From the Vaults

Frivolous confection on show

Pat Cush

Pat Cush

Pat Cush is an artist, and, in this reporter’s opinion, a very good one. He also works as a volunteer at the Whanganui Regional Museum, labouring for the love of it alongside exhibition officer, Dale Hudson.

For this story, Pat chose an object put on display only recently; a rococo porcelain basket which was a bequest to the museum from the estate of the late Esther Constance Harris. As an aside, that dear lady was a much loved choir mistress at St Luke’s Church in Castlecliff for many years, giving this reporter’s very much younger self a good grounding in soprano vocals until the onset of hairy legs and mixed octaves.

The frivolous confection

The frivolous confection

The porcelain basket features typical aspects of the late baroque style with exuberant representations of shells, forget-me-nots and the ubiquitous cherub. According to the museum provenance, the piece comes out of a Coburg factory, dated late 19th century, in the style of the famously elaborate Dresden ornamental chinaware.

So why did Pat choose this object for this Vaults story?  “Partly because I like it,” he says, “out of the new objects it’s my favourite.”

Pat’s interest in the porcelain basket is explained by some rather perverse reasoning … but it seems to make sense. “I think it’s a ridiculous art form and I like it because of that. It’s impractical and unnecessary, it’s absolutely camp … it’s madness … it’s a reaction to the austerity that came before it.   It’s just the most bizarre thing to look at,” he says.

“I’m not looking at it as an historical artefact, I’m looking at it as an arty object … and look at it! There’s so much to see, you can’t get bored with it. It is aesthetically pleasing for me, not because it’s ridiculous and camp, but because it’s just interesting.  Essentially it is a fun object and you can either like it or not like it,” says Pat.

They were considered ‘relics of paradise’ by those who enjoyed them more than a century ago.

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek newspaper in May 2015.  Reproduced her with permission of the publishers.

Japanese gentlemen’s fashion accessories

Japanese gentlemen's fashion accessories I

Kathy Greensides, collections assistant, has come up with a selection of Japanese netsuke.  The word is pronounced net-skeh (or something like it) and they are small carved ‘toggles’ used to attach a bag or container to the (male) wearer’s obi or sash. The bag or container would be the Japanese version of the sporran, the traditional male garments not being equipped with pockets.

The first netsuke date from the 17th century and evolved from being purely practical to becoming quite decorative. Kathy says she has seen a lot of them on Antiques Roadshow, many made of ivory. Of those chosen by Kathy, two are made of wood, four of ivory, and all sculpted elaborately. “I was going through the ethnology collection and I came across them. As I said, just because I’d been watching Antiques Roadshow … they’re really valuable and quite intricately carved. Some of them were worth thousands of pounds, especially if they’ve got a signature on them.  I just thought they were really beautiful objects, and the detail … I’m a very detailed person; I like doing cross stitch and very tiny work so when I saw this I thought … it’s my kind of thing.”

A netsuke in carved ivory mask form

A netsuke in carved ivory mask form

The two hardwood specimens are preserved beautifully and have a patina, which speaks of many years of use. Their carved faces shine, giving them a ‘mask’ look. Of course, they do not always depict faces but can be of many different designs, as illustrated by the ivory versions.

An internet search revealed that there is an International Netsuke Society, based in the US. It has a website and the FAQ section is especially illuminating if readers are interested.

The age and provenance of these particular specimens is unknown, but one of the ivory pieces bears writing, possibly the signature of the artist. All we know is that the museum has them, they were probably made in Japan … and that is about it. Perhaps a Midweek reader can shed more light on these netsuke?

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in January 2011, and reproduced wit permission of the publishers.

Snapshots in watercolour

Snapshots in watercolour

Museum educator Margie Beautrais shows us a collection of paintings by Christopher Aubrey.  This is an exhibit not to be missed. You’ve entered the museum through the automatic glass doors, nodded “hello” to the front counter person, convinced them you live here so you’re entitled to free admission, and you’re now advancing to the Maori Court. Before you descend to the level of the waka, look to your left. There’s a small side room, softly lit, and therein hang a small number of framed water colours. They’re worth a look, truly.

Margie says these paintings – dated around the turn of the century (not the last one, the one before) – are that era’s version of amateur photography. Those with enough talent could paint a scene to record it. The paintings on show here are Mr Aubrey’s impressions of early Wanganui; detailed pictures of places, topographically accurate and charming in their execution. “They’re very different from photographs, because photography was around then, but you get a much better sense of the feel of what the place was like and a much stronger connection with the person,” says Margie, a painter herself. She calls herself ‘a closet painter’ but says she doesn’t paint closets, which just confused me. She says she paints but does not exhibit, or hasn’t for ages, anyway. She says she uses watercolour, but not in the traditional way like Mr Aubrey does. “These are painted in the correct watercolour technique,” she says, “where the artist uses a bit of pencil to draw their scene or outline, then uses a wash to build up the different colours and then puts the details on.” Finally, she says, the white is added last. She says she thinks Mr Aubrey’s work has been painted outdoors.

The first of Mr Aubrey’s paintings Margie had ever seen was one of Portal St, Durie Hill, when it was just an unpaved walking track. The view is looking down behind two men walking toward the river from about halfway up the hill. It has been on display before.

“There’s something very charming about his work … the buildings that he paints are beautifully done, the perspective is wonderful, the ships are marvellous, ‘cause they’re boy things.” Then Margie pointed out the amateur aspects, the marks of the self-taught artist. “The cows are wobbly,” she says, “he’s someone who used watercolour painting to record what he saw and it was obviously his hobby.” She used the term ‘naive art’. “They’re delicate,” she says, “and they appeal to me because they’re a record of how someone saw Wanganui.”  A couple of his paintings show the same scene at different times of the day. His subject is industrial but the moods are almost poetic.

There is not a lot known about Christopher Aubrey apart from what he allows us to see through his paintings. “He’s a bit of a mystery man,” says Margie. His paintings are held in various galleries and museums throughout New Zealand and show he lived an itinerant life, travelling through the South Island, painting as he went, before moving north through Wellington, Wairarapa, Manawatu, Wanganui, eventually making his way to Auckland.

Watercolours fade relatively quickly, so they’re not exhibited for long periods of time.  “If Christopher Aubrey lived now, he would be showing his paintings in the Open Studios, and people would be admiring and buying them,” says Margie, and I’m inclined to agree.

Please note the Aubrey exhibition is no longer on display but the works are available to view by contacting the Archivist, Sandi Black:

Also, Museum admission is free for everyone now.

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in March 2011 and reproduced with publisher’s permission.

Extinct, stuffed and symbolic

Extinct, stuffed and symbolic

Dr Eric Dorfman’s professional credentials would be a separate – and very long – story. The books he’s written and studies he has made, in themselves, would make a fascinating Midweek article (note to self: write fascinating Midweek article about Dr Eric Dorfman’s books and published studies).

In this issue, however, we treat him as the recently appointed director of the Whanganui Regional Museum and hear about his interest in the long extinct Tasmanian Wolf, Thylacinus cynocephalus.

To do that I had to follow the tall, one-time Californian (but I think New Zealand has claimed him now) down into the bowels of the museum, shuffling between shelves until finding dozens of specimens of the taxidermists’ art. There we encountered our Tasmanian Wolf.

The museum has a stuffed specimen, collected by the museum’s founder, Samuel Drew, sometime around 1891, well before the species met its total demise. It looks its age, poor thing, but the astounding fact is that we have one.

Eric lived in Australia for some years and knows a bit about these creatures. So why did he choose it to present to Midweek?  “It’s immensely cool from the fact that we have an extinct Australian species of which there are only a few in the world and exemplifies the importance of the collection internationally, as well as nationally. It’s cool on a personal level because I’m a conservationist by profession and there is still an effort afoot to see if maybe there are some left in Tasmania … and evolutionarily it’s very cool because although it looks like a dog it’s actually more closely related to a kangaroo, koala or wombat.”

The Thylacine is a marsupial and has a pouch like a kangaroo … well, the female does. The museum’s specimen is an adult male. Eric says they are more closely related to the quoll, another Australian animal, which is “more like a marsupial weasel”.  “From an evolutionary standpoint, this is convergent evolution with a dog,” says Eric. “Also biologically that’s very interesting.  One of my research thrusts is about humans’ relationship with nature,” he says. Eric has a book coming out later this year – Intangible Natural Heritage – of which he is author/editor in league with a team of distinguished authors.

Looking at this sad, stuffed specimen, Eric sees past the obvious and finds a symbol of “our coming of age as a society when we realise that doing this [making animals extinct] is a really bad thing.” He stresses that while this new-found consciousness is too late for some species, it’s not too late for many others.

He praises the work of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) and its work here and overseas. “DOC is supporting other countries, including the United States, in methodology of setting up island sanctuaries … and it’s fantastic to be in New Zealand – even though this is an Australian species – from the point of view of this is a place where we have come of age in terms of the environment, and I hope we stay there. You can see why this launches into a lot of really interesting philosophical issues … and also thinking about where museums have been and where they’re going.”

It’s incredible, almost, to realise that Samuel Drew, Whanganui Regional Museum founder, actually helped, in his way, send species such as the huia extinct. He did that by trading stuffed huia (probably) to get an example of another species that, itself, would be extinct in another 50 years. At the time he traded for the Tasmanian Wolf, it was reasonably common but he needed it for his marsupial collection.

“No museum curator has ever intentionally sent a species extinct,” says Eric, “but back in the 19th century when species looked like they were going extinct, often, museum curators would run out to make sure they had them in their collection before anyone else got them … the huia was a victim of that kind of thing.”

The Thylacine was once a pan-Australian species, says Eric, with cave paintings to prove it was once even in the very north of Australia in Kakadu National Park. “By the time Drew was around it was restricted to Tasmania,” he says, although it was being hunted until its final (probable) extinction in the 1930s.

Eric says there is enough genetic material in existence so that, one day, techniques of cloning may be able to reintroduce the species. And so we looked at Samuel Drew’s legacy, part of his vision of a great museum that was all-encompassing.  “We now ‘get’ why he did it,” says Eric, “and we now have this incredible treasure. This is an amazing thing to have.”

There are lemurs from Madagascar and animals from all around the world, some exhibited upstairs, others hiding from the light below decks in the vaults. The Thylacine stands with them, an example of old ethics and philosophies and yet a symbol of what we are today. And if we do manage to clone them back into existence, will we look after them this time? The last word goes to Dr Eric Dorfman.

“If the Thylacine is never going to be reinvented and really is extinct, and the same with the huia, don’t we owe it to the species and owe it to ourselves to allow it to awaken us to the realities of what we’re doing to the planet?”

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek newspaper in June 2011.  Reproduced with permission from the author.

Sampler a right old age

Sampler a right old age

I did not know that a beginner’s exercise in embroidery is called a sampler. So when Kathy Greensides says she’s got a 1787 sampler for her turn in our From the Vault series, I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.  The only samplers I knew were manufactured by Griffins and came in a large box or tin.

I guessed that wasn’t what Kathy meant, unless the museum kept 223-year-old mouldy biscuits in the basement.  My enlightenment was audible – like a clunky old bakelite switch – when I saw this embroidered treasure. Of course, it’s not strictly a sampler because whoever made it is hardly a beginner.

The sad thing is we know almost nothing about the needle wielder, the person who sewed the design into the fabric and created what is now a relic of history. Her name was A Rouse and Kathy is fairly sure she was an adult at the time of the sampler’s creation.

It is a map of England and Wales, depicting each shire in different coloured outlines and naming each one. Some grab your attention immediately. Liverpool – spelled Leverpool on the sampler – caught Kathy’s eye because that’s where she’s from. That’s one reason why she chose it.

“I actually sew,” she says. “I do embroidery and cross-stitch, so when I found it …”

The map also shows the coasts of Ireland and France as well as some of southern Scotland. The North Sea bears its original name of the German Ocean, a name that changed after early 20th century hostilities deemed anything German unacceptable in England.

Kathy tells me it is on linen, has a linen backing and looks like it was once framed. The colours are still quite vivid and the thread is silk.

Other places named on the sampler have a connection with Kathy and her family, like the Isle of Man where she used to holiday, although she says she never went there during the Isle of Man TT (motorbike races).  “We used to avoid it then because it was so busy and expensive.”

However, her uncle would have gone. He was actually the Viking King of Man for a long time, says Kathy.  “He used to wear the helmet and everything,” and I don’t think she means a motorbike helmet.

It’s an old Norse tradition, she says.  “Every year they’d get out the longboats and they’d all dress up. They’d have feasts and longboat races. As he was the king he’d preside over it all.” She says he was a large man with a big, full beard and he’d tell stories about the fairies. She says that an island demands that the fairies are chased away in a particularly strenuous ritual, during which her uncle fell into a rabbit hole and broke his leg. Thereafter this Viking king would take great delight in telling people how he had to explain to his doctor how he injured himself chasing fairies.

The Isle of Man is obviously a lot more than just a tax haven.

Kathy works with collections, which is how she discovered this embroidered treasure.  “I put stuff away. I accession it, photograph it and when that’s done I find a place for it. So I was putting some things away and had to pull this out [the sampler] to get to one of the boxes and I saw the label on it,” she says.

That we know so little about this artifact – and many others – is of some concern. It was gifted to the museum by Mr Morrie Randall in 1974, but we have no idea who made it and why. We can only assume it was made in the UK and the date stitched into linen is 1787. That expensive silk thread was used says something about the fortunes of the maker’s family … perhaps. The thread could have been a gift, for all we know.

Kathy has made the odd sampler. “It makes you think you should write a little about yourself and stitch it on to the back for future generations,” she says. Good idea, that way the work arrives at the museum with a ready-made provenance.

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek June 2010.  Reproduced with permission of the author.

Tragic tale of huia’s extinction

Tragic tale of huia's extinction

Wallis Barnicoat talks about the extinct native bird, the huia as she has a connection with a book and the man who wrote it.  “As small children we used to visit WJ Phillips (whom my father called Bill) and his wife Esther, with our parents. He was once the registrar and ethnologist at the old Dominion Museum and my father probably met him through family friends and due to their mutual love of New Zealand history, especially early settler/Maori history.”

WJ Phillips was the author of The Book of the Huia, a reference work Wallis used when preparing for this story. “Phillips’ work was published in 1963, and when he started researching it in 1953 he was able to interview elderly people who, when younger, had shot huia or seen them in the bush. Their anecdotes, which are peppered throughout the book, are all very fascinating.”

Wallis says the chapter that interests her most is that of the bird’s decline into extinction.  It’s a tragic tale and Phillips equates it to the destruction of the dodo in Madagascar: “Thoughtless and careless destruction brought about by the advance of a new people into a new land.”

Although the bird was finally considered extinct in 1907 (there were some unconfirmed sightings after that), Sir Walter Buller, a famous ornithologist, in 1870 was saying, “Erelong it [the huia] will exist only in our museums and other collections”.

The huia was sacred to Maori and the tail feather was considered particularly valuable. Unfortunately European fashion also considered the feathers essential as accessories and hat adornments, leading to a flourishing export trade until the bird was no more.  A tipping point was in 1902 when the visiting Duke of York was presented with a feather for his hat. Of course Europe and the UK had to copy.  Additional factors such as settlers clearing bush for farming as well as the introduction of predators such as weasels, ferrets and stoats, meant the huia was not long for this land.

Buller was dead right. The Whanganui Regional Museum has a small number of the birds, provenance unknown. Interestingly enough, even the specimens in our museum are lacking a few tail feathers. Perhaps the five quid bounty per tail feather was too appealing to the early collector.

Article originally appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in February 2010.  Reproduced with publishers’ permission.

Award for heroic conduct

Mick Hills displays the medal awarded to Fireman Thomas E Thompson in 1891.

Mick Hills displays the medal awarded to Fireman Thomas E Thompson in 1891.

Thomas E Thompson, known as Ted, was a hero.  In the early hours of March 25, 1890, Ted Thompson, volunteer fireman, was awakened by voices raised in alarm and the unmistakable sound of a fire in progress. The house next door was ablaze.

The Harrison St cottage, occupied by a Mr Thomas and his family, was an inferno by the time Fireman Thompson had donned his jacket and helmet and rushed to the scene.  He saw Mr Thomas, who had been beaten back by the flames, and learned there were two children, both boys, still inside the house.

Ignoring all warnings for his safety, he entered the house by the front door and reached the room where the boys were asleep in bed. He roused both of them by breaking a window and got them out of the house. On leaving the building he heard that there might still be a girl trapped in the building and set to work with his hatchet to cut into the room where she was supposed to be, only to find she had escaped safely.

“That he had been through the fire was evidenced by the scorching his face and hands received, and his singed hair, and blanket-coat (both front and back marked). In a few minutes Miss Hope, matron of the hospital, had bathed both face and hands in oil and lime water and carefully bandaged up the latter.” (Wanganui Herald)

Fireman Thompson’s burns were later dressed by Dr Earle, honorary surgeon to the Fire Brigade.

More than a year later, Fireman Ted Thompson was awarded the United Fire Brigades Association Medal for Valour, one of only three ever presented.  That medal now resides in the Whanganui Regional Museum and Mick Hills, museum volunteer and firefighter, proudly showed it to this reporter.

Award for heroic conduct IIThe decoration consists of a silver Maltese cross with a point in the centre of each arm and suspended by loops from a red ribbon. The obverse shows the fireman badge of the UFBA within a band inscribed UNITED FIRE BRIGADES ASSOCIATION. The details of the award and its recipient are engraved on the medal.

“He was severely burned in the fire,” says Mick, “and he never did any more firefighting, as far as we can make out from the records.”

A full account of the fire and Fireman Thompson’s role in the rescue are in the Wanganui Herald of March 25, 1890, and details of the presentation in the same paper, September 12, 1891.

A ‘Fireman Thompson’ is recorded as leaving Wanganui to live in Auckland in October 1907.

Mr Nixon’s tiger trophy

Mr Nixon's tiger trophy

Museum Visitor Experience Creator, Clare McNamara, chooses a tiger skin rug as her item to talk about.  So why would a professed animal lover and caregiver to two black female kittens – Tuff Titty and one whose name keeps changing (Wonder Woman/My Little Pony/Witch) but answers to anything really – choose a once majestic feline which ended its days as a floor covering?  “It’s the Year of the Tiger … and there are more tigers in captivity in the US than there are in the wild in the whole world,” says Clare.

The World Wildlife Fund also says that three sub-species of tiger have become extinct since 1940 and a fourth one, the South China tiger, hasn’t been seen in the wild in 25 years.  “We are moving to a stage where we might be living in a world without them,” says Clare.  And here we were, looking at a tiger skin on the floor of the museum.

Clare says it’s a female Bengal tiger, shot in 1930, and further research suggests it was dispatched by a chap called Arthur Challoner Nixon in India. Nixon, who was a member of the locally famous Sedgebrook Nixons, bagged another big cat during his long sojourn in the sub-continent. He also bagged a wife and married her in India before bringing her home to Wanganui.

Richard Bourne, chairman of the Wanganui Collegiate School Museum Trust, delved a little deeper and says that Arthur attended Wanganui Collegiate School from 1905-1908.  He was also a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers during the Great War and served both at sea and in Mesopotamia.  After the war he became manager of the Delhi Electric Supply and Traction Company, based in India. In 1926 he married Ella, daughter of W Plumley and they had two sons. Arthur Nixon was awarded the OBE in 1946.

That information does not tell us much more about the tiger skin but it does give it a human perspective. Times have certainly changed. Killing a tiger now is an occasion for shame; then, it was a masculine rite of passage for those who could afford the trip and the accoutrements. Big game hunters were heroes, of sorts, pitting themselves – and a high-powered rifle – against regal beasts in foreign lands.  Values were different in the closing stages of the British Empire and while we have been taught to abhor the senseless killing of endangered species we would be wrong to impose today’s standards on yesterday’s inhabitants. Besides, in 1930 when Mr Nixon shot his tiger, they were probably neither endangered nor desirable.

Here endeth the lesson.

The hide is in remarkably good condition, considering its age, and the head once received the best attention from a skilled taxidermist. The face is frozen in a permanent snarl and looks incredibly life-like. There is some minor damage to the edges of the ears but, otherwise, it seems to have weathered the past 80 years quite well. The museum received the skin in 1969, the year Arthur Nixon died.

So there we were, gazing on this splendid trophy skin, feeling a little sad that its life ended the way it did and yet admiring the beauty of the beast and the skill of those who were able to preserve it so well. Even the claws are still intact, fearsome utensils that they are.

Clare, who has obviously done some homework, says the markings on a tiger’s head are the same as the Chinese written character for king. That’s either coincidence or a pictograph which didn’t evolve further. One wonders.  I also learned that the tiger’s stripes create a skin-cooling mechanism as well as providing convenient camouflage.

The museum visitor experience creator did profess some admiration for the tiger skin rug and seemed to suggest her cats would one day look rather good, similarly tanned and presented.

Clare says Mr Nixon’s tiger will be on display, “sometime in the not too distant future.”

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in March 2010.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.

Spotted at the museum

Spotted at the museum

I realised Ruth Leopardforce, digitisation technician, is an interesting person when I asked about the origins of her unusual second name.  “I made it up,” she says. And so we moved on.

We were standing beside a small, spotted cat, stuffed and mounted in a semi-crouching position, although slightly off-balance. I put that down to either age or alcohol, with most bets on the former.

Why this exhibit?  Ruth says she has an interest in animals preserved by the taxidermist and an obsession with leopards. We didn’t take that any further, although it promised to be an illuminating discussion. Another time, perhaps.

This particular animal is a Clouded Leopard, a relic from Mr JJ Boyd’s zoo at Aramoho of the early 20th century.  Mrs Hayward’s Aramoho Tea Gardens evolved into the Aramoho Zoo – and enterprise run by animal lover and collector, JJ Boyd. Animals included lions, tigers, black bears, kangaroos, exotic birds, monkeys, tortoises and tropical fish … to name a few.  The zoo closed after neighbours complained that the roaring lions kept them awake at night. I wonder if the smell was ever mentioned.

Mr Boyd moved his zoo, lock stock and marsupial, to Onehunga, where, under the name Royal Oak Zoo, it flourished for 10 years until similar complaints forced its closure.  Ruth says an electrician friend of hers was working on an Aramoho property last year when he discovered a collection of Mr Boyd’s zoo cages under the house.

The featured leopard was stuffed and mounted by Archie Robertson; it was his first job and became part of his house museum collection. Now it is one of three creatures from Aramoho Zoo stored at Whanganui Regional Museum; the other two being a wallaby and a tuatara, of all things.

Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in September 2010.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.

From rags to stitches

From rags to stitches I

Hugh Ramage has prepared a fascinating display entitled Back Stitch: Recollections of Wanganui’s Rag Trade. And he’s just the man to do it. He has also written a book, but we’ll get to that.
The museum display consisted of sewing machines from Hugh’s collection, technical manuals, accessories, photographs, advertising posters and clothing produced by some of Wanganui’s factories.
Hugh’s story follows closely the weft and warp of the rag trade itself, beginning with his stint at the Chilco factory. Hugh had left school and this was his first job back in 1957. His boss was Eric Healey and the factory occupied the building known as Druids’ Hall in Bell St. He was there for more than six years, learning his future trade, maintaining and repairing industrial sewing machines and equipment. Hugh says the biggest thing he had to learn was how to interact with huge numbers of women. Having no sisters and being shy, he says he had to put aside his embarrassment and learn to listen to the machinists when they had a sewing machine problem.
From Chilco he went to Manawatu Knitting Mills in Palmerston North as a sewing machine mechanic. He was there for two years. “I found I was running backwards and forwards between Wanganui and Palmerston North, doing work here [Wanganui] at the weekends, so I took the plunge and went out and worked for myself,” says Hugh. He started Ramage’s Sewing Machine Service, offering a freelance service to the clothing trade.
This brings us to Hugh’s book: In the midst of the boom! Wanganui Clothing Factories 1966 and beyond.
Hugh still has his first sundry debtors’ list from his first year of trading. In effect, it’s a list of Wanganui clothing manufacturers from 1966 and he has used this as the basis of his research. He has compiled stories and facts from each factory, found photographs and interviewed people to make this a fascinating study of Wanganui’s manufacturing history from a unique perspective. It took him six years to put together and it also ties in nicely with his display at the museum. “The book homes in on the period when I started work but it also indicates the boom that was happening in clothing factories,” says Hugh.
Before long, Hugh was offered the Bernina agency and later opened the Bernina Sewing Centre at 138 Victoria Ave. “There was also a boom time in domestic. Machines had been hard to get after the war and Swift, Bernina and other brands were making quite an impact and people were spending money on home sewing machines,” he says. Things went well and he moved into bigger premises next door.
In 1985, he sold up and concentrated in the industrial business once more, until 1993 when Hugh and his wife Elaine opened a store in the Bridge Block (where Jolt is now), selling various brands of domestic machines.
They traded until 2000 then did another five years at an upstairs premises in Drews Ave. By then Hugh had built up an impressive sewing machine collection and Elaine was teaching sewing classes. This place gave them room to move. The collection of some 50 domestic machines – all restored and most in working order – is destined to be shown someday, perhaps as part of Ed Boyd’s museum complex, which is where they’re stored.

Union Special Overlocker

Union Special Overlocker

In the exhibit on display, the museum has supplied a dressing gown, a dress and petticoat, as well as a Union Special overlocker. Hugh says those machines were still in service when he started work.  Hugh Ramage’s book is a good read and is available from The Wanganui Regional Museum, Maxilab, Nu-Way Dry Cleaners, Lindsay’s Lotto Post and More and Aramoho Mags and Lotto.


Original article appeared in the Wanganui Midweek in April 2010.  Reproduced with permission from the Publishers.