Rolling with the wallpaper

In late November of 2013 upon arriving back at the museum after finishing another busy year at Victoria University, I was given my project for the summer. My mammoth task was to go through a large box full of pre-selected wallpaper, catalogue it and enter it into our ever expanding collection.

The box of wallpaper was gifted to us by Betty Weeber. In the correspondence which accompanied the wallpaper; Betty Weeber wrote of the collection, “They are a record of old wallpapers that my late husband Raymond and his father used in their wallpaper hanging and Master Painters business”. Originally our gracious gift was of numerous boxes of wallpaper, but after a rigorous selection process by the powers that be, these boxes were whittled down to just one box containing over seventy examples. 

My job was now set out in front of me, I knew what I had to do, it wasn’t going to be pretty (believe me when I say this, some of the patterns on the samples were pretty ugly).  I now had to painstakingly document and catalogue each individual wallpaper sample, measuring the lengths and the widths, taking detailed notes of maker’s marks and manufacturer’s logos, describing in detail what the patterns were, what colours were involved in the pattern, gently vacuuming the accumulated dust and dirt from some samples, taking detailed notes of rips, tears and damage and then entering all this information onto our collection database system.

Wallpaper Border Sample, c.1920s, gifted by Betty Weeber, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/63/25

Some samples were large, some samples were small, some were long (and I mean extremely long, like over nine metres long), and some were short.  Some were old and in bad condition, while others were, well, old but were still in extremely good condition, which is pretty impressive considering the majority of them date back to the time when Napier was being shaken to its foundations in the early thirties and some samples were even older. Some examples were hidden, rolled up inside other rolls of wallpaper, which added a surprising aspect to this particular task because, like a parcel in the game pass the parcel, you never quite knew what you were going to find once you started to unroll a roll.

What I found while cataloguing these wallpaper samples is they could be lumped into three different groups, the wallpaper frieze’s (for those reading this thinking “what’s a frieze?” Flash fact: a wallpaper frieze is the strip of wallpaper that goes around the top part of the wall where it meets the ceiling); wallpaper borders, which went around the bottom and the wallpaper drops, which are the samples used to cover the majority of the walls. The examples of the frieze’s were more often than not the examples in the worst condition as the perforations holding them together had come apart or were torn in places due to the continued unrolling and rolling of them over the years.

I also found that these samples and rolls came from all over the world, like Sunworthy and Canadian Wallpaper from, you guessed it, Canada; Crown Wallpaper and Shand Kydd Ltd from England; Griffen Wallpaper Manufacturers from America and even some examples from New Zealand’s very own Ashley Wallpapers.

After these steps the papers had to be photographed, which was done by our collection photographer. I then had to attach the photographs to their collection records and wrap them up and pack them into their packing units where they will stay until they are one day needed for research or exhibition.

2013.63.34bWallpaper Drop Samples, c.1920s, gifted by Betty Weeber, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/63/34b

To be honest at the beginning of this project I didn’t think I would enjoy it, just because it was wallpaper that I would be working with, but the more that I worked my way through this box of wallpaper samples, the more I started to look forward to the next sample. Not because I was one sample closer to the end, but because I wanted see what the next sample would be like, and there were some examples that stood out. One example from the 1930s had a continuing pattern of dense blue tree branches and leaves, through the gaps in the branches and leaves was a bright orange background and scattered randomly throughout the branches and leaves were small yellow star-like flowers. Why this particular example stood out for me was probably because it was visibly the brightest example amongst the lot.

To say the least this project was awesome and I enjoyed it a lot. I consider myself quite lucky to be able to come back to the Bay and to the museum every summer to work on different projects. Hopefully I can come back again at the end of this year to another interesting project.

Tom Mohi
Collection Assistant
January 2014

MTG Friends Enrich Collection Stories

To all our MTG Friends who have generously donated to the Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust Collection, we would like to say a huge thank you. Current Friend’s donations have allowed the recent acquisition of three pieces to add to the collection. These were selected as works important to highlight and expand on the stories of artists, art movements and designers already held within the collection, with significance to the Hawke’s Bay region, New Zealand and beyond.

Thomas McCormack OBE is one such artist. Renowned for his skill and application of watercolour, he is considered one of New Zealand’s most important twentieth century painters. Artist Roland Hipkins (1894 – 1951) noted that ‘His efforts…have a remarkable freshness, breadth and simplicity, with spontaneous brush work and a rare quality of colour’ Art in New Zealand 1936 (1)

Born in Napier in 1883, McCormack was largely self-taught and excelled at drawing from an early age. A severe illness at the age of 17 left him unable for many years to partake in his other passion, sports and it was around this time his focus turned solely to painting, consequently cementing his lifelong path as an artist. Thomas McCormackThomas Arthur McCormack in his studio, taken 3 May 1963 [2]

McCormack moved to Wellington in 1921 where he lived and worked for much of his life. In his own words:

  ‘An artist develops from his surroundings – the sea, rivers, plains, and mountains.   His friends and fellow artists, Wellington with its magnificent harbor, its art gallery, exhibitions and artists, a trip to Sydney of about nine months duration; these were factors in my development. A little wine, a sardine or two with their little eyes. A little bread to soften the road and help me on.’ (3)

TA McCormack painting

Untitled, c. 1906, T.A McCormack, b.1883, d.1973 Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/35 Purchased with funds from MTG Hawke’s Bay friend’s donations.

The Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust Collection includes many of McCormack’s works. Our recent acquisition being significant in that it is a very early piece, painted when the artist was just 23 years old. The untitled watercolour (c1906) depicts the Ahuriri foreshore, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins – Director MTG Hawke’s Bay notes ‘It is around this time that McCormack arrived at a recognisable, mature style. This work is a key example, in its own way, a big part of the overall story of the artist and the development of his career’.

Another of McCormack’s works ‘Tapestry’ can currently be viewed in our Architecture of the heart exhibition, on display until March 2nd 2014.

Our second purchase, a vase by English ceramic designer Dame Susie Cooper, adds another page in the collections story of a design period close to the heart of this region. Cooper was a prolific English ceramics designer with a career spanning more than seventy years. Beginning with a placement in the early 1920’s as a paintress at Grey & Co Pottery Company in Burslem, England Susie was quickly promoted to lead designer, allowing her the freedom to explore the geometrics and pattern associated with the Art Deco period.

By the late 1920’s Cooper had branched out on her own, forming ‘Susie Cooper Pottery’. Later merging with ‘Wood & Sons’, another local Burslem company who provided her with quality white ware, which she would transform with her vibrant hand painted designs.

Susie Cooper Cup & SaucerCup, saucer and side plate, Susie Cooper (OBE) (b.1902, d.1995), Designer, The Susie Cooper Pottery Limited (estab.1930, closed 1966) manufacturer, purchase, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 91/54ac

Susie’s company grew, eventually supplying Harrods, Selfridges and Waring & Gillow among others with her wares. In 1940 Cooper was presented with the Royal Society of Arts ‘Designer for Industry Award’, the first woman to ever receive this. Our latest addition of Cooper’s work is a vibrant hand painted, green earthenware vase, featuring a Sgraffito design of deer and foliage, a popular Art Deco motif.

The Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust Collection holds many Susie Cooper production pieces, however this vase is significant in that it is an example of her earlier one-off designs. This piece is currently featured in our decorative arts exhibition in the MTG Annex.

Susie Cooper VaseVase, glazed earthenware, C1930, Dame Susie Cooper b.1902 d.1995 Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/39/1 Purchased with funds from MTG Hawke’s Bay friend’s donations.

Another prolific English designer, Archibald Knox is the maker of our third acquisition. Much like Cooper, Knox mastered the balance of expressing an individual design voice while still remaining accessible to the masses. In 1899, with an impressive variety of talents, Knox began designing for London store Liberty & Co. Wallpaper, jewellery, ornaments, textiles, silverware and clocks were all part of his extensive range.

Archibald Knox

Archibald Knox, Art Nouveau artist and designer for Liberty & Co., London (1864-1933) Courtesy of Manx National Heritage (4)

The Liberty & Co store specialised in selling fabrics, ornaments and objects from Japan and the far-east, and is attributed with introducing this style to the west. This had a great influence on artists and designers of the time and by the 1890’s founder Arthur Liberty had tapped into the English Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau design communities.

With Liberty’s encouragement and business behind them, these designers and the Arts and Craft movement flourished. Liberty aimed for “the production of useful and beautiful objects at prices within the reach of all classes.” (5) This was achieved by keeping manufacturing costs low, meaning lower pricing for customers at the register. This was in contrast to other Art Nouveau Pieces at the time which were generally one-off and therefore priced to match.

Liberty & Co

Liberty & Co Store (undated) [6]

Pewter Vase

Pewter Vase, c1905. Archibald Knox, Liberty b. 1864 d.1933 Collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/43 Purchased with funds from MTG Hawke’s Bay friend’s donations.

Our recent addition to the collection is the above Arts and Crafts pewter vase, an interesting example of the Liberty & Co ‘Tudic’ range, blending Celtic with Oriental style c1905. During the period this vase was produced, Liberty & Co products were also sold in Hastings, Georgina White – Curator Social History at MTG explains;

From 1908 Hastings businessmen Reginald Gardiner and John A Fraser acted as agents for Liberty and Co, selling fabrics and ‘artistic wares’ first from their offices in the Dominion Buildings on Queen Street and soon after from the Arts and Crafts Depot on Station Street. The Depot showed paintings, metalwork and leatherwork by international and local artists alongside Liberty fabrics. The Depot marked the beginning of Gardiner’s push to generate and promote local arts and crafts in Hawke’s Bay’

Again, we would like to thank everyone who has generously contributed and made the acquisition of these works possible. To become part of the MTG Hawke’s Bay legacy, donate to the Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust or join as a Friend and enjoy the extensive benefits our friends membership offers. We are currently offering our membership package at a reduced rate (membership re-news 1st July 2014) you can find further information on our friend’s package and how to join HERE

Vanessa Arthur
Friends & Volunteers Coordinator
January 2014

[1] Janet Paul. ‘McCormack, Thomas Arthur’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 13-Nov-2013 URL:

[2] Thomas Arthur McCormack. Further negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: EP/1963/1513-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

[3] ‘T.A. McCormack’, The New Zealand Academy of fine arts, Catalogue of painting exhibition, December 1971, 2. Collection of the Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi W (62341)

[4] Manx National heritage site, archives.

[5] The Archibald Knox Society, Liberty & Co. to ‘Liberty Style’

[6] Liberty London, Our heritage.

Working my way to the top

At this moment I am sitting in a curatorial office, a place not accessible by the public, working on not only this blog but work that will be featured in the Ūkaipō – ō tātou whakapapa exhibition by Migoto Eria. I am a volunteer student from Hukarere Girl’s College learning the ropes of being an exhibition curator.


Once a week I spend the afternoon at MTG, working with Migoto and learning about the different aspects of a job as a curator. In the few weeks I have been volunteering at MTG I have gained a better understanding of the importance of artifact placement in an exhibition or the amount of care that is needed when handling these precious taonga.


To succeed in a career as a curator you must have a sharp eye for detail and be able to see things from another’s perspective, skills I only hope to improve while working with Migoto. However there is a lot of work that is not seen by the public, such as the researching, planning, meetings, graphs and charts behind the artifact you see in the display cabinets; if only you could see the photos, papers and sticky notes scattered around Migoto’s desk.


In my short time here I have seen how passionate these people are about their work, from Migoto and her fellow curators, to the design team who make so much of these exhibitions possible even the friendly people who welcome you as soon as you walk through the doors.

I would advise young people who are interested in a career path as a curator or museum worker to come down at check what’s happening at MTG, everyday I’m gaining experience and improving my skills that will help me in the future, I’m working my way to the top.

Maia Te Koha
Student volunteer at MTG
December 2013

as prepared as possible

Over the past couple of years, there have been some major disasters around the world. One often-overlooked aspect of these events is their effect on the heritage industry – the museums, galleries and historic places that are in the impact zone.

Staff practice the skills needed to recover paper-based objects after a small clean-water incident.

The earthquakes that have been occurring for over a year in Christchurch have had our full attention here at HBMAG.  Whirling around in our institutional thoughts are: the damage to, and temporary closures of, the Canterbury Museum and the Christchurch Art Gallery.  The Gallery remains closed to the public until 2013 while city council staff are based there, and the Museum is temporally closed whilst further engineering reports are being commissioned and assessed.  We hear too of the exceptional assistance that the Air Force Museum has provided to smaller Christchurch institutions.

As our collection move finished and our building renovations began, we reviewed our own institutional disaster preparedness.  Are we prepared to handle such surprise events?

While these thoughts were busily percolating away, Napier City Council contacted the Museum with an offer to attend a training course they had arranged with Triptych Conservation on collection recovery skills for archives, libraries and museums after a water-based incident.  This was a full day course of hands-on practice.  Attendees learnt safe methods of picking up and moving wet papers, books and photographs as well as how to set up areas for sorting objects, and how to track the movement of objects.  There was also a section providing advice on setting up a disaster response team.

Staff discussing clean-water recovery techniques

After the training course, there was much discussion within the Museum as to what we would need to do to put together our own comprehensive disaster plan.  The training session provided a clear understanding of why such a plan, and relevant staff training, would be a worthy investment of staff time.  It also provided the impetus we needed to go ahead with creating the necessary documents.

Research has shown that Dplan ( was the best way to develop our own plan. DPlan provides a template to complete and stores your information securely online for free.  It has two different versions so that the joining institution can develop their plan at whatever level is most appropriate for them.  Five staff members were chosen to be part of the disaster response team and lead development of the plan.

It took the team just over four months to complete the disaster plan.  Among the things we had to do were: filling disaster bins with supplies ready for use in any disaster; investigating off-site locations that the collection could be moved to if need be – both locally and further afield; assigning all staff to their roles in the recovery teams; contacting possible sources of supplies to get emergency contact information; mapping the locations of the water and gas turn-off valves, etc.  

Having a disaster plan in place puts the Museum in a strong position, but it is the staff that are our most important resource.  Everyone on the team needs to know what the plan is for and how to use it so training is vital.  One of the most important activities of the disaster response team is to develop a wide-ranging and interesting ongoing training plan.

Items salvaged during staff training start to air dry

Our initial training was a presentation by Civil Defence on how to prepare our homes and families for a disaster.  Since then, training has included salvaging wet archive material and a test-run of removing the highest-priority objects from the collection store under time-pressure.   Future training will include organising supplies and logistics and a joint fire-response exercise with the Napier Fire Department where, after they practice putting a fire out, we practice cleaning up the objects.  Disaster training will continue to be a regular feature of the professional development for the whole team here at the Museum.

Today we are pleased to say we have a comprehensive disaster plan and regular staff training in place so we can be as prepared as possible for events that we truly hope never happen!

Emily Murray, May 2012

african adventures in the art collection

One of our most interesting ‘while we are closed’ activities is James’ framing project. Every time I’m in the collection store there is an intriguing assortment of work from the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust (HBMT) fine art collection out of their crates.  Douglas pointed out this work to me last week as I’m doing some research into the work of New Zealand artists in North Africa in the early 20th Century.

The plate on the frame reads: “North African Coast” by B. C. Dobie. Presented to H Guthrie Smith Esq

I rather liked this scene of a bright orange tent, pitched under the shifting shadows of a cork tree, looking out on olive trees and the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean.

The artist is New Zealander, Beatrix Charlotte Dobie (1887 – 1944).

Beatrix must have been a rather intrepid and determined woman to travel in this part of the world in the 1920s and 30s. I found myself curious about her; and the connection inferred by this painting with Hawke’s Bay farmer, naturalist and author Herbert Guthrie-Smith.

Beatrix Dobbie was born in Whangarei in 1887, daughter of Herbert Dobbie, a well-known stationmaster, botanist and writer. In 1911 she travelled to London with her friend Esther Barker (later Hope) to study painting at the Slade School of Art, under Henry Tonks. It was at this time she changed her last name to Dobie.

Muriel Wyman and Beatrix Dobbie, Mangere, c 1910. Photograph reproduced courtesy of Mangere Historical Society, Manukau Research Library, MGE: I, 2, no. 31

With the outbreak of the First World War she and Esther volunteered for the Red Cross and were stationed in Malta, and later at the New Zealand transfer camp in Codford, England. After the war she returned to New Zealand and exhibited regularly at the Canterbury Society of Arts.

The connection to Guthrie-Smith is here discovered, as it turns out that she illustrated his wonderful book Tutira: the story of a New Zealand sheep station, first published in 1921.

Guthrie-Smith writes in his preface: “My thanks are due to Miss Beatrix Dobie for her physiographical sketches, and for her careful and accurate restorations of the old-time pas of the station. I consider myself most fortunate in having secured her services.”

The painting must have been presented to Guthrie-Smith by her in remembrance of this collaboration, Guthrie-Smith in turn gifting it to the HBMT before his death in 1940.

In 1926 Beatrix went abroad again, this time on a painting tour of Africa, and while in Tunisia she met and married Rene Vernon, an engineer with the French Army. They lived in Sfax and later Beja, and Dobie continued to paint, sending pictures to exhibitions abroad, including the Empire Exhibition of 1937. Despite civil unrest in Tunisia, and later the outbreak of the Second World War, they remained in Beja, keeping an open house to Allied servicemen. As fighting raged within miles of her home she slept with a dog beside her and pistol under her pillow for protection.

The occasion of Beatrix’s infrequent return visits to New Zealand were often reported in the press, on one visit in 1935 she commented in the Evening Post on life and art in Tunisia: “Life in a French colony is full of interest but it encourages the housewife in a woman more than an artist. [I] found [I] could not get into “casserole cookery” mood one minute and into painting the next.”

On the subject of art Beatrix said “Tunis was certainly a land of sunlight and a perfect place for painting. French art had experienced the cult for hypermodernism, but it was now coming back to a true form, enriched by the experience of its adventuring. People were realising that pictures without drawing, colour or form were not “liveable” with.”

While not in the first tier of New Zealand’s expatriate artists, Beatrix certainly achieved some success as an artist in her lifetime, and deserved the epitaph a ‘varied career of unusual interest’ bestowed upon her by the Evening Post when reporting her death in Tunisia in 1944.

The HBMT holds another work by Beatrix – an undated, untitled landscape, possibly of a Hawke’s Bay scene. We also have a work painted in 1911 of Hawke’s Bay farmer and industrialist William Nelson which has been on loan to us from the Napier Borough Council since 1940. In 2002 Whangarei Art Museum held an exhibition on Beatrix and her father called Portraits of Place, with loans from HBMT (including North African Coast).

Dobie. B. W.M. Nelson Esq, Waikoko, Tomoana c1911 on loan from Napier Borough Council40/21

If anyone knows the whereabouts of other works by Beatrix Dobie painted in Malta and North Africa, or knows more about her connections with Hawke’s Bay please get in touch.