Lalique vases prove more than just an empty vessel

One of the most interesting and enjoyable tasks in curating an exhibition (for me, anyway) is researching. Inevitably, unexpected information emerges that changes my preconceived ideas, sometimes altering the whole angle of a show. A case in point has been the upcoming exhibition of Lalique glass from the collection of Jack C Richards.

I chose the vases to be included in the show after being appointed to my position but prior to moving to Napier, using photographs to make the selection. At that point I was familiar with Lalique’s style but had never read about him or his art. For instance, I knew that Lalique designed the majority of his glass vases in the 1920s and 30s, but I didn’t see them as Art Deco. My idea of Art Deco design centred around streamlined forms, geometric patterns, and stepping or zigzagging lines. How could a coiled snake in the form of a vase, jaws open wide in a hiss, be considered Art Deco? I thought Art Deco was all about machines and that natural forms belonged to the preceding era of Art Nouveau design.

So it was a surprise to discover that the two movements were not quite the opposites that I’d imagined. While Lalique embraced the machine in the production of his glass vases, his long-established and elegant use of natural themes continued, characterising both his Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods. The differences in his work are subtle. At the height of Art Nouveau, Lalique had designed a jewellery piece called Knot of Serpents featuring the open-mouthed snake motif – but in that case there were nine snakes all knotted together. Their bodies formed tight curves and complex loops that could only be achieved in a handcrafted medium. 26 years later he used a more simplified and balanced form of a snake for the Serpent vase, to suit his new medium of mass-produced glassware. It’s this simplification that marks Lalique’s shift into Art Deco design.

Another unexpected discovery was that Lalique’s daughter, Suzanne Lalique-Haviland, had designed several of the pieces that will feature in our upcoming exhibition. In fact, her designs are those that I’d thought of as distinctly Art Deco, including vases made of clear glass with pure geometric patterns marked out in black enamel. Suzanne worked as a designer for the family glassworks from the age of 17 until her mid 30s and had a strong influence on the company’s development: from its Art Nouveau beginnings to the Art Deco style of her own generation. However she never signed any of her pieces, so the attribution of Lalique designs to her has been based primarily on her sketchbooks and watercolours.

Researching Lalique has been fascinating and also had the unforeseen benefit of helping me become more familiar with Art Deco style – an important subject here in Hawke’s Bay. I’m looking forward to delving further into everything Deco and sharing the outcomes through exhibitions in the future.

Vase Serpent ©Lalique SA

René Lalique, Serpent. Model created 1924 iron carbon amber glass, mould-blown. Image courtesy of Lalique SA.

Jessica Mio – Art Curator at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 23 January 2016.


Digitisation of collections has far-reaching benefits

One of the many functions that goes on quietly behind the scenes in a museum is the digitisation of the collections. A primary reason for digitising the items we hold is to increase the accessibility of the collection online – creating access beyond the walls of the MTG Hawke’s Bay building. Having collections online bypasses the museum’s constraints of space and time, where what is viewable is limited to what is on display (3-5% of the collection), which is only able to be viewed by people in the vicinity and during opening hours. Digital collections enable anyone, anywhere in the world the ability to view our holdings, at any time. This kind of access is of huge benefit to everyone but is particularly useful to researchers, colleagues in other institutions, genealogists, artists and so on.

Online collections enable members of the public to interact with collections in some very creative ways. For a bit of a light hearted view have a look at this website where people have played around with images and brought them ‘to life’. Another fantastic thing that can happen is a flow of information from members of the public providing knowledge about objects and images such as identifying the people in an image, confirming where an image has been taken, what an unusual object might have been used for and so on. When we get to this stage it’s a great way to engage and exchange dialogue with interested parties.

Internally images have many uses including being invaluable for our curators in researching and planning exhibitions, for publications, or to record particular aspects of an object, such as makers’ marks or damage that has been sustained. Images help enormously in planning the design and layout of exhibitions and visualising how an exhibition will look and feel for our audiences. There is no doubt that an image is much better than a description when it comes to planning exhibitions.

A lot of requests come into museums to access images for publication and, if there is not a high resolution image already available, the object will need to be brought out of storage and photographed. While the majority of the fine art collection has been completed we estimate that only 10-15% of the entire collection has been done, so there is still a long way to go! These days when new items are accepted into the collection they are photographed as part of the accessioning process. The challenge then, is to address the backlog of objects that are not yet photographed.

Recently, while scanning some glass plate negatives our Collection Assistant (Photography), Nicola Zaaiman, discovered some additional Russell Duncan images. Among Sunny Southern Isles is an exhibition currently on display showing photographs Russell Duncan took when travelling through the Pacific at the end of the nineteenth century. The images that have just been discovered include a picture of Russell Duncan’s house and a photograph of a picnic.

Ideally all the collection would be available online. But, while images are great, and they are so much better than written descriptions, they will never replace the experience of seeing the real article. There is something magical about directly experiencing an object from history or being in the presence of a great piece of art.

Picnic, image taken by Russell Duncan c1890’s

Picnic, image taken by Russell Duncan c1890’s

Laura Vodanovich Director of the Museum Theatre Gallery (MTG) Hawke’s Bay.

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 16 January 2016.

What are we doing and who are we doing it for?

With the start of 2016 I, like many, am pausing to think about what I want to achieve in the coming year. Consequently I am thinking about what MTG Hawke’s Bay is doing and where we are going. At the core of this is thinking about who we are doing this for. One of the dangers that can happen in the museum industry is we end up catering for museum colleagues and critics instead of for our visitors and communities.

As a regional museum in the North Island of New Zealand we need to ask ourselves: who are our visitors and what do they want to see? Who are our communities and what is the legacy they want to leave? What are all the things that people want us to focus on – design, history, art, taonga Māori, objects, interpretation, aesthetics? We need to cater for disabled people, children, elderly, tourists, locals and so on. One of the challenges is that, to a certain extent, we have to try to be all things to all people which is of course impossible and can leave everyone somewhat dissatisfied. And we need to be aware of the ever-present danger that in trying to be all things to all people we can become very bland.

Like museums all over the country and around the world we need to try to generate revenue but be above commercialism, explore sensitive issues but not be politically influenced, be new and challenging but avoid stepping too far away from our roots. Confident and bold visions can disengage some visitors in the present but leave a lasting legacy for the future.

The strengths of collections can, and to a certain extent should, influence the direction of museums. However strengths of the collection are often influenced by the personal interests of Directors and Curators over the years. This can lead to gaps in collections and/or collection strengths that are out of step with community interests. Fashions and trends change over time, with many museums having large philatelic (stamp), horology (clock) and flat iron collections. More recent museum practice is to look at and consider the entire museum collection, purpose and community before developing collection policies that ensure collecting is focused on the best areas for the community and institution, rather than overly influenced by any personal leanings. Trying to get the balance right can be like walking a tightrope, however as I and Jessica, our new Art Curator, get to know the collection better and meet more of the community I am certain that we and the team here can develop the right way forward.

We have been receiving great feedback about the earthquake film ‘Survivors’ Stories’) showing downstairs next to the gallery and are excited that our Lalique exhibition is now less than a month away. As always I welcome the community’s opinions and thoughts on how we are doing so please continue to share those with me.


Visitors enjoying galleries


Laura Vodanovich Director of the Museum Theatre Gallery (MTG) Hawke’s Bay.

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 9 January 2016.

Action-packed year at the museum

2015 was an action packed year for MTG Hawke’s Bay Museum and this week it seems natural to reflect on the year and what was achieved.

We’ve presented a number of exhibitions, some of the highlights being: From the Uttermost Ends of the Earth: Hawke’s Bay at War 1914-1918; Tēnēi Tonu (our new Māori gallery); Artists Proof (prints by the popular Dick Frizzell); and Talanoa (contemporary installations by Pacific artist John Vea). MTG won a museum industry award for the exhibition Dr Felkin and the Forerunners.

The basement annex space has been converted into a theatre to show the Survivors’ Stories film, the Reading Room was reclaimed as a gallery space and three of the four stairwell cases were opened.

One of the more noticeable ‘displays’ has been the installation of Pin Wall on the exterior of the building. This work, by artists Sara Hughes and Gregor Kregar, has proven very popular with locals and visitors alike.

We hope you enjoyed our two open days which had over 1,000 visitors each time.

We were honoured to be on the schedules for two official visits during the year. One by the Governor General of New Zealand, Jerry Mateparae with his wife Raewynn, and the second by American Ambassador Mark Gilbert with his wife Nancy, daughter Liz and family friend Michelle.

Another exciting achievement for staff this year was the increased success of the Film Festival, making it a sustainable option for the future.

Of course ‘behind the scenes’ there was a lot going on too.

The collection store in the basement has been filled (although there are plans afoot to fit more in) and we’re working on plans regarding storage for the rest of the collection.

We’ve worked closely with the Art Deco Trust to develop a strong working relationship, including offering guided tours though our 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake gallery, and we mourned alongside them the passing of Robert MacGregor, who was such a strong figure in the promotion and preservation of Art Deco.

One of our very talented staff members, Ken Miles, made Santa’s sleigh for the Christmas parade in conjunction with Mike Hyde from the Napier City Council Depot.

Two of our staff made significant career changes with Eloise Wallace now Director at Tairawhiti Museum in Gisborne and Lucy Hammonds Curator at Dunedin Public Art Gallery. We had a museum baby born, William Wilson, and welcomed our new curator, Jessica Mio.

Possibly one of the most successful things done during the year was moving the counter in the front foyer – sometimes simple things make the biggest impact – and we’ve received numerous positive comments about this. Another simple yet positive change has been putting an artwork in the front foyer.

Earlier in the week , the Veronica Bell was removed from the earthquake exhibition in preparation for its traditional part in the New Year celebrations.


Bell from the HMS Veronica, Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 69643

This was originally the bell of the HMS Veronica, a ship that had just tied up in Napier’s inner harbour when the 1931 earthquake hit.

It was presented to the city in 1937 as a memento of the assistance given by the ship’s officers and crew in rescuing those trapped in the rubble, and if you were at Marine Parade for New Year’s you would have the bell ringing just before midnight to herald in 2016.

We wish everyone a safe and happy New Year and hope to see you at the museum in 2016.


Laura Vodanovich director of the Museum Theatre Gallery (MTG) Hawke’s Bay.

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 2 January 2016.