Most Museums are reliant on the support of the public and community involvement to ensure their longevity and popularity, not only from visitor access, but also from donations offered to them.

It is important when items are acquired by the Museum to also obtain the provenance and surrounding history of these gifts such as their origin, where they were made, what they were used for and who used them. When photographs or paintings are donated, identification of the subjects and locations depicted in the images or art works are also valuable.

Whangārei Museum is very fortunate in that it has a large collection of historic photographs of Whangārei and local early settlers, including one recently acquired painted photograph of the Lovatt family. This framed family portrait of Charles and Mary Lovatt and children was gifted to the Museum by great grand-daughter Nancy Halliday which shows her father, Charles Stanley Lovatt, as a young boy aged about 6 years.

The framed family portrait of Charles and Mary Lovatt and children was gifted to the Whangārei Museum by great grand-daughter Nancy Halliday Photo/Supplied
The framed family portrait of Charles and Mary Lovatt and children was gifted to the Whangārei Museum by great grand-daughter Nancy Halliday Photo/Supplied

Nancy's grandfather, Charles Robert Lovatt, was born in Auckland in 1866 and as a young man decided on a building career, working for his father constructing houses in and around Auckland, later travelling to Melbourne where he continued working in the building trade.

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A couple of years later Charles returned to New Zealand finding mining work in Thames where he met and married Mary Driver in 1890. By the time their fifth child was born, the Lovatts had decided to move to Whangārei, but it is believed the studio family portrait now in the Museum's possession was taken c1900 in Thames, prior to their move north.

After purchasing their home on the corner of Bank St and Vinery Lane, Charles put his building skills to good use by enlarging the residence to accommodate their increasing family, ultimately having 12 children.

The mystery gentleman included in Art to Archives exhibition. Kiwi North staff would like to know who he was. Photo/Supplied
The mystery gentleman included in Art to Archives exhibition. Kiwi North staff would like to know who he was. Photo/Supplied

Being a master builder, Charles built many houses and shops in Whangārei including the home "Pukenui" for local MP Mr Mander and his wife in 1910. The tower of this residence is now known as the Jane Mander Study referring to Mr Mander's daughter, author Jane Mander, and is housed in the grounds of Kiwi North. Charles had a workshop in Walton St and later established the successful Whangārei sawmilling business known as C R Lovatt & Son Ltd.

The Lovatts were an honest hardworking and religious couple, involved in many community organisations and events and it is through these early connections and historic objects that their lives are recalled.

Unfortunately, not all the Museum's photographs are associated with such history or have people identified. There is one male's portrait in particular which is currently on display in the Museum's "Art from the Archives" exhibition, which staff at Kiwi North would like named.

The large framed image portrays a young man "cutting a dash" in formal attire dated from the early 1900s. It presents a photograph which has been shaded with pencil, resembling a sketch at first glance, but offers no other clues as to where the image was taken or who the anonymous person is.

The Museum has been unable to positively identify the subject and would like to discover who it is, but with little information available it's a mystery likely to remain unsolved. If this person looks familiar, or any readers recognise this portrait please contact Kiwi North.

■ Natalie Brookland is collection registrar, Whangārei Museum at Kiwi North.