Home – a major theme at MTG Hawke’s Bay

The re-opening in three weeks’ time has a sense of homecoming about it, for our visitors and Friends, and also for the collection which is returning from temporary storage.

Home has also been on our minds while we’ve been bringing together MTG Hawke’s Bay’s debut exhibitions. Take these with you when you leave – Treasures of the archive, Architecture of the heart and Ūkaipō – ō tātou whakapapa, all call on the idea of the home – being at home, making a home and homecoming. The idea of home means different things to different people but these exhibitions are sure to strike a chord with our visitors.

Take these with you when you leave – Treasures of the archive showcases unique and rare records from the archive, including personal belongings immigrants selected to bring with them when they moved to New Zealand such as bibles and icons, photographs of loved ones and landscapes, and sheets of music and musical instruments.

In developing the show, we’ve sensed how difficult it must have been for settlers to choose what to bring to their new land. But these tough decisions had to be made; there was only so much room and these were belongings which could not be left behind. Now stored in the archive, these objects were once very personal reminders of homes left behind. In New Zealand they helped new immigrants to create their homes here.

All of the objects are very personal and very poignant. Some tell quite profound stories and offer intimate glimpses into the lives of nineteenth century arrivals to Hawke’s Bay.

Architecture of the heart is an exhibition drawing on the treasures of the art collection. Developing the show has been a fantastic opportunity to open the door into the world of some of these paintings and consider how we can use them to think about the idea of home. There’s a universality to how people think about home, it’s a meeting point across time and across culture. These artworks give us an expression of this commonality and it’s intriguing to explore how the idea is represented in our collections.

We’ve all enjoyed the luxury of a long-term research project, meaning we’ve been able to really get to grips with the background stories of objects and artworks.

An example of this is the lovely story of Jenny Campbell and Roland Hipkins. The two painters met after arriving in New Zealand in the 1920s and then married here. While working on Architecture of the heart, we’ve been able to look at their work made as they discovered their new home country, and see their excitement in the potential of this place.

While ‘ūkaipō is sometimes translated as ‘home’, our new taonga Māori exhibition, Ūkaipō – ō tātou whakapapa, calls on a slightly broader interpretation of the word. Ūkaipō is about expressions of identity, and home is part of interpreting this kaupapa. Ūkaipō represents the home ground of our hapū, upbringing, childhood and learning.

This exhibition is about the hapū of Hawke’s Bay and we hope their stories will inspire others to think of their own ūkaipō. That’s not to say that this exhibition about the ūkaipō of te iwi Māori, but rather an example of how hapū of Hawke’s Bay express ūkaipō. It is an inclusive and universal concept that will be identifiable to wider audiences.

Lucy Hammonds, Curator Design Collections, Georgina White, Curator Social History and Migoto Eria, Curator Taonga Māori look forward to the opening of MTG Hawke’s Bay on the 21 September.

Lucy Hammonds, Curator Design Collections, Georgina White, Curator Social History and Migoto Eria, Curator Taonga Māori look forward to the opening of MTG Hawke’s Bay on the 21 September.

The MTG Hawke’s Bay redevelopment aims to offer an overarching sense of home. It provides a new home for the collection and for our staff as well as being a place that gives our community a sense of identity, a place to stand in, recognising where we’ve been and where we’re going.

We’re looking forward to welcoming you all home to MTG Hawke’s Bay on September 21st.

– Georgina White, Lucy Hammonds and Migoto Eria

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Here comes the bride…

Behind the scenes at MTG Hawke’s Bay we’re busy preparing objects for the nine new exhibitions that will open to the public on 21 September 2013. Without wanting to give away too many surprises, this is a sneak peek at an object that is all dressed up and ready for display.

green wedding dress

Green and black striped taffeta dress with black velvet ribbon and cotton lace trim, c. 1870, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 72/53.

With only the dress as our guide, our challenge was to recreate the body of the young Victorian bride that wore this garment on her wedding day around 1870 in Yorkshire, England. Unlike paintings or sculpture, costumes require a lot of work to prepare them for display. From flat storage to the display case, the garment must be translated into a three-dimensional object that is at once historically accurate, aesthetically pleasing, and fully supported and protected.

The first step in mounting a costume is selecting a mannequin. When making this selection numerous factors must be considered including the individual requirements of the costume, conservation concerns, interpretation, and exhibition design. Given that all costumes are different and no mannequin is perfect, the process of mounting a costume entails numerous alterations and adaptations.

When mounting a costume the most important thing to remember is that the garment dictates the support and not the other way around. Unlike dressmaking where the garment is made to fit the body, mounting a costume requires the conception and fabrication of a custom support. Given the small size of the dress, we immediately realised that our standard mannequins were too large for this petite Victorian bride and it was decided that we needed a bespoke mannequin based on the measurements of the dress. An order was placed for a torso to be sculpted with a tiny 63cm waist and a neck circumference of just 28 cm!

A customised mannequin at hand, we were still only half way to achieving the desired 1870s silhouette. Arms needed to be added and plenty of extra padding was required around the torso, however our first and most significant challenge was to restore volume to the skirt. In order to achieve the correct silhouette, we began by looking at similar dresses of the period. By the 1870s, the full crinoline – fashionable throughout the previous decade – had decreased considerably in size and the volume had shifted to the back of the dress in the form of a soft bustle. When examining the green dress it was clear that there was more fabric at the back than at the front, thus allowing for an extended derrière! Another vital clue was the hemline of the dress. Had we added too much volume at the front or at the rear, the hemline would have appeared uneven, therefore indicating that the silhouette was incorrect.

When worn in the 1870s, this dress would have come complete with corsetry and underskirts. Unfortunately it’s rare that these undergarments arrive at the museum, and when they do, they often become collection objects in their own right. As such, we needed to find a conservation-friendly solution that would mimic the silhouette created by period undergarments. A colleague suggested we try the tiered tulle petticoat that she’d made to go underneath her own wedding dress in the 1990s. This proved to be a perfect foundation and fortunately for us she’d held onto the pattern! The next couple of days were spent cutting, gathering, and drowning beneath layers of tulle. The tulle created the perfect volume but because it was somewhat scratchy, we decided to create a calico over-skirt to protect the garment. The final addition was of course the bustle, which we created with gathered polyester wadding.

Once the petticoats were in place, our attention shifted to the upper body. The most problematic area proved to be the arms as it was difficult to create a natural look whilst still providing the necessary support to the sleeves. Needless to say, stuffed calico tubes don’t hang in the same way as arms! To minimise creasing and give the effect of fullness without overstuffing the arms, we decided to create supportive sleeve puffs. For these we used calico-covered tulle which was gathered at both ends and stitched to the arms. The tulle had the advantage of being easily crushed and passed through the armholes, while still springing back into shape once in place.

308crop

Lizzie Wratislav working on sleeve supports. Green and black striped taffeta dress with black velvet ribbon and cotton lace trim, c. 1870, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 72/53.

The finishing touches included making sure that all the individual components of the mount were securely attached and were not going to sag between now and the end of the exhibition. Due to the fragile nature of textiles, in particular their sensitivity to light, this green wedding dress will only be on display for three months before being replaced by another from the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection. Make sure you don’t miss out on seeing this one on display!

Lizzie Wratislav
Collections Assistant
July 2013