In Flanders field the poppies blow… Between the crosses row on row …


On display at MTG Hawke’s Bay Museum is a work titled In Memoriam, consisting of three cloth poppies grouped together and displayed in a frame.  Two of the poppies have Returned Soldiers Association printed on tags and the third reads In Memoriam, hence the title.

The work can be found in the Octagon, next to the First World War exhibition From the Uttermost Ends of the Earth: Hawke’s Bay At War 1914- 1918. Surrounding the exhibition case, attached to the stark white walls, are hundreds of hand-made poppies. Each poppy has a tag, on which the maker has written a message of remembrance, such as “To our tipuna’s with love; Ka maumahara tonu matou ki a ratou,” translated as ‘We will remember them.’   A child’s hand has written: “I feel sad for the brave soldiers who went to war, thank you for fighting for our country.”  Reading another, I’m struck by the poignancy of the words: “To all the men and women who never came home, the ones who mourned them and the ones who returned but were never the same.

The Flanders poppy is a symbol of war remembrance, linked with battlefield deaths since the time of the Great War. The connection was made by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian medical officer, in his poem In Flanders Fields. The red poppy was one of the first plants to bloom in the barren battlefields after fighting had ceased. Two women were responsible for making the poppy an international symbol of remembrance: Madame Guérin and Moina Michael, each of whom became known as the ‘Poppy Lady’. The New Zealand Returned Soldiers Association (as the RSA was originally known) first placed an order for over 300,000 silk poppies in September 1921, all made by Madame Guérin’s French Children’s League.

Initially the poppies were to be sold to celebrate Armistice Day (11 November) as other countries were doing. However, the ship carrying the valuable cargo arrived too late for the RSA to distribute the poppies, so the Association was forced to wait until Anzac Day, 1922. The poppies went on sale throughout New Zealand the day before Anzac Day, and such was the demand that many of the cities and towns sold out before lunch. The appeal was a huge success and raised £13,166, of which £3,695 went to the French Children’s League to help relieve suffering in Northern France. The remainder was used to support unemployed New Zealand soldiers and their families. This tradition has continued, although the poppies are now sourced elsewhere. The red poppy still symbolises remembrance and is worn on Anzac Day, at major commemorative events and military funerals.

Visitors to the museum are appreciating the growing number of poppies covering the walls of the Octagon. If you would like to add a poppy to the wall of remembrance, please come in and create your own unique poppy. You might like to dedicate yours to a member of your family who fought in a war, or to express your thoughts and feelings this ANZAC Day.

One of three poppies from work titled In Memoriam on display at MTG Hawke’s Bay Museum. Photorapher David Frost

One of three poppies from work titled In Memoriam on display at MTG Hawke’s Bay Museum. Photographer David Frost

Gail Pope – Curator Social History, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 23 April 2016

  • The museum is free all day Monday – ANZAC Day – open from 7am. Switch coffee available for purchase in the foyer.
  • Big Bike Film in Century Theatre Saturday 30 April at 7:30pm




ANZAC Day is such a significant milestone on our national calendar and one where access to memorials, war-related exhibitions and general social history should be made readily available to all. That’s why it’s important to us that there are no barriers to accessing the museum and particularly the World War One exhibition. For those of you who read the column I’d be grateful if you could spread the word to others that we’re open from 7am until 5pm ANZAC Day with free entry for everyone.

The school holidays are upon us again and if, like me, you have a number of children to keep entertained we hope you’ll consider a trip to the museum. The Nigel Brown exhibition is full of large, colourful and interesting artwork that appeals to young and old. The time-lapse video of the impressive porcelain artwork Pin Wall being installed on the outside of the building is fascinating, as is the glass-making video in the Lalique exhibition. Meanwhile the personal stories of Hawke’s Bay soldiers and nurses provide an insight into the lives of New Zealanders during war.

We have a number of hands-on elements through some of our galleries with the opportunity to try on uniforms, make a poppy, test your skills at creating a tukutuku panel, mix your own sounds with Māori musical instruments or complete one of our activity trails. These holidays we’re trying to create a large mural of colourful handprints and hope your little ones would like to contribute their artwork to the wall.

We‘re also calling for contributions from the public for another artwork called ‘Bodytok Quintet’, which will be on display in the Century Theatre foyer over winter. This is a fun and interactive video artwork consisting of five screens that play recordings of people making sounds using only their own bodies. It’s a light-hearted celebration of the human instrument – those idiosyncratic and personal sounds produced by the body that we often learn to make in childhood, and continue to make, in private or with friends and family, throughout our lives.

The artist, Phil Dadson (originally from Hawke’s Bay), would like to invite local people to come and perform their own ‘bodytoks’ on film, to add to his ongoing archive and to play in the exhibition here at MTG. This gives us a great opportunity for us to take an already appealing exhibition and make it even more engaging and relevant to the community. It also gives anyone a chance to be part of an artwork and perhaps to encounter themselves on screen in the museum.

An interesting point of difference between sitting for a portrait and being a subject in ‘Bodytok Quintet’ is that in this, the artist takes quite a passive role: participants choose their own backdrop colour and it’s up to them to express themselves through whatever sound they can make, be it finger clicking or bird calls or anything else. Filming will take place at MTG over the weekend of April 30 – May 1 so if you’re interested, please contact Curator – Art Jess Mio to register a time.

Phil Dadson’s artwork Bodytok

Phil Dadson’s artwork Bodytok


Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 16 April 2016


RSAs are important part of our social and cultural history

This week I had the pleasure of meeting the Compulsory Military Service group at the RSA in Napier. While it’s great to share what we’ve been doing at the museum, and what we’re planning to do next, even better was getting to meet such a lively and engaging group of people. Talking to groups provides me with valuable feedback from the community about how we’re performing and what we should be focusing on. Being at the RSA and talking to this particular group was very timely in the lead up to ANZAC day.

I was pleasantly surprised at how busy the RSA was and at the number of people and groups doing different things around the place. This is completely at odds with some statements that RSA’s around the country are struggling to stay viable and experiencing diminishing use and numbers. From what I saw nothing could be further from the truth.

RSA’s are such an important part of New Zealand’s social and cultural history and I’m delighted to see that Napier RSA is alive and well. Institutions such as these are valuable resources for us in our role as keepers and sharers of local social history. They are strongly networked into the community and a mine of information. Of course the collaboration directly with the RSA was never stronger than during the period of development leading up to our WWI Centenary exhibition From the Uttermost Ends of the Earth; Hawke’s Bay at War 1914-1918. Every time I walk through that gallery different aspects command my attention. Recently I have been looking at the photos of unknown soldiers on the gallery walls, wondering who they are and what their story is, did they survive and come back from the war? If anyone can help identify these men we would love to hear from you and ensure their stories are captured and kept for future generations.

Like the RSA our role is to keep memories alive, make history tangible, relevant and accessible for all. And we’re pleased to be able to say that we’ll be free again for ANZAC day this year with the doors open from 7am. Our very popular poppy making activity will be continuing with visitors able to make a poppy and leave it at the museum with a message or take it home as a keepsake. The children’s activity trail around the museum will have a war focus and RSA fundraising poppies are available at the museum. Last year we had a barista coffee cart in the foyer, which was appreciated by our visitors so we’re glad to say they will be back for ANZAC day. Switch coffee will be hot and ready to enjoy on our tables and chairs in the foyer and on the forecourt.

Visitors looking at photos of soldiers

Visitors looking at photos of soldiers


Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG Hawke’s Bay

Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 9 April 2016