Survivor Film Thrills Visitors

Returning to work after a break over the Christmas holidays I can certainly say I’ve had to hit the ground running. Our fabulous Customer Service Team has been exceptionally busy over the holiday period, with the number of visitors in the first week of January higher than the entire month of January last year.

Our team continue to do a great job providing the best possible customer service. Feedback from our visitors tells us that they appreciate the great service our team provides and that the museum is highly valued, with 93% of visitors in December rating the museum experience as positive or very positive. While the Survivor Stories film continues to be one of the highlights for visitors, all the galleries and programmes are well appreciated. Some specific comments include – “Great earthquake exhibit, especially Survivors Stories, quite moving”, “I was impressed with the depth of information on the Two Sisters”, “Tea exhibition – excellent”, and “Good activities for kids”. Free entry is a regular feature in feedback and continues to positively influence the number of visitors to the museum. As always we gather and review suggestions on what we can do better, monitoring these for patterns and ideas to provide a service and experience that is always evolving and improving.

Things have also be very busy behind the scenes with items arriving to set up the new library space. Both teams, MTG and the library, continue to work hard to ensure everything is ready to run as smoothly as possible on 7 February – the library’s opening day. It’s been great over these last few months getting to know the library team better and we’re looking forward to working together.

In the meantime the library summer reading programme is already up and running at MTG. If you’ve been looking for the reading programme it’s in the Education room – just off the front foyer of the museum. And there are plenty of other things for families and children in this space as well with lots of fun craft activities to complete. While our ever popular activity trail continues to keep children engaged and entertained as they go through the galleries.

And more is happening – with a ramp under construction on the Herschell Street side of the building. We’re thrilled to see this work underway, as a ramp leading to the Century Theatre Foyer has been on my ‘wish list’ for a long time. This will make the library and Century Theatre more accessible for everyone which is just as it should be.

We’re also working on developing a Strategic Plan for MTG, so we can look ahead and determine where we want to go next. You can be sure that visitor engagement and community satisfaction will remain top priorities and we’ll be asking stakeholders and community groups what they’d like to see the museum achieve next. The fantastic team here will continue to work hard and provide the best possible customer service and museum facility for the region. One, we sincerely hope, you are proud of and happy to recommend to others.

2018 already looks like a full and busy year and we’re excited about the opportunities and possibilities it holds.

photorapher David Frost

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 13th January 2018




Beginning four months ago at MTG as Curator Taonga Maori, I’m particularly focused on Maori stories, both current and historical.  These narratives are centered around the notion of taonga and setting to work has meant defining what this is.  Simply put taonga translates as treasures, but what does taonga mean for us at MTG Hawke’s Bay, as a museum, theatre and gallery?

Our “ Taonga Maori” category, within the wider collection, is one of the most significant in the world and certainly one of the oldest and largest in the country. Numbering over six thousand individual pieces, with many hundreds of years old. Working with these taonga is thrilling, often emotional and endlessly educational. Every piece is a representation of, or directly associated with, a Maori ancestor and is considered of ancestral importance to the Maori iwi/tribal group from which it originated.

Many of our taonga belonged to politically significant rangatira, these chiefs from all across the country have played a role in key events that have informed our nation’s history. These riches and others in the collection are simply beautiful, many being famous works of art in their own right. That we have acquired so many, collected for over one hundred and fifty years, makes our collection a true regional, national and international treasure.

About sixty percent of our ‘taonga Maori’ are directly associated with Ngati Kahungunu. Treasures such as the Pai Marire flag, flown in the battle of Omaranui inspired me as a young artist, so now working with this taonga draws deep emotion.

So too does the taonga from other iwi such as the gold furnished hei tiki of Ngati Toa rangatira Te Rauparaha, composer of the haka “Ka Mate”, and the bible of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki, of Rongowhakaata and founder of the Ringatu faith. The several Lindauer paintings, hundreds of mere pounamu, cravings, toki and cloaks, along with the personal adornments will take a long time to become knowledgeable about. Taonga belonging to rangatira such as Hongi Hika, Te Ruki Kawiti, Patuone, to Ta Apirana Ngata bring the past literally to hand.

But this is only one category of taonga. Precious items like the many huia feathers, and our moa and teeth of kuri (the Maori dog) are grouped as ‘natural history’. While taonga from a more current context are grouped under other categories such as contemporary Maori art, with digital artifacts, photographs and other items falling under the social history collection. Highlights of these for me are the Hon Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan’s fashion collection and our beautiful Pania lamp.

However the definition of taonga goes beyond artifacts. Te Reo Maori and tikanga Maori are living taonga at MTG. Creating exhibitions and spaces that foster Te Reo and tikanga Maori are just as important as preserving an artifact from our past, as this also protects our future. How this is achieved requires a dynamic design approach that encourages engagement, creating what is to me our greatest taonga – visitor experiences.

Interactions of the huge range of visitors are to me taonga too. It’s a tremendous pleasure to watch visitors researching items such as kiwi feather cloaks, working out how each was engineered, in turn giving an insight into character of the maker. Satisfying too, is witnessing the sheer joy so many have when they connect to a taonga through a personal whanau history.

In celebration of our stories and taonga we have exhibitions currently in development. An exhibition on Pania is in the works and a special selection of our feather cloaks will be on display. ‘Rongonui’ will be an exhibition that showcases the depth of history and sheer importance of our taonga here at MTG Hawke’s Bay.  Now the hard part of the job will be choosing which taonga to showcase.

Waka Huia

Photo Credit:
Name/Title Waka Huia / Treasure Box
Acquisition Source and Donor The Estate of J.M. Wright (Napier)

Michelle Lee – Curator, Maori

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 6th January 2018

Summer at MTG

This is a busy time of year, often spent hosting whanau and friends, from near and far and here at MTG Hawke’s Bay we are no exception. We’re proud to say that we’re open everyday of the year, except Christmas day, with our wonderful front of house team busy welcoming a huge range of vistors of every age and background, from here in the Hawke’s Bay and all over the world. We’re often the “kaikaranga”, with a welcoming call for the many tourists into our beautiful region, and singing our local narratives and histories is core to what we do within our role as a community cultural hub.

So the challenge for us, like it is for so many during the feastive season, is how do we best cater to the tastes of such a diverse range of visitors, showcase what is important to us here in Hawke’s Bay and ensure each of our guests has a wonderful time?

Much time and thought goes into carefully planning what goes on show and when. Key considerations include, remembering what makes Hawke’s Bay special on a global scale, respecting our past, a sense of our future and thinking about how each visitor might experience and be engaged by our exhibitions.

Our permanent exhibitions, Tenei Tonu and  1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake, are narratives that position our identity and the foundations of this region. While current exhibitions – He Manu Tioriori, Time for Tea and Deco Kimono – are a celebration of our more recent past. Moving outside the museum walls, and with a respectful nod to more personal histories, are the Napier Cemetery Walking Tours. You can book a place with our front of house team in the main foyer for tours on 4 February, 4 March and 15 April. These tours give a very intimate and tangible view of Hawke’s Bay history.

Always important is catering for the needs of children visiting the museum. Children make up a significant proportion of visitors over the holidays and it’s nice to offer families an entertaining and educational place to go. The kids drop in zone is open throughout the holidays, with craft activities for children as well as a treasure hunt around the museum. One of the many benefits of the library service moving into MTG is that their children’s summer reading program will be run in the museum kids drop in zone this year. Exhibitions such as Play Hawkes Bay continue to be a thrill for children, as they slap the images triggering the audio to play. Adults too seem to have just as much fun ‘playing’ with these beautiful photographs of Hawke’s Bay and the matching recordings.

Many of our visitors this summer are coming in to see our contemporary Art exhibition; Te Taenga Mai o Salome by internationally renowned artist Yuki Kihara. Poetic and visually hypnotic photographs and video works place the symbolic figure of Salome in the landscape of Ngāti Kahungunu ki Heretaunga – Hawke’s Bay and explores themes of arrival, memory and peoples connecting. In the Century Theatre Foyer on the 5th of January we are hosting the ‘Big Bike Film Night’ featuring the documentary movie ‘All For One’ at 7.30pm, you can buy tickets at the museum main foyer.

Hosting four hundred visitors on Boxing Day alone, our galleries are full of hubbub, a flood of different voices, speaking a huge and wonderful range of languages, with plenty of good cheer. So, swing in, drop by or pop over to our place these holidays, anytime from 10am-5pm. Welcome, one and all.


Michelle Lee – Curator, Maori

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 30th December 2017

Queen Victoria’s personal wish of a Happy New Year

Many items in the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection are strangely compelling, often because they pose more questions than answers for the viewer. One such piece is the lid from a chocolate tin enclosed behind glass in a small dark brown oak frame. Portrayed in the centre of the lid is a portrait of Queen Victoria, with the printed design incorporating the following words in her handwriting: “I wish you a happy New Year, Victoria Reg”.

The question is: why was something seemingly as trivial as a tin lid, valued by the owner to such an extent that it was framed to be proudly displayed on a wall?

The date was December 1899 and the event, the South African War (1899-1902). The first hostilities of the war began on 12 October. By the middle of November, the Boer army had inflicted some of the worst defeats that the British Army had ever suffered. Queen Victoria was very concerned about the morale of her army and navy, so to lift their spirits, as well as to show her gratitude, she decided to send chocolate – a luxury item to the majority of people in those days – as a Christmas/New Year gift to each soldier. The three largest chocolate manufacturers in Britain, Cadbury’s, Rowntree and Fry teamed up to produce the chocolate and agreed that the tins would carry no brand name. Queen Victoria was not amused!  She wanted her Imperial and Colonial troops to know that she was sending them good British chocolate so the brand was stamped on the inner packaging.

While many soldiers enjoyed their chocolate, others kept the contents in the tin and brought it home as a souvenir or gift for someone special in their life. The tins became extremely sought after as mementos of the war: one soldier was offered ten pounds for his – and if not sent home, they were often stolen.

Sadly, the empty tins had a more somber use for men who died in battle: although not large, the tin could be packed with mementos such as medals, pieces of jewelry, photographs, then sent home with other pieces of personal belongings to the grieving family.

The chocolate lid connects to Hawke’s Bay through the South Africa War Memorial situated on Marine Parade, in front of the Masonic Hotel. Standing with head bowed is a New Zealand soldier poignantly facing out towards the Pacific Ocean. The memorial commemorates “the part taken by troopers from this district in the South African War and the patriotism shown by them in offering their services in the Empire’s cause.”

Known as the First New Zealand Mounted Rifles, the First Contingent of soldiers consisted of men with prior experience in the regional volunteer forces, or ordinary citizens who were skilled horse riders and marksmen. The First Contingent departed from Wellington aboard the ‘Waiwera’ on Saturday 21 October 1899. Such was the national jubilation that a massive crowd of some 40,000 people gathered, anxious to witness the departure of the first soldiers from New Zealand to take part in an overseas conflict. Almost a month later, the First Contingent disembarked at Cape Town on 24 November and experienced their first engagement at Jasfontein Farm, east of Taaiboschlaagte on 18 December.

Listed on the War Memorial under ‘First Contingent’ are eight names of Hawke’s Bay soldiers. Each of these soldiers would have received a tin of Queen Victoria’s chocolates along with her heartfelt sentiment of a Happy New Year: a wish that the staff of the Museum warmly extend to each and all of you.


Gail Pope – Curator, Social History


Library & Museum

I’ve written a bit about change over the last few years and no doubt I’ll write about it again. This year has seen a fair bit of change at MTG Hawke’s Bay and, with the library coming into the building, there’s a lot more ahead.

While we welcome the library and the opportunity to work closely with our colleagues, we realise this means a lot of change for everyone – staff and the community. Staff, from both the museum and the library, will have to adjust to new ways of working, develop an understanding of our different ways of operating, and there’ll be many compromises to be reached.

While the community have to figure out how they engage with both the museum and the library in this new arrangement. And I’m sure there are many questions in people’s minds.

How will transport work to get to the museum and library? How many books will be at MTG? What about access to the library reserve collection? Will the number of museum exhibitions be reduced? Will the galleries be crowded with people? How will the collection be protected? How will the museum archives be accessed? When will the library move to a permanent location? Will the museum archives move back in when the library moves out? How do we behave in the museum? Can I take my coffee into the library?

Most of these are answered on both the museum and library websites. But there are some key messages that I can share. Firstly, library users are welcome at the museum. Our front of house staff are very approachable and will help you orientate yourself in MTG. We want to ensure you feel welcome here.

We are different from a library and we do have our own peculiarities. But there are only two basic differences to be aware of. In order to protect the regions collection and ensure it will be maintained and kept for future generations, as well as to respect cultural protocols, we do ask that people don’t bring food or drink into the museum (and certainly that you don’t consume them in our galleries). MTG staff will be happy to hold any food or drink you have until you have completed your visit to the building.

The second thing we ask and appreciate is that people refrain from touching collection items. Again, this is to ensure we look after and protect your treasures for future generations. Something as simple as the oils on our skin can lead to long term and irreparable damage to objects. And over time many, many hands touching something can wear it away.

I know from personal experience how hard this can be with children. One of my son’s was very tactile – he just couldn’t help himself and wanted to touch everything. So we really do appreciate your help and understanding about how important it is to resist the temptation to touch.

We know that we can give some mixed signals in the museum world. On the one hand we don’t want objects to be touched and on the other hand we have interactives that are designed for handling. We’ve started labeling items that you are welcome to touch with a hand. Hopefully this symbol helps alleviate confusion but we would welcome your feedback on this.

We encourage families to come in with their children and try to provide things to keep younger visitors interested and engaged. There are some interactives around the building, occasional items displayed specifically to appeal to children and activities that children can participate in. Making the museum an engaging place is an ongoing objective and we will, with your input, continue to work on this.


Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 16th December 2017 

Yuki Kihara: Te Taenga Mai o Salome

Our new exhibition of artworks by Yuki Kihara leads me to reflect on the power of art to captivate us. It’s quite a feeling to come under the spell of a creative work – be it a song, taonga, movie, book, or a piece of visual art. For me, I find it often begins as a simple attraction, a personal resonance with the work that grows through looking or listening. When something is really striking, experiencing it once just isn’t enough. Just as my brother re-reads his favourite book series every now and then, Yuki’s art draws me back repeatedly. I know I’ll be spending plenty of my free time up in the gallery with her beautiful and fascinating works over the coming months.

People around the world are similarly captivated by Yuki’s art, as she exhibits across Europe, the USA, Asia, Australia as well as her homeland of Sāmoa and throughout New Zealand. The allure of her photographic artworks crosses cultural distinctions, speaking to many people regardless of their level of familiarity with fine art.

The works in our exhibition range from still photographs, projected video works, and the unusual medium of lenticular prints: which combine a multitude of photographs to give the effect of motion as the viewer moves from side to side. Present in all the images is Yuki herself in the role of a symbolic figure named Salome.

Yuki first created and embodied the Salome character in 2002, inspired by an 1886 photograph of a Sāmoan woman wearing a Victorian mourning dress. The name of this woman is unknown, but in bringing her back to life, Yuki gave her the name Salome.

In video works, Salome performs evocative dances, while in the photographs she is seen visiting sites of layered significance. Her full black gown marks her as an ancestral figure, returning from the 19th century. Salome’s presence creates a layer of intrigue to the work, leading us to wonder: who is this figure, always appearing alone, and why is she there?

I find that it is this element of mystery, combined with the richness of the imagery, that makes the works so captivating. There is a wealth of meaning to be found: from the biblical and theatrical connotations of the name of Salome, to the particular histories of each place where she is seen, and more.

Yuki gave great insight into the concepts of her art during her floor talk yesterday, describing her inspirations, influences and intentions. She also shared these in a written interview, published in a booklet that is freely available from MTG for those who would like more insight into her work.

The exhibition, titled ‘Yuki Kihara: Te Taenga Mai o Salome’, will be on display until June 2018 and entry is free to all – so if you too find yourself under the spell of these works, you’ll be welcome to return as many times as you like.

Yuki Opening

Jessica Mio, Art Curator – MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today, 9th December 2017

Friends of the Museum

Friends of the Museum are a group of people interested in arts, history and culture who support the museum, like to know what is going on (and coming up) and to whom we give some exclusive benefits – such as discounts on product, special events, and invitations to openings. They’re people who are passionate about the museum, invested in the community, and care about what happens here at MTG.

This week we had a special event for our friends and invited them in to participate in a range of curatorial-led presentations.

Some enjoyed a tour through Napier Cemetery with Gail Pope, learning the history of both the cemetery and some of the people laid to rest there. I well remember, early in my time at MTG Hawke’s Bay, going on one of these tours and I found it fascinating. I’d also been asked by a friend from Auckland if, when I was in Napier, I could try to find the gravesite of someone connected to their family – Bright Cooper. Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered his story was part of the tour! This tour is offered periodically over the summer months, so there’s an opportunity for everyone to have the experience.

Others elected to do a public art walk with Jess Mio. This walk takes in a surprising amount of public art within a relatively small footprint around the museum. These works, primarily in the form of sculptures and murals, speak to shared identity, history and contemporary issues for our city, nation and the world. There are some hidden gems in the city that not everyone knows about and Jess’ in-depth knowledge about the meaning and significance of these works certainly made me see many of them in a different light.

The third group focused on pounamu – exploring the ancient Maori pukorero (oral tradition) of Te Whatu o Poutini (the Eye of Poutini), which articulates the journey of Poutini Taniwha, Waitaiki and Tamaahua from Tuhua (Mayor Island) in the Bay of Plenty, to the Arahura River. An oral geological map, this pukorero also expresses the intimate spiritual relationship Maori have with the Arahura River, pounamu stone and each other. The feedback on this was so great that I’ve asked Michelle to repeat this talk for the team here so all staff can share this experience.

Each group came back energised and excited about the activity they participated in, speaking very highly about the event and how much they enjoyed their experiences with the curators. In fact the occasion was such a success I’m sure we’ll need to re-offer these activities again (and others) sometime in the future.

Meanwhile the team here are busy installing ‘Te Taenga Mai O Salome’ in one of the upstairs galleries. This exhibition by well-known artist Yuki Kihara will be our last display to open this year and will be available for the public to enjoy from Friday 8 December.

Cemetery Tour

  • Stitch at MTG Hawke’s Bay, 2-3 December. Public stitching project available all day
  • Embroidery workshops with Jo Dixey, 2-3 December, 10:30am – 4pm, $50 per workshop. To book call MTG 835 7781 or email
  • He Manu Tioriori, exhibition exploring Ngati Kahungunu’s love affair with music reopens this weekend. Featuring jazz orchestras, church and brass bands through to ragtime Jazz, RocknRoll, Country and Western to contemporary and Kapa Haka.
  • Drop in Zone, enjoy craft activities and a reading space complementing the exhibitions. Open every weekend.

Laura Vodonavich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today 2nd December 2017