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
Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay
Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 19 March 2016