amongst the stocking fillers

In early December of 2011, Dick Frizzell gave the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust an early Christmas present of 92 artist proof prints. Classic works like Mickey to Tiki, the Red Haring Series, Give it a Whirl and many more were amongst the stocking fillers.

My project whilst working back at the glorious HBMAG over my Uni Holiday break is to go over each of the 92 prints, get their dimensions, take a photograph, write a brief description, enter all the relevant information into the collection database, then mat them all. I also got a chance to sit in on a curatorial meeting to see how they go about coming up with exhibition ideas, which was, in my head, more complex than I had originally thought. I was then asked to think about how I would go about exhibiting the newly acquired Frizzell prints. A feeling of con-puzzlement (being confused and puzzled at the same time) swept over me upon being asked this and at the realisation of the daunting task ahead.

My work station

Viewing each of the works more than half a dozen times three distinctive themes became apparent to me in the prints we received from Dick; Tiki’s, Charlie (the Four Square guy) and household things like recipes, appliances and food. Annoyingly for myself I couldn’t escape these themes over the Christmas and New Year break.  Firstly, because everywhere I went had something that reminded me of a particular print, especially since the Four Square Man’s image seemed to pop up in the most unlikely of places. And secondly because I kept coming up with little exhibition ideas that started with “if I were to exhibit these in an exhibition… How would I exhibit them? Where would I exhibit them? What ones out of the 92 prints would I exhibit? And why are we exhibiting them/why these particular works are being exhibited?” More questions than answers would usually eventuate from such ideas.  But such ideas can be thought about whilst carrying on with my matting.

Akaroa, 1999, Dick Frizzell, collection of Hawke's Bay Museums Trust / Ruawharo Ta-u-Rangi 2011/42/37

In my opinion the matting part is definitely the fun part. Thinking about it now though, all matting is, is cutting a rectangular shape out of mat board using a set algebraic equation and a mat cutter, pretty much making me a glorified rectangle cutter. I won’t bore you with the details of the equation, but it involves numbers and the horrible idea of using algebra to get the area and placement of the window of mat you need to cut out. After the mat is cut and the work is centred, the next step is to attach the rice paper hinges to the back of the work. Using another set of rice paper hinges I then attached the work to its backing mat which is joined to the window mat creating a folder with a window cut out of it (multiply this process by 92 and that’s a lot of rectangular cut outs). After all that you get a final matted work which, if need be, is ready to go into a frame and into an exhibition.

Making sure it's centred

When I was first told about my project back in November I wasn’t the biggest fan of Dick’s work, but now, through either being surrounded by Frizzellian prints, or the reading up I’ve been doing, I find myself growing fonder of his work. Am I, dare I say it, becoming a fan? I guess only time will tell.

The finished product

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happy new year leo

Lately, we’ve been spending rather more time than usual looking over our shoulders – it’s inevitable I suppose that we seek to be reassured by the history of this place as we rush headlong toward the reopening of the Museum next year.

In the weeks before Christmas we chanced across a delightful file of ‘miscellaneous’ papers written by museum directors’ past. During our spare moments we pored over the scraps of paper, reading aloud to each other snippets of this and that – from intriguing anecdotes about the collection, to all sorts of amusing advice about how to run a museum.

It is the voice of Leo Bestall (1895 – 1959), the Museum’s first Director that dominates these files. I immediately felt a very strong impression of him and was possessed by that nagging desire that inflicts a historian from time to time – to meet the man. How I wish I could have talked to him – if it is possible to know a man at all from the leavings on a few pieces of paper I don’t know – but I thought we might have got along rather well and I felt the disappointment that comes from lifetimes that don’t cross.

Working in a museum, a type of public institution that exists in the world mainly because of the passionately obsessive curiosity and drive of particular individuals, long dead men have a way of looming over us. Just as I was feeling over-burdened by the weight of one demanding institutional ancestor – thank you William Colenso – I read these documents and felt Leo shake my brain about even more. 

Bestall’s perspectives on museums in general, and this one in particular were refreshing and energising. He was no passionless academic, he doesn’t get too tangled in questioning whether museums should exist and why, he knew it and he just got on and did it, scrambled over the hurdles and seemed to have a rather good time.

It’s all too easy to feel exhausted by the demands of this new museum we are making, especially now the calendar has ticked around to 2012 and reopening looms just one year away. Bestall’s lessons were good and timely ones for me.

Just before Christmas the whole team visited the museum site to have an explore and share a morning tea with our lovely builders from Gemco. I was particularly keen to get back into the ‘Bestall’ Gallery because the name meant more to me than it had before. Uppermost in my mind as I walked around was the fun and thrill of what we were doing. In particular, I had such pleasure in seeing the restoration of Bestall’s building underway, its galleries are a thing of beauty and I know they will be a pleasure to inhabit in their new form.

It was Leo’s vision, and sheer bloody-mindness that made this building in 1936. In proof that passion bears fruit that outlasts us, I think he would be quite delighted to see the HBMAG’s current team wandering about the bones of his building, as alive to its possibilities almost 80 years on.

So Leo, a 2012 New Year’s toast to you, thanks for those letters you left behind, we are thinking about you, and we think what you made here in Napier in 1936 was pretty darn fantastic.

welcome to the HBMAG blog

Welcome to the Hawke’s Bay Museum & Art Gallery’s new blog. Here you’ll be able to get an insider view of the work being done in preparation for the reopened HBMAG coming your way in 2013. At different times different staff from throughout the museum and art gallery will be giving you a glimpse of the projects they are working on, the research being undertaken and the discoveries made.

I hope you enjoy this personal behind the scenes tour.

Douglas Lloyd Jenkins