There were no masterpieces discovered in the sand under the basement of the Sarjeant Gallery but a pair of dusty old brogues did come to light. The owner had obviously decided they were on their last legs as the patched soles were worn through, although the uppers were relatively intact.
The Sarjeant Gallery in Queen's Park Pukenamu is built on a sand dune. To get underneath the gallery, you open what looks like varnished cupboard doors, but, rather than accessing cupboard space and shelves, the doors open on to the foundations themselves - brick archways and piles that support the historic building and, immediately overhead, floorboards trodden by a century's worth of feet.
What was considered last century as adequate foundational structure will be replaced, and other strengthening will be installed that will give the building much greater seismic resilience.
Sarjeant Gallery operations manager, Teresa Toy, has been overseeing a final, decant of the historic building before work begins on the redevelopment. All of the art works were removed in 2014 - 2015, and what remained were a century's worth of empty frames, boards, matting, display cases, plinths, tables, papers, books and some old furniture.
"We got under there with torches and had a look around. We found one boot and went looking for the other. Going by the style of the boot and the wear and tear they definitely look like they are from a different era.
"It's hard to tell if they are a male or female boot; they are a reasonable size – around 81/2 to 9 and almost like a brogue. It looks like they have had a hard life. Just the fact that you can see where the soles have been repaired gives a little hint as to their age because it's not the kind of thing you would do nowadays – things are so disposable."
Toy says the old, dirty brogues are quite a nice find and will be kept for posterity.
"We are unlikely to find out whose they were and where they came from, but they will form part of the record of this stage of the decant and preparation for the new build and redevelopment of the gallery."
The basement was extended in the 1960s to provide more storage for the growing collection that was held on racks in far from ideal conditions.
The redevelopment of the gallery will involve the restoration and strengthening of the original building, and the addition of a new, state of the art gallery wing which will also house a shop, café and event spaces.
The nationally significant Sarjeant collection – one of the best in New Zealand - will be housed in a new humidity and temperature controlled storage space under the new wing.
"With our final decant we had to go through every nook and cranny and make sure there was nothing left. We found a balustrade from the original staircase and plaster work that had been repaired or taken down. These are important things that we want to keep either for historical reasons or to put it back in the building."
They found rimu shelves from the original Sarjeant library stored under the hill for safety and some lengths of wood that may have been used for a project – "just things that had been placed in there for the meantime as they perhaps didn't know what else to do with them".
And around 40 dead fluorescent light bulbs surfaced, perhaps put aside in the too hard basket. "These things are difficult to dispose of and were probably just placed there until such time as they could be properly dealt with."
Environmental awareness has improved over the years and Toy said they recycled as much as possible, and sent van loads of reusable material to the Koha Shed.
Soon enough the Sarjeant Gallery will be a construction site – and hoardings will likely hide the building for approximately two years. Construction workers and specialist craftsmen will swarm over it.
"The building has been empty of art for four years, and shortly there will not be a stick of furniture or a paperclip left in it"
If you have a story about the Sarjeant Gallery that you would like to share, contact relationships officer Jaki Arthur on 06 3493268, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the Sarjeant Gallery exhibitions, collection and redevelopment project visit www.sarjeant.org.nz. The Help Support Our Sarjeant brochure is available from Sarjeant on the Quay, 38 Taupo Quay.