Exhibition

Upstairs, Downstairs

The Watt St buildings of the Whanganui Regional Museum have been largely closed to the public for two years now and the building site hoardings came down in January. While the temporary site on Ridgway St has been busy throughout, there is mounting interest and speculation about the reopening of the principal exhibition spaces to the public. How can it take so long to get the place open again?

Opening day is scheduled for 2019, but behind the closed doors there has been a lot going on and there’s still plenty to do.

1. Museum 1928

 The Wanganui Public Museum shortly after opening in 1928. Photograph by Tesla Studios.  Reef: MM-009

The process started in 2016 with the removal of all exhibits and furniture from the main buildings (with a few honourable exceptions on the grounds of sheer size) in preparation for the major earthquake engineering. That work, financed by the Whanganui District Council, involved installing steel supports and new walls around the whole interior of the 1928 building and similar, smaller scale alterations to the 1968 extension. Along with a new roof and a major overhaul of lighting and electrical systems, the first part of the project was finished in January this year and has created a completely revamped vessel for the Museum’s programmes and exhibitions.

Meanwhile, with the support of funding from the Lottery Grants Board, Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, Te Puni Kokiri and a number of philanthropic trusts, the vital collection storage areas beneath the public buildings have undergone a transformation. New vaults, shelves and storage cabinets, along with specialised climate control systems, have dramatically improved conditions for over 300,000 collection items. Dedicated store rooms have been built for photographic negatives, taonga Māori and the huge collection of natural history specimens. A building initially designed and built as an underground carpark is now a store house suitable for a collection of national significance.

Upstairs, the Museum has taken advantage of the clear-out and refurbishment to rethink all of its exhibits. With over 3,000 square metres of public space to refurbish and reinstall, Museum staff and contractors have been fully engaged since 2017 on exhibition development, conservation and preparation of thousands of objects and artefacts for display.

2. Under construction

 Galleries closed for installation, with a hint of what’s to come. Photograph by Frank Stark.

Ninety years of additions and alterations have been stripped out to reveal and highlight the contrasting architectural styles of the 1928 and 1968 buildings. A lot of the Museum’s heritage display furniture has been refurbished or supplemented with new joinery. New facilities including an air-conditioned gallery, an audio-visual lounge and a bigger, better souvenir and book shop have been built. The result is a completely refreshed and rethought museum, combining long-standing Whanganui icons with many items from the collections never shown before.

Regular questions about the reopening have included the fate of the sunfish, the Street, the collection of Lindauer portraits and the waka. The Museum staff are not revealing details about the exhibition contents until closer to the opening date, but promise plenty of surprises when we open.

 

Frank Stark is the Director at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Olympics – Track and Film

The Whanganui Regional Museum’s temporary site at 62 Ridgway Street is currently featuring a pop-up exhibition, largely sourced from Te Papa, which celebrates the gold medal feats of Olympic champion Sir Peter Snell. It also reflects on our town’s part in the Snell legend, his world-record run on the grass track of Cooks Gardens in 1962.

2. Peter Snell photo

Peter Snell breaks the tape at the end of the World Record Mile, completed in 3 minutes and 54.40 seconds at Cooks Gardens, Whanganui, on 27 January 1962.  Ref: Sp-Ath-017

A feature of the exhibition is a video screen showing footage from both the Rome and Tokyo Games. Like all film from past Olympics, these images are provided under strict license from the International Olympics Committee, a body famous these days as much for its politicking as for its sport. Governance issues aside, the modern IOC has turned itself into a financial juggernaut, with fees for hosting rights only part of a complex and lucrative portfolio of licensing and merchandising deals.

A significant part of that revenue comes from its virtual monopoly over the film and video record of the Olympics extending back to the beginning of the 20th century. The last major move in its campaign to acquire those films came less than 20 years ago and, surprisingly, from a New Zealand source.

The Melbourne Olympic Games of 1956 are remembered for a number of things, perhaps most infamously, the blood-tinted water polo pool when Hungary and the USSR re-enacted the battle which had taken place just days before in the streets of Budapest. A less often remembered aspect was the boycott by international television companies in protest over being required to pay a broadcasting fee, which resulted in very little footage being shot of the events. One company, however, did get cameras into the stadium.

1. Peter Snell trophy

This silver trophy sports the figure of New Zealand’s most famous runner, Peter Snell, depicted at his World Record run. The silver figure is set on a square silver base alongside the brass shell casing from the starting gun that began his world record run. Ref: 2017.27.1

Wellington-based Pacific Films was started in the late 1940s by John O’Shea and Roger Mirams, ambitious and frustrated staff members of the National Film Unit. By the mid-1950s they had managed to establish a sustainable business, largely built on the production of newsreels financed by oil company Caltex. In 1952 the partners decided that there were opportunities for expansion across the ditch and Mirams relocated to Melbourne in pursuit of documentary and drama opportunities. In practice this often meant providing local items for international newsreel companies. Shooting for cinema rather than television (which didn’t start broadcasting in New Zealand for another five years), Mirams and a small Pacific Films crew gained entry to the Melbourne Cricket Ground and other venues to capture many of the important moments, including the gold medal won by New Zealander Norman Read in the 50km road walk.

Roger Mirams’ footage was flown back to New Zealand for Pacific Magazine newsreels and remained in demand internationally for many years because of the shortage of other archival material from Melbourne 1956. Increasingly frustrated by this last hold-out, the International Olympic Committee swooped and purchased the whole collection from John O’Shea following his retirement in 1999, pretty much completing their full house of Olympics films and ending New Zealand’s direct connection with a slice of sporting history.

 

Frank Stark is the director of the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Billy Connell’s War begins

 

Director Eric Dorfman welcomes the audience

Director Eric Dorfman welcomes the audience

Mayor Annette Main opens the exhibition

Mayor Annette Main opens the exhibition

Last Friday saw the opening of our exhibition for the centenary of the first world war, Billy Connell’s War – Whanganui in World War I.  There was a great turn-out with 100 people in attendance and the show was well received.  A welcome by the Director Eric Dorfman was followed by a speech and formal opening by Mayor Annette Main before the crowd moved into the exhibition space for the karakia by our local kaumātua and a preview of the show.

Kirsty Ross delivers her speech, accompanied by some images of soldiers

Kirsty Ross delivers her speech, accompanied by some images of soldiers

Guests were then given a brown paper bag afternoon tea (cheese or corned beef sandwiches, fruit cake and an Anzac biscuit) and Kirtsy Ross, Curator of 20th Century History at Te Papa, regaled the audience with a talk on her research into New Zealand’s first world war experience and the intricacies (and humours!) of passing on such a legacy.

 

 

Guests view some of Billy's photographa

Guests view some of Billy’s photographa

Guests view some of the artifacts on display

Guests view some of the artifacts on display

Guests collect their afternoon tea

Guests collect their afternoon tea

 

 

The exhibition tells the story of Billy Connell, a local man who enlisted and served in the first world war.  Billy Connell was born in Palmerston North in 1993, the son of William and Naomi Connell. William was a carpenter in Palmerston North and later in Marton. By 1911 Naomi Connell had separated from her husband and was living in Durie Terrace in Wanganui, later moving to May Street.  On 5 August 1914 New Zealand declared war on Germany in support of Great Britain Billy Connell enlisted and went off to war with the Main Body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  He had a camera in his kitbag and took photographs while on service, often illegally. Servicemen were not permitted to take photographs or write about campaigns or battles in case information fell into the hands of the enemy. His images tell the story of an ordinary serviceman during extraordinary times. The photographs were arranged into seven albums. Billy’s sister Mrs Amelia McCullum donated them to the Whanganui Regional Museum in 1966.

BCW box logo

Billy Connell’s War is open until September 2016 so come in and follow Billy’s journey through the war.  The Museum is free entry.

House of Bones revisited… again and again and again

HOB10I work as a Museum educator. The other day I hosted a small group of Year 12 girls (around about 16 years old) who visited the Museum with their art teacher to draw the African masks and statues in Minkisi. The students worked really well and made some amazing drawings.
At the end, their teacher gave them a reminder that there was just 5 minutes to go before they had to leave for school. A couple of the girls asked, “Can we go down to the House of Bones?” When he said yes, a small group of them RAN down the stairs, squealing with delight. What was so fascinating to them?
HOB14The House of Bones is set up as a 1930s era house of a professor who collects bones, and fills his house with them. There are animal skulls in the bookcases; crates of bones in the hallway that seem recently delivered, but not yet unpacked; an office with old oak desk, typewriter and assorted handwritten letters and notes; and a newspaper lined attic with chests of bones for hands-on investigation.
HOB31Why did this excite the teenagers? Possibly because it is a little bit dark, a little bit weird, and a sound-track of strange creaks, scrapes and footsteps makes the “house” feel a little bit creepy.
It is interesting that after being up for just two months, with lots of different activities for children to do, there are some local children who have already visited House of Bones so often that they have completed all the existing activities, and are asking for new challenges. Although I’m not surprised that children are interested in the bones and want to come and see them, I would never have guessed it would attract so much repeat visitation from both children and teenagers.HOB24
I think it shows that the way that we design exhibitions can make an enormous difference to the way people respond to museum objects and collections.

Margie Beautrais is an Educator at Whanganui Regional Museum