Earthquake & Art Deco

It’s been lovely watching over the course of the week as more and more people appear in Art Deco dress, enjoying the fabulous Hawke’s Bay sunshine. The Opening Soiree, held at MTG last night, was a roaring success – boding well for a great festival this year. I hope you all get to enjoy a taste of the fun and frivolity over the weekend.

The festival, however, always makes me think of the catastrophic event that led to the rebirth of Hawke’s Bay as the Art Deco centre of New Zealand. The 7.8 earthquake of 3 February 1931 rocked the region, forever changing the landscape.

Amazing stories of bravery, heroism and lucky escapes emerged from what is, still, New Zealand’s worst natural disaster. In the collection there’s a photograph showing the spot where James Collins, aged 67, was pulled from the ground following the earthquake. Collins was buried lying on a bed in the old Men’s Home at Park Island for three days and four nights. He was finally found, still alive, and lived to tell his tale.

Many did what they could to help, with people looking after the injured, rescuing survivors and setting up shelters and camps. In the Survivors Stories film, on show in our 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake exhibition, Hana Cotter recounts the grim reality of searching for survivors and the deceased along with other members of her whanau.

A B Hurst (Arthur Bendigo) immediately following the earthquake, grabbed his camera, along with rolls of film from his photography studio in Emerson Street and ran out to document the earthquake damage and subsequent fire raging through the town. When he ran out of film he took rolls from ruined and vacated chemist shops. His images captured the devastation of a city and the shock and trauma of the survivors. Also in the film Survivors Stories, Hurst’s daughter Audrey, talks about the effect this experience had on her father. Hurst’s images remain the most significant collection of photographs from the earthquake.

One of our latest education programmes, Breaking News, focuses on the earthquake, allowing children to experience the day as news reporters. Drawing on images and stories in the exhibition and archives, students work in groups to research and plan how they will present their information. Using a green screen students then create their own breaking news broadcast.

Our educators offer a range of lesson options covering art, social history, Maori and decorative arts. Breaking News compliments existing education programmes focused on the earthquake through a series of different lenses aimed at different age groups.

The 1931 earthquake remains a defining moment in Hawke’s Bay’s history. From the literal ashes of disaster the region was rebuilt in a new and distinctive architectural style. With clean lines, geometric design motifs of zig zags, sunbursts and speedlines, the region has a heritage to be proud of and is home to the highly successful Art Deco Festival, celebrating 30 year this year.


Image by A B Hurst, showing the fire destroying the town

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 17th February 2018


Napier Library opens at MTG Hawke’s Bay

This week we had the official opening of Napier library here in its new home at MTG, with many people expressing delight at how good the library looks in its new space. Following a blessing at the start of the day the doors were then opened for everyone.

It was great to see the steady stream of people coming in throughout the day and enjoying the ‘new’ library. Library staff tell me a number of their regular users came along – with many commenting that the space works better than expected. They were delighted to see core services still on offer – reserving books, IT help, general and specialised book selections, DVDs and so on. We hope everyone found the ease of access through the Century Theatre Foyer doors directly in to the library helpful.

What was particularly pleasing to see was the number of people who came to use the library and then also chose to look though the museum as well, and vice versa. We received lots of positive feedback on the day about the displays and galleries – with the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake, Time for Tea and Te Taenga Mai o Salome exhibitions proving popular favourites.

The small display in the Octagon of toy vehicles from the collection was also appreciated by children and adults alike. These Dinky Toys were very popular in their day and I’m sure many people in Hawke’s Bay had one, or played with one, at some point in their childhood, so we hope you enjoy this piece of nostalgia.

We’re really excited to have Jo Dixey back in the museum this weekend with her public stitch project. Many people took part the last time she was here but there’s still more to do. Jo’s work is inspired by the museum collection and Hawke’s Bay’s Art Deco heritage. The panel was last at the museum in December, so if you missed out on participating then, now is your chance. There’ll be members of the Embroiders Guild on hand to help you and anyone can easily participate – it’s amazing how cathartic and mesmerising sitting and doing a few stitches can be. Come along to the main foyer this weekend and make sure you add a few of your own stitches to this project. Jo’s work will be gifted to the city once complete.

With Art Deco festival just around the corner don’t forget all the fun things you can do at the museum. We have both ticketed and free events at MTG throughout the festival and there’s always something Art Deco to see on display. This year we’ve added a photograph area where you can try some of our dress up props and take your picture against a backdrop of historic Napier.

And if you haven’t participated in one before, our ever popular Cemetery Tours are happening again this summer. A winding tour through Napier Hill Cemetery with Gail Pope, Curator Social History, provides a fascinating array of interesting stories and characters (famous and infamous). Our March tour is fully booked but there are still some tickets available for 15 April – having been on it myself I can highly recommend this tour.

  • Stitch at MTG Hawke’s Bay, public stitching project with Jo Dixey. Saturday 10 – Sunday 11 February, all day. Free event.
  • I’m in the Mood – Hawke’s Bay Jazz Club plays a special Valentine’s Day concert. MTG Century Theatre, Wednesday 14 February 7:30pm. Tickets from Ticketek and door sales.
  • 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake tours, take a guided tour through our earthquake exhibition and learn more about this terrible day in Hawke’s Bay’s history. Wednesday 14 – Friday 16 February 11:00 am and 2:00pm, meet in main foyer. Free event.
  • Live performance, pianist John Barrett plays popular Gershwin compositions. Century Theatre Foyer, Wednesday 14 – Friday 16 February, 1:30pm. Free event.
  • Singing Tour through He Manu Tioriori, join Charles Ropitini as he sings you through this exhibition exploring 100 years of Ngati Kahungunu music. Thursday 15 – Saturday 17 February 11:00am, meet in main foyer. Free event.
  • Cole – Michael Griffiths, Helpmann Award winner Michael Griffiths explores the colourful life and timeless songs of Cole Porter. MTG Century Theatre, Thursday 15 February 7:30pm and Friday 16 February 4:00pm. Tickets from Ticketek and door sales.
  • Post 1931 Marine Parade, local historian Michael Fowler will explore the development of Marine Parade. Century Theatre Friday 16 February 10:00am. Free entry.
  • Falling in Love Again, Jennifer Ward-Lealand brings to life the sultry performances of screen goddess, Marlene Dietrich, with sizzling physicality. Century Theatre Friday 16 February 7:30pm and Saturday 17 February 6:00pm. Tickets available from Ticketek and door sales.
  • Kabarett – Nacktmusic, a newly formed troupe, Kabarette, pays homage with Nacktmusik. A truly jumbled pastiche of burlesque, humour and song. Century Theatre, Saturday 17 February 9:00pm. Tickets available from Ticket and door sales.



Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 10th February 2018

The beguiling world of Dinky Toys

Opening to the public on Wednesday, the Napier Library now proudly occupies the original Hawke’s Bay Art Gallery and Museum building, which was designed by Napier architect J A Louis Hay in 1935 and subsequently built in stages. When completed, it consisted of three galleries, an office and downstairs collection store, and an area known as the Octagon.

On four of the walls of the Octagon, Louis Hay designed exhibition cases: these spaces are to be used by the Napier Library for a variety of displays, including showcasing new books. Because the Library staff have been so busy moving over the last two months, Museum staff have helped by devising a small initial exhibition of toys from the museum collection.

Most of the models on display are Dinky Toys, invented by Frank Hornby of Meccano Ltd in 1934. Known also as die-cast toys, each was a miniature version of a British vehicle. Initially, they consisted of only one or two parts: the fewer the parts, the cheaper the model was to produce. This made a Dinky Toy widely affordable: children could purchase them with their hard-earned pocket money, and parents, for birthday and Christmas presents.

Dinky Toys proved instantly popular with children. Each toy was small enough to be held in a child’s hand or put in a pocket. They had freely rotating wheels and could be pushed around on any surface, whether carpet, sandpit or school playground. The toys were also brightly painted, well made and almost unbreakable. Meccano Ltd made sure that Dinky Toys kept up with the times and models reflected contemporary road transport such as sports cars, racing cars and, in the 1950s, popular saloon cars such as the Hillman Minx.

In the late 1930s, just prior to World War II, there was a strong demand for realism in toys as children acted out what was going on in the world. Meccano Ltd worked in close co-operation with the British military to ensure that details in the models of army trucks, jeeps, tanks, and air force planes were accurate. During World War II, production of Dinky Toys ceased as Mazak, the zinc alloy of which the models were constructed, was required for the war effort.

Up until 1956, Dinky Toys dominated the die-cast toy market: after which time competition from Matchbox Toys and Corgi Toys would start to erode sales. In the final two decades of production (1960s-1970s), to keep up with the challenge from other companies, Meccano Ltd had to improve the technology of the vehicles. The toys became more complex with moveable parts: doors, windows and bonnets that opened, exact replicas of motors, windows, levers to lift front-end loaders, and wheels to turn concrete mixers. These sophisticated toys had come a long way from their humble beginnings in the early 1930s.

We hope this small display in the new Napier Library will capture the imagination of children and bring a sense of nostalgia to adults for the intrinsic charm of these childhood toys that undoubtedly provided endless pleasure. Children: look out for the Ford Anglia that Harry Potter and Ron Weasley flew to catch up with the Hogwarts train in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”.

Dinky Toys

Gail Poppe – Curator Social History, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 3rd February 2018

Art Deco

As we head into February, things are coming together nicely for the opening of the Napier Library at MTG on 7 February. Just this week the concrete was poured and the handrails installed for our new ramp leading into the Theatre Foyer: the connecting hub between the library area and the rest of the museum. This entrance point into the building, off Herschell Street, will provide the most direct access to the library.

The team of workers have done a great job on this within a very short timeframe and the ramp looks as if it has always been there, blending in beautifully with the building architecture. The reason I’m so excited about a ramp is not because of the look or efficiency with which it has been built (both of which have been great) but because of what it represents – genuine accessibility. Especially for library users during the day and theatre patrons in the evenings.

I’ve had the privilege of a sneak peek through the new library space and I think it looks stunning. Darran Gillies, Library Manager, and his team have done a fabulous job working within a smaller space to ensure they still offer a great range of books and services for their customers. Once the library is open, we hope visitors will enjoy being able to experience both facilities within one building, along with our new opening hours of 9.30am to 5pm Monday to Sunday.

But there’s not just preparations for the library opening happening. Our team have worked hard to ensure we’re ready for the Art Deco Festival as well. A small selection of beautiful kimono from the Art Deco period is on display in the Linkway Corridor (by the Century Foyer) and a number of gorgeous tea sets are on display in our Time for Tea exhibition, with an extra case of tea sets in the front foyer. At night some detailed shots of the chinaware from this exhibition are projected onto a wall by the mezzanine, so at night you can still get access to a taste of what is inside. Downstairs by the earthquake gallery there’s a small selection of Art Deco objects on display and Hei Manu Tioriori showcases bands from the jazz age.

We’ll have lots of musical events happening in the theatre and elsewhere over the festival period, including cabaret, jazz bands, pianists and solo singers. In the theatre you can be inspired by the beautiful songs of Marlene Dietrich and Cole Porter, experience a German cabaret or tap your toes to a jazz band. Out in the theatre foyer you can enjoy the creative genius of Gershwin with live piano performances or experience the beautiful voice of Charles Ropitini (formerly in charge of Maori Engagement at MTG) as he takes you on a singing tour of our Hei Manu Tioriori exhibition.

Whatever you choose to do over the Art Deco weekend we hope you’ll come in and enjoy some of what we have on offer. While you’re here you can also peruse the great range of books on Art Deco at the library.

photorapher David Frost

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 27th January 2018


With the news that our Minister of Arts and Culture, Jacinda Ardern, is expecting a child I thought I would explore the place of museums with mothers and children in mind.

Museums can play an important role in the development of young minds. Not just engaging with what’s on display but also providing early exposure to arts and culture and a positive experience reinforcing family bonds. The critical role of parents in the cognitive development of their children is becoming increasing acknowledged by educators. Rather than just an activity to do on a rainy day, museums are an important resource that supports parents in their role as first teachers.

Formal school trips to the museum has long been a part of New Zealand childhood culture, alongside school camps and trips to the local swimming pool. Education in museums is very different from my childhood, with children now playing a lead in the experience they have – encouraged to explore and enquire. Gone are the days of sitting still with arms and legs folded, listening to a teacher at the front of the classroom. These days students try on costume, make videos, play educational games (e.g. surviving WWI) and more. Education programmes provide students with a strong sense of place – learning their culture and exploring their roots. These interactions with children can be the start of forming a deep and lasting bond with museums and their local cultural heritage.

Museums worldwide are trending towards exhibitions that encourage interaction and engagement. We’re well aware of the mixed messages museums send, with some displays encouraging touch and others not. Today’s digital age children seem to be able to read the visual clues and signs around this better than someone of my age. There’s no denying that the Victorian era played a huge part in the development of museum culture and etiquette. I would hope Queen Victoria, as a working mother, would find museums today far more focused on the needs of children than in her time.

At MTG we aim to provide education, entertainment and inspiration for children and their caregivers. Over these school holidays we’ve noticed lots of families in the museum enjoying the activities, exploring galleries and leaving their artwork on the large display wall in the front foyer. While there are lots of different whanau looking after the young ones many of these are mothers.

Being a working mother I know spaces like ours can provide a welcome place to visit, somewhere inexpensive, where children are welcome, with arts and culture to absorb and even a space specifically for children with our drop-in-zone. Somewhere where not only could I help my children explore and discover but where I could also learn and be inspired.

Both museums and libraries offer multi-levelled experiences – not just enriching for children but also for adults. With the library opening at MTG on 7 February, this provides another layer of engagement for both children and parents. Our hope is that those who come to MTG can step through the doors and see the wide variety of experiences and interactions that libraries and museums can offer.

We’re currently discussing ways in which, this year, we will celebrate the 125th anniversary of women in New Zealand exercising their right to vote. New Zealand has often been on the leading edge around women’s issues – from examples of great leadership among Maori women, through women’s Suffrage, to now having a Prime Minister about to become a mother whilst in office. We hope to welcome Jacinda and her family at MTG one day, in her role as Minister of Culture and Heritage.

photorapher David Frost

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 20th January 2018

Survivor Film Thrills Visitors

Returning to work after a break over the Christmas holidays I can certainly say I’ve had to hit the ground running. Our fabulous Customer Service Team has been exceptionally busy over the holiday period, with the number of visitors in the first week of January higher than the entire month of January last year.

Our team continue to do a great job providing the best possible customer service. Feedback from our visitors tells us that they appreciate the great service our team provides and that the museum is highly valued, with 93% of visitors in December rating the museum experience as positive or very positive. While the Survivor Stories film continues to be one of the highlights for visitors, all the galleries and programmes are well appreciated. Some specific comments include – “Great earthquake exhibit, especially Survivors Stories, quite moving”, “I was impressed with the depth of information on the Two Sisters”, “Tea exhibition – excellent”, and “Good activities for kids”. Free entry is a regular feature in feedback and continues to positively influence the number of visitors to the museum. As always we gather and review suggestions on what we can do better, monitoring these for patterns and ideas to provide a service and experience that is always evolving and improving.

Things have also be very busy behind the scenes with items arriving to set up the new library space. Both teams, MTG and the library, continue to work hard to ensure everything is ready to run as smoothly as possible on 7 February – the library’s opening day. It’s been great over these last few months getting to know the library team better and we’re looking forward to working together.

In the meantime the library summer reading programme is already up and running at MTG. If you’ve been looking for the reading programme it’s in the Education room – just off the front foyer of the museum. And there are plenty of other things for families and children in this space as well with lots of fun craft activities to complete. While our ever popular activity trail continues to keep children engaged and entertained as they go through the galleries.

And more is happening – with a ramp under construction on the Herschell Street side of the building. We’re thrilled to see this work underway, as a ramp leading to the Century Theatre Foyer has been on my ‘wish list’ for a long time. This will make the library and Century Theatre more accessible for everyone which is just as it should be.

We’re also working on developing a Strategic Plan for MTG, so we can look ahead and determine where we want to go next. You can be sure that visitor engagement and community satisfaction will remain top priorities and we’ll be asking stakeholders and community groups what they’d like to see the museum achieve next. The fantastic team here will continue to work hard and provide the best possible customer service and museum facility for the region. One, we sincerely hope, you are proud of and happy to recommend to others.

2018 already looks like a full and busy year and we’re excited about the opportunities and possibilities it holds.

photorapher David Frost

Laura Vodanovich – Director, MTG

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 13th January 2018



Beginning four months ago at MTG as Curator Taonga Maori, I’m particularly focused on Maori stories, both current and historical.  These narratives are centered around the notion of taonga and setting to work has meant defining what this is.  Simply put taonga translates as treasures, but what does taonga mean for us at MTG Hawke’s Bay, as a museum, theatre and gallery?

Our “ Taonga Maori” category, within the wider collection, is one of the most significant in the world and certainly one of the oldest and largest in the country. Numbering over six thousand individual pieces, with many hundreds of years old. Working with these taonga is thrilling, often emotional and endlessly educational. Every piece is a representation of, or directly associated with, a Maori ancestor and is considered of ancestral importance to the Maori iwi/tribal group from which it originated.

Many of our taonga belonged to politically significant rangatira, these chiefs from all across the country have played a role in key events that have informed our nation’s history. These riches and others in the collection are simply beautiful, many being famous works of art in their own right. That we have acquired so many, collected for over one hundred and fifty years, makes our collection a true regional, national and international treasure.

About sixty percent of our ‘taonga Maori’ are directly associated with Ngati Kahungunu. Treasures such as the Pai Marire flag, flown in the battle of Omaranui inspired me as a young artist, so now working with this taonga draws deep emotion.

So too does the taonga from other iwi such as the gold furnished hei tiki of Ngati Toa rangatira Te Rauparaha, composer of the haka “Ka Mate”, and the bible of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki, of Rongowhakaata and founder of the Ringatu faith. The several Lindauer paintings, hundreds of mere pounamu, cravings, toki and cloaks, along with the personal adornments will take a long time to become knowledgeable about. Taonga belonging to rangatira such as Hongi Hika, Te Ruki Kawiti, Patuone, to Ta Apirana Ngata bring the past literally to hand.

But this is only one category of taonga. Precious items like the many huia feathers, and our moa and teeth of kuri (the Maori dog) are grouped as ‘natural history’. While taonga from a more current context are grouped under other categories such as contemporary Maori art, with digital artifacts, photographs and other items falling under the social history collection. Highlights of these for me are the Hon Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan’s fashion collection and our beautiful Pania lamp.

However the definition of taonga goes beyond artifacts. Te Reo Maori and tikanga Maori are living taonga at MTG. Creating exhibitions and spaces that foster Te Reo and tikanga Maori are just as important as preserving an artifact from our past, as this also protects our future. How this is achieved requires a dynamic design approach that encourages engagement, creating what is to me our greatest taonga – visitor experiences.

Interactions of the huge range of visitors are to me taonga too. It’s a tremendous pleasure to watch visitors researching items such as kiwi feather cloaks, working out how each was engineered, in turn giving an insight into character of the maker. Satisfying too, is witnessing the sheer joy so many have when they connect to a taonga through a personal whanau history.

In celebration of our stories and taonga we have exhibitions currently in development. An exhibition on Pania is in the works and a special selection of our feather cloaks will be on display. ‘Rongonui’ will be an exhibition that showcases the depth of history and sheer importance of our taonga here at MTG Hawke’s Bay.  Now the hard part of the job will be choosing which taonga to showcase.

Waka Huia

Photo Credit:
Name/Title Waka Huia / Treasure Box
Acquisition Source and Donor The Estate of J.M. Wright (Napier)

Michelle Lee – Curator, Maori

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 6th January 2018