Changes of Space and Staff Open Up Opportunities

Some of our dedicated archive researchers will have noted a few changes of late, with the reading room now converted to the Bernard Chambers Gallery. Visitors have responded well to this space opening up again as a gallery and enjoying more of the collection on public display. This change has meant the reading room function needed to be relocated and has been moved into the archive storage space.

Feedback from regular users of the archives is that they’re enjoying the new space, which has better light for reading and also means they’re placed in the heart of the archive collection. It’s always exciting to see the scale and range of material in collections and I’m not surprised that researchers are enjoying a sense of intimacy with the archives. Whilst our archives are open for any visitor or researcher to access on Friday afternoons, and we do encourage researchers to come on Fridays if they can, the archives can also be accessed at other times by appointment.

What may be news to some is that Gail Pope, our long-standing Collection Assistant – Archives, has moved into the role of Curator – Social History.  We’re really pleased to have Gail in this role, filling the vacancy left when Eloise Wallace became Director at Tairawhiti Museum, Gisborne. This brings our curatorial team back up to the full complement of three curators, art, taonga Maori, and social history. Gail’s intimate knowledge of the collection and her experience in research will lead, I’m sure, to some interesting exhibitions.

We’re also delighted to have Cathy Dunn join our team, taking over Gail’s previous role of Collection Assistant – Archives. Cathy has been working as one of the Archivists at Television New Zealand, bringing a wealth of knowledge about archive management and a passion for (and skill with) textiles. I’m sure our regular visitors will enjoy working with Cathy but rest assured Gail and others are still available to step in and assist while Cathy is getting to know the collection. We’re looking forward to learning from Cathy and her experiences and believe this will be a very positive step for the museum and the collections.

Work continues on planning the relocation of the archives to the Napier library. In the meantime we’re starting to consider what work would need to be undertaken to prepare the space to function as a gallery again and, also, planning the exhibition we would display there. Being such a large gallery this provides both opportunities and challenges. It is an opportunity certainly to get more objects out on display and to provide a sense of scale but it will also require a lot more work, planning, design and build than smaller spaces. I have no doubt that the team here are up to the challenge and will provide something wonderful for our visitors when the time comes.

In the meantime it’s Easter and so we looked at the collection to see what we have with an egg theme and came up with these interesting little items. They are described as magician’s eggs (although only one is egg shaped) but we know nothing about how they would have been used. If there are any budding or experienced magicians out there who know the trick these would have been used for we would love to hear from you.

Magician’s eggs from Len Willoughby’s magic box

Magician’s eggs from Len Willoughby’s magic box



Research Important in Shaping History

Among the many activities at a museum, one of the most important is the capturing of information that sits alongside the objects we hold. We have a ripped shirt in our collection along with burnt and fused plates – why on earth would we keep such things? Well, of course, they are objects from the Hawke’s Bay earthquake and so their story is what’s important, not their aesthetic appeal. Standing looking at these items they instantly transport the mind to a different place and time, you feel you can almost touch history, that you’re in the presence of a moment in time that can be captured in no other way. Objects without information lose an enormous amount of their social and cultural value.

Museum standards and practice have developed over many years, always with the best understanding of the time and usually, I like to think, with the best intent. Previous practice saw it as perfectly normal to simply collect objects, their stories didn’t matter. Objects were collected for their beauty, their rarity, or as part of a ‘series’ and the appreciation was all in looking at the object. That is why today there are so many objects in collections with little or no information. This is especially problematic with taonga Māori collections where knowing the original location, owner, maker or iwi provides so much meaning and literally changes the relationship with taonga.

These days there is a lot of information captured when objects are acquired for the collection. We need to know where the object came from, its relationship with any significant events or people, how it was used, how the current owner came into possession of it, the manufacturer (if relevant), the materials it is made from, the exact location of images (if relevant) and so on.

Just this week we had Mary Kisler, Senior Curator at Auckland Art Gallery, in the museum looking at our two Frances Hodgkins paintings, as part of the research she’s undertaking on Hodgkins. We have very little information in our catalogues about the paintings and Mary was quite excited by one in particular that she hadn’t seen before. Mary thinks this could be one of the first works (if not the first) painted when Hodgkins arrived in Europe. Mary will be doing further research to see if she can identify the exact location of the scene in the painting and any other information she can unearth about it. Obviously this is very exciting for us and any information she uncovers will be added to the catalogue and database about the painting, so it’s there and available for future researchers or for label text the next time it is displayed. Should there be any other Hodgkins paintings in the community I am sure Mary would love to know about them and we’d be happy to pass on information to her if you are willing and interested in helping with her research.

An early Europe Frances Hodgkins painting titled Gateway on the Riviera, 1901

An early Europe Frances Hodgkins painting titled Gateway on the Riviera, 1901

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 19 March 2016

Links help to build strong and vibrant collections

Collegiality between institutions, colleagues, collectors and artists is an essential component of good and vibrant exhibition programming. It can lead to enriched collections, opportunities to access objects that would otherwise be unavailable, and the synergy that collaboration can provide.

Our current exhibitions and events are evidence of exactly that.

Tonight we have the official opening for our new exhibition I AM/WE ARE; a retrospective of works from the artist Nigel Brown’s personal collection. In this case Nigel is both artist and collector. The exhibition was created and curated by the Aigantighe Art Gallery who decided to tour the show, with MTG Hawke’s Bay Museum as the first North Island venue. Our connection with this exhibition runs deeper still. Jess Mio, our Curator- Art, curated the exhibition in her previous role at Aigantighe Art Gallery, and though not on display in this instance, we hold six of Nigel’s works in the museum collection.

The Tasman-Smith collection, on display in the Bernard Chambers Gallery, is an example of the importance of good working relationships with collectors. This private collection of twelve late 19th century New Zealand paintings was gifted to the museum by Thelma Tasman-Smith, and through this generosity they’re now available for all to enjoy.

Many of you will be aware that our Lalique exhibition is the result of a strong relationship with a generous collector, Jack C Richards. You may not be aware however, of the important role collegiality between institutions played in this exhibition. Some of the Lalique works currently on display in our gallery had to come off display at Tairawhiti Museum in Gisborne, and we’re grateful for the support we received from Tairawhiti, rearranging their own display, to accommodate our show. Eloise Wallace, Director at Tairawhiti Museum, has since asked if they can have the exhibition as we have created it, to display there after we close it later in the year. Obviously they have access to the entire Lalique collection any time they want but what adds value for them is the curatorial research and consideration that Jess Mio has put into the selection and grouping of works, the text information about different influences, timeline information about Lalique as a person and his career, and so on.

The Dick Frizzell exhibition ‘Artist’s Proof’ will also be loaned to Tairawhiti where for display from 14 October to 27 November. Both the Lalique and Dick Frizzell exhibitions are examples of a closer collegial working relationship between our institution and Tairawhiti Museum, and that can only lead to good things for the future.

Of course working close locally is vitally important and Toni MacKinnon, Director of Hastings City Gallery, and I meet regularly to discuss matters of mutual interest or concern, to liaise with each other around programming and to provide support for each other where we can. We’re also part of a larger network that we have created called the East Coast Directors Group which includes Hastings City Art Gallery, Central Hawke’s Bay Settlers Museum, Wairoa Museum, Tairawhiti Museum and MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Collaboration takes many forms. The current Sea Walls Festival has a link with the museum and has been supported by Council. This festival sees national and international artists creating large scale murals on buildings throughout Napier. At the Museum on Sunday 20 March we’ll host the Sea Walls: Ocean Film Fest and Artists Panel discussion in the Century Theatre. There’s a rich array of long and short films throughout the day. Tickets ($10 / $7.50/Children Free) include admission to all film screenings, the panel discussion and entry through the museum so it’s a very accessible community event.

All these relationships are the way museums and galleries build strong and vibrant collections andoffer interesting exhibitions and public programmes which, we hope, appeal to our local community and our visitors from out- of-town. We hope the juxtaposition and mix of stories, art and events will inspire you to come and visit us and enjoy the truly magnificent works and experiences available.

Nicola Zaaiman and Sara Perrett from MTG Hawke’s Bay’s collection team prepare Dick Frizzel’s works for transport.

Nicola Zaaiman and Sara Perrett from MTG Hawke’s Bay’s collection team prepare Dick Frizzel’s works for transport. Photorapher David Frost.


Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 12 March 2016

Playful creations allow us to feel like children again

We would like to acknowledge the passing of Dr Ranginui Walker. He was a leading academic figure and will be remembered for his outstanding contribution to the knowledge and understanding  of our nation’s history.

Last week Laura, Jess and I enjoyed attending the opening of Gregor Kregar’s exhibition ‘Lost World’ at Hastings City Art Gallery. This exhibition is the kind that immediately brings a smile, with oversized toy dinosaurs made from bronze standing on pedestals of hollow glass bricks: it’s the grown-up version of building a little lego structure and topping it with your plastic dinosaur.  The playfulness continues with whole walls built out of the recycled-glass bricks, lit from within by long tubes of coloured fluorescent lights. It was great to hear from Kregar about how his four-year-old child’s current obsession with dinosaurs sparked the idea for the show.

Exhibition openings and floor-talks are a great way to participate in the arts and cultural sector – to hear from a curator or straight from the ‘horse’s mouth‘ about an artist’s work – what inspired them, how they developed the initial idea into an artwork, or maybe some of the challenges they faced. Each artist offers a unique perspective on the arts and also about contemporary society and culture. Galleries appreciate the support of their communities and a good crowd at an opening or floor-talk can really heighten the art viewing experience. Nigel Brown’s talk here at MTG next weekend will be a rare opportunity to hear the artist giving insight into the works on show from his own personal collection.

There are also plenty of great arts events happening outside gallery walls around Hawke’s Bay. Next week is the start of the Sea Walls festival, in which 25 artists from all around the country and beyond are coming to Napier to paint murals that will raise awareness about the plight of the oceans. The public will be able to watch them in the process of creating and several of the artists will speak at MTG after their murals have been finished – don’t miss the chance to hear what they are all about.

The Sea Walls murals will add to the already vibrant public art scene here. Over the last few years, there have been many new outstanding works installed, most recently local artist Philipp Meir’s ‘Flight of the Return’ in which giant stainless steel gannets fly down Paxie’s Lane. The sea-side wall of MTG features Kregar and partner Sara Hughes’ ‘Pin Wall’ and opposite the entrance is Paul Dibble’s ‘The Gold of the Kōwhai’. Social sculpture ‘Words on Walls’ throughout central Napier continues to acknowledge our cultural heritage, while Ngā Pou o Heretaunga in Hastings’ Civic Square shares stories of local marae and tīpuna (ancestors).

All of these demonstrate how art can be broadly accessible, offering the opportunity for passers-by to deliberately or incidentally encounter and interact with these public works.

‘The Gold of the Kowhai’, artist Paul Dibble

‘The Gold of the Kowhai’, artist Paul Dibble

Tryphena Cracknell – Curator Taonga Māori at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 5 March 2016.