Dale Hudson

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.


Made to be buried

Made to be buried

This week museum technician Dale Hudson chose a pair of ancient Egyptian ushabti.  To reach this exhibit – and exhibit it is, being on display on the mezzanine floor – we passed through various interesting colours. In association with the Sarjeant Gallery, the museum has built an exhibition around colour schemes, where the only qualification an artifact/item needs is its colour. For example, there’s a black room – with such things as an old typewriter and a scary-looking dental X-ray unit. They’re black, so they qualify.

It was in the blue room where we found the two small statuettes known as ushabti.  They go under various names, but ushabti will do. They were a mass produced funerary statuette, made to be buried with the dead to be employed as servants in the afterlife.

Dale says these things were around from about 1900BCE until the Ptolemaic period, about 2000 years later.  “They were usually inscribed with Chapter Six of the Egyptian Book of the Dead,” he says, referring to an ancient best seller.

The two in the Whanganui Regional Museum are typical ushabti, carved to look like a mummified body but just a few centimetres in height. They are a generic shape, representing no particular gender nor any particular person.  They are often portrayed holding a hoe or a gardening implement, useful tools for the gardens in the afterlife. These ones are quite worn and may or may not have originally had such accoutrements.

So why did Dale choose the ushabti?  “I just like working in a museum; it’s like you think there must be tons of history but there are not many of the older artifacts that we know anything about. But with these there is a bit of a story behind them.”

Our two blue ushabti originally came from a tomb in upper Egypt.  “The dead were often buried with hundreds of these things,” says Dale.


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