for their picturesque charm. Roy contended that while these are (by and large) lovely pieces of art, in hindsight many were clearly not suitable choices for a regional museum collection.

Instead the focus should be on artworks with the most enduring cultural value: those that are compelling expressions of the time, place and social context in which they were made.

An example of this is ‘Erotic Couch’ by Philip Clairmont, painted in the 1970s, a time defined by sexual revolution and political protest. Clairmont and fellow creatives were living in rundown flats with furniture that was, as Roy put it, more like ‘twentiethhand’ than secondhand. He recalled the exhilarating dynamism of those flats, where people congregated to debate art, poetry, politics and more.

On a rough piece of hessian, Clairmont’s painting encapsulates all this with a couch that seems dangerously alive, writhing with curves and zigzags, acidic colours and what could be teeth brushing the floor. It’s hungry, just as that generation was at that time.

I wholeheartedly agree with Roy that these are the kinds of works that MTG should focus on – and not just for our collection, but for our exhibition programme too. We provide a platform for social dialogue, and the kind of contemporary art I find most exciting is that which jumps right in to the debate of widely relevant themes.

Our current show by Yuki Kihara exemplifies this, as it takes a critical look at the forces of colonialism and globalised capitalism, which together have shaped our realities today. We are also developing upcoming projects with artists that will continue to add to current discourse: one responding to the challenge of plastic proliferation in our oceans, and another inspired by effective solutions that are leading the way in countering crises in housing as well as soil and waterway degradation.

These come at a time when the crew of the waka Te Matau a Māui is carrying out New Zealand’s first ocean plastic trawl, sailing between here and the Chatham Islands to collect data on microplastics. When Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga is gearing up to build hundreds of houses to form New Zealand’s first indigenous co-housing development, which will see many whānau shift from precarious housing into a stable home ownership situation. And when Ngāti Kahungunu Inc are partnering with the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council to launch the Kahutia Accord, to cloak the region in hundreds of millions of trees.

It’s another dynamic juncture, and as always, the arts have an integral part to play.

Roy Dunningham - Erotic Couch

Image Credit:
‘Erotic Couch’ by Philip Clairmont, painted in 1977

Jess Mio – Art Curator, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 24th February 2018

Earthquake & Art Deco

It’s been lovely watching over the course of the week as more and more people appear in Art Deco dress, enjoying the fabulous Hawke’s Bay sunshine. The Opening Soiree, held at MTG last night, was a roaring success – boding well for a great festival this year. I hope you all get to enjoy a taste of the fun and frivolity over the weekend.

The festival, however, always makes me think of the catastrophic event that led to the rebirth of Hawke’s Bay as the Art Deco centre of New Zealand. The 7.8 earthquake of 3 February 1931 rocked the region, forever changing the landscape.

Amazing stories of bravery, heroism and lucky escapes emerged from what is, still, New Zealand’s worst natural disaster. In the collection there’s a photograph showing the spot where James Collins, aged 67, was pulled from the ground following the earthquake. Collins was buried lying on a bed in the old Men’s Home at Park Island for three days and four nights. He was finally found, still alive, and lived to tell his tale.

Many did what they could to help, with people looking after the injured, rescuing survivors and setting up shelters and camps. In the Survivors Stories film, on show in our 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake exhibition, Hana Cotter recounts the grim reality of searching for survivors and the deceased along with other members of her whanau.

A B Hurst (Arthur Bendigo) immediately following the earthquake, grabbed his camera, along with rolls of film from his photography studio in Emerson Street and ran out to document the earthquake damage and subsequent fire raging through the town. When he ran out of film he took rolls from ruined and vacated chemist shops. His images captured the devastation of a city and the shock and trauma of the survivors. Also in the film Survivors Stories, Hurst’s daughter Audrey, talks about the effect this experience had on her father. Hurst’s images remain the most significant collection of photographs from the earthquake.

One of our latest education programmes, Breaking News, focuses on the earthquake, allowing children to experience the day as news reporters. Drawing on images and stories in the exhibition and archives, students work in groups to research and plan how they will present their information. Using a green screen students then create their own breaking news broadcast.

Our educators offer a range of lesson options covering art, social history, Maori and decorative arts. Breaking News compliments existing education programmes focused on the earthquake through a series of different lenses aimed at different age groups.

The 1931 earthquake remains a defining moment in Hawke’s Bay’s history. From the literal ashes of disaster the region was rebuilt in a new and distinctive architectural style. With clean lines, geometric design motifs of zig zags, sunbursts and speedlines, the region has a heritage to be proud of and is home to the highly successful Art Deco Festival, celebrating 30 year this year.


Image by A B Hurst, showing the fire destroying the town

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 17th February 2018

Napier Library opens at MTG Hawke’s Bay

This week we had the official opening of Napier library here in its new home at MTG, with many people expressing delight at how good the library looks in its new space. Following a blessing at the start of the day the doors were then opened for everyone.

It was great to see the steady stream of people coming in throughout the day and enjoying the ‘new’ library. Library staff tell me a number of their regular users came along – with many commenting that the space works better than expected. They were delighted to see core services still on offer – reserving books, IT help, general and specialised book selections, DVDs and so on. We hope everyone found the ease of access through the Century Theatre Foyer doors directly in to the library helpful.

What was particularly pleasing to see was the number of people who came to use the library and then also chose to look though the museum as well, and vice versa. We received lots of positive feedback on the day about the displays and galleries – with the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake, Time for Tea and Te Taenga Mai o Salome exhibitions proving popular favourites.

The small display in the Octagon of toy vehicles from the collection was also appreciated by children and adults alike. These Dinky Toys were very popular in their day and I’m sure many people in Hawke’s Bay had one, or played with one, at some point in their childhood, so we hope you enjoy this piece of nostalgia.

We’re really excited to have Jo Dixey back in the museum this weekend with her public stitch project. Many people took part the last time she was here but there’s still more to do. Jo’s work is inspired by the museum collection and Hawke’s Bay’s Art Deco heritage. The panel was last at the museum in December, so if you missed out on participating then, now is your chance. There’ll be members of the Embroiders Guild on hand to help you and anyone can easily participate – it’s amazing how cathartic and mesmerising sitting and doing a few stitches can be. Come along to the main foyer this weekend and make sure you add a few of your own stitches to this project. Jo’s work will be gifted to the city once complete.

With Art Deco festival just around the corner don’t forget all the fun things you can do at the museum. We have both ticketed and free events at MTG throughout the festival and there’s always something Art Deco to see on display. This year we’ve added a photograph area where you can try some of our dress up props and take your picture against a backdrop of historic Napier.

And if you haven’t participated in one before, our ever popular Cemetery Tours are happening again this summer. A winding tour through Napier Hill Cemetery with Gail Pope, Curator Social History, provides a fascinating array of interesting stories and characters (famous and infamous). Our March tour is fully booked but there are still some tickets available for 15 April – having been on it myself I can highly recommend this tour.

  • Stitch at MTG Hawke’s Bay, public stitching project with Jo Dixey. Saturday 10 – Sunday 11 February, all day. Free event.
  • I’m in the Mood – Hawke’s Bay Jazz Club plays a special Valentine’s Day concert. MTG Century Theatre, Wednesday 14 February 7:30pm. Tickets from Ticketek and door sales.
  • 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake tours, take a guided tour through our earthquake exhibition and learn more about this terrible day in Hawke’s Bay’s history. Wednesday 14 – Friday 16 February 11:00 am and 2:00pm, meet in main foyer. Free event.
  • Live performance, pianist John Barrett plays popular Gershwin compositions. Century Theatre Foyer, Wednesday 14 – Friday 16 February, 1:30pm. Free event.
  • Singing Tour through He Manu Tioriori, join Charles Ropitini as he sings you through this exhibition exploring 100 years of Ngati Kahungunu music. Thursday 15 – Saturday 17 February 11:00am, meet in main foyer. Free event.
  • Cole – Michael Griffiths, Helpmann Award winner Michael Griffiths explores the colourful life and timeless songs of Cole Porter. MTG Century Theatre, Thursday 15 February 7:30pm and Friday 16 February 4:00pm. Tickets from Ticketek and door sales.
  • Post 1931 Marine Parade, local historian Michael Fowler will explore the development of Marine Parade. Century Theatre Friday 16 February 10:00am. Free entry.
  • Falling in Love Again, Jennifer Ward-Lealand brings to life the sultry performances of screen goddess, Marlene Dietrich, with sizzling physicality. Century Theatre Friday 16 February 7:30pm and Saturday 17 February 6:00pm. Tickets available from Ticketek and door sales.
  • Kabarett – Nacktmusic, a newly formed troupe, Kabarette, pays homage with Nacktmusik. A truly jumbled pastiche of burlesque, humour and song. Century Theatre, Saturday 17 February 9:00pm. Tickets available from Ticket and door sales.



Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 10th February 2018

The beguiling world of Dinky Toys

Opening to the public on Wednesday, the Napier Library now proudly occupies the original Hawke’s Bay Art Gallery and Museum building, which was designed by Napier architect J A Louis Hay in 1935 and subsequently built in stages. When completed, it consisted of three galleries, an office and downstairs collection store, and an area known as the Octagon.

On four of the walls of the Octagon, Louis Hay designed exhibition cases: these spaces are to be used by the Napier Library for a variety of displays, including showcasing new books. Because the Library staff have been so busy moving over the last two months, Museum staff have helped by devising a small initial exhibition of toys from the museum collection.

Most of the models on display are Dinky Toys, invented by Frank Hornby of Meccano Ltd in 1934. Known also as die-cast toys, each was a miniature version of a British vehicle. Initially, they consisted of only one or two parts: the fewer the parts, the cheaper the model was to produce. This made a Dinky Toy widely affordable: children could purchase them with their hard-earned pocket money, and parents, for birthday and Christmas presents.

Dinky Toys proved instantly popular with children. Each toy was small enough to be held in a child’s hand or put in a pocket. They had freely rotating wheels and could be pushed around on any surface, whether carpet, sandpit or school playground. The toys were also brightly painted, well made and almost unbreakable. Meccano Ltd made sure that Dinky Toys kept up with the times and models reflected contemporary road transport such as sports cars, racing cars and, in the 1950s, popular saloon cars such as the Hillman Minx.

In the late 1930s, just prior to World War II, there was a strong demand for realism in toys as children acted out what was going on in the world. Meccano Ltd worked in close co-operation with the British military to ensure that details in the models of army trucks, jeeps, tanks, and air force planes were accurate. During World War II, production of Dinky Toys ceased as Mazak, the zinc alloy of which the models were constructed, was required for the war effort.

Up until 1956, Dinky Toys dominated the die-cast toy market: after which time competition from Matchbox Toys and Corgi Toys would start to erode sales. In the final two decades of production (1960s-1970s), to keep up with the challenge from other companies, Meccano Ltd had to improve the technology of the vehicles. The toys became more complex with moveable parts: doors, windows and bonnets that opened, exact replicas of motors, windows, levers to lift front-end loaders, and wheels to turn concrete mixers. These sophisticated toys had come a long way from their humble beginnings in the early 1930s.

We hope this small display in the new Napier Library will capture the imagination of children and bring a sense of nostalgia to adults for the intrinsic charm of these childhood toys that undoubtedly provided endless pleasure. Children: look out for the Ford Anglia that Harry Potter and Ron Weasley flew to catch up with the Hogwarts train in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”.

Dinky Toys

Gail Poppe – Curator Social History, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 3rd February 2018