Museum: Telling stories, creating a sense of place

By Tania McCauley news@hbtoday.co.nz

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TREASURES: Eloise Wallace says the Veronica Bell is one of the most important items on display. PHOTO/PAUL TAYLOR HBT133049-01
TREASURES: Eloise Wallace says the Veronica Bell is one of the most important items on display. PHOTO/PAUL TAYLOR HBT133049-01

It has been three years since the Hawke's Bay Museum closed its doors for a major revamp.

On Saturday, the renamed MTG (Museum Theatre Gallery) will open again to the public with exhibitions designed not only to showcase the region's history, culture and artistic endeavours for tourists and locals alike, but also 21st century ideas, art and design, and its people's sense of identity and home.

MTG staff began planning the opening shows when it shut. It has been a lengthy process, as besides the research required, some of the objects intended for display needed conservation work. Requests were also put in for some loans - such as the original Body Raft by David Trubridge, which usually resides in Te Papa as part of the Architecture of the Heart exhibition in the fine arts gallery on the first floor.

This exhibition offers an insight into artists' lives and homes, from 19th century paintings such as that of Tiffen House by Joseph Annabel, through to work from today, including the vibrant large-scale artworks House Invaders and If the Key Don't Fit, made by Reuben Patterson last year.

The MTG also wants to give graphic artists a chance to showcase their skills and represent the behind-the-scenes work, and a space in the foyer by the upgraded Century Theatre has been reserved for this purpose.

The first to show here is Rakai Karaitiana, whose Nga Raukura O Ahuriri draws on objects in current exhibitions.

Curator Lucy Hammond has also researched Elizabeth Matheson, whose artistic work and life is presented in A Glorious Uncertainty. The potter, something of an unsung hero from the early days of New Zealand's ceramics history, was part of Havelock North's flourishing arts and craft movement from the 1920s to 40s.

The new MTG has plenty of audiovisual and interactive elements, some expressly aimed at children.

With more than 100,000 objects in its collections, which the MTG can only show a fraction of at a time, the staff plan to refresh its permanent exhibitions every six months to a year. There is also an online exhibition, a celebration of New Zealand craft and design, which allows viewers to see items from the MTG's collections in much more detail, and read their stories.

Some of the objects are also too fragile to be on display for long, such as a damaged Napier Technical College uniform in the Hawke's Bay earthquake exhibition, and Pai Marire banner in Treasures of the Archive.

Ukaipo - O Tatou Whakapapa, encompassing taonga Maori from the archives through to today, a blend of significant historical pieces through to contemporary work showing Maori as a living culture, and the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake exhibition, are regarded as two of the most important opening shows.

Continuing the theme of people's identity and sense of belonging, plenty of first person narratives are included, along with film reels of the day of the devastation and evacuation, and stories about the rebuilding.

The Christchurch earthquakes raised a few more questions about what they should do, said Wallace, who curated the exhibition, and the resulting show doesn't shy away from reflecting on the loss of life and ongoing emotional trauma of the survivors, or what they had to do, or use, in starting again. The Veronica Bell, which is used every year for remembrance services, is on long-term loan from the Napier City Council and part of the display. "For me, it's one of most important objects in the exhibition."

For more info, visit www.mtghawkesbay.com. The official opening is at 9.30am, Saturday. The doors open at 10.15am and the opening day carnival will run from 10.30am-4pm. Entry to the museum on day one, and the carnival, is free.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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