Think of museums of old and images of dark, dusty display cases filled with relics of times gone by probably spring to mind. Dim lighting and oppressive wooden paneling were also frequently on-hand to add an unintended sense of heaviness to the historical hoardings on display.
The role of museums is multifaceted. They are the keepers and protectors of objects, many of them gifted, which have importance and interest – not only locally, but also nationally and sometimes internationally. They educate us, enriching our knowledge about who we are and where we live. They are gateways not just to the past but also to the future.
While it might sound slightly ironic given their content, museums need to move with the times to stay relevant. There’s no doubt museums now compete with the Internet – where curiosity can be satisfied via a simple Google search. Does that put museums at risk of extinction? Absolutely not, but it’s essential museums of today establish their own identity and provide something not just for those who live in its surrounds, but also to visitors and academics from afar.
Here in Hawke’s Bay our museum and art gallery is set to reopen its doors after a sojourn of more than three years. It’s set to be reborn as a jewel in Hawke’s Bay’s crown – offering a bright, modern space that also includes a theatre. You won’t find any cobwebbed display cases here.
The big reveal
It’s never ideal for a city to be without one of their cornerstone attractions for such a long time and sitting in his temporary office in Ahuriri, MTG director, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, is counting the days till the big reveal. The rooms behind him are a hive of activity. White-gloved specialists are preparing collection items for the opening in late September. A moa skeleton is being painstakingly reassembled, while the famous bronze maiden known as ‘The Bather’, by Italian sculptor Emilio Greco, stands in a packing case solemnly waiting for her admirers to return.
Bell from HMS Veronica, on loan from Napier City Council 
This bell was presented to the citizens of Napier by the Lords of the Admiralty in 1937. It acknowledges the crucial assistance provided by the sailors of HMS Veronica, who were in port at the time, after the earthquake, and is rung from the Veronica Sunbay twice each year to commemorate the event.
Jenkins thinks the new purpose-built MTG will offer a fulfilling experience to anyone who walks through its doors, from locals to tourists.
“I am pretty confident that everyone will find something they like.” While there’s nothing like a grand opening to set butterflies aflutter, in even the most composed museum director, Jenkins seems to have his wits about him. He is confident MTG exhibitions will demonstrate the depth and complexity of the collection, which contains more than 100,000 objects.
Aside from trying to secure funding streams, the challenge of a provincial museum, Jenkins says, is to not be provincial. “This collection presents an enormous asset to the region. What we are putting in here are all things that are treasured in a lot of different ways and I think that shows how kind of complex our thinking really is. Around the world, the quality of an art gallery or museum is a big thing in what makes a city attractive.
“I remember talking to a couple in the gallery before we closed. She was a lawyer and he was a pilot and they were about to retire. They were Aucklanders, but had decided to retire out of Auckland. She said ‘we’ve got a short list and it’s Napier or Queenstown’ and I said ‘how are we doing?’ And she said ‘you have an art gallery, they haven’t’. I thought about that and I think it is quite key to how you think about a town and a region. This is a very old collection and it is a very rich one. You know things we are putting in front of you, but it’s [also] a weird eclectic mix, but that’s us and it’s what the region is. The Hawke’s Bay region is not like every other region and it should be proud of that.”
Worldwide, museums and galleries cop criticism for being ‘icebergs’ – only displaying a fraction of their collection. Jenkins understands the frustration. It’s not uncommon for him to receive calls from people saying they have an item they would like to gift to the museum, but only on the condition it goes on permanent display. Jenkins says he’ll never make such a promise, as it’s essential the collection is circulated as much as possible. MTG will have a minimum of nine new shows every year, ensuring the collection’s turn-around time quicker than most of its counterparts.
So with such a large haul of treasure, how did Jenkins and his team select what would be in the opening exhibitions?
The wry smile that crosses his face suggests it hasn’t been an easy road, but in the end they decided they wanted to create a loose theme of ‘home’ to run through all nine exhibitions. “We [came up with] the notion of home because we are coming home to the building, the collection is coming back in front of the people who it belongs to.”
MTG will be open from 21 Sep 2013, every day 10am – 6pm, except Christmas Day
For more information on MTG visit:
Portrait of Annette Stiver, 1931, Christopher Perkins (b.1891, d.1968), purchased by Friends of the Hawke’s Bay Cultural Trust, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/37
A recent acquisition, Jenkins says he hopes the painting will become an iconic work for MTG. “Christopher Perkins was a very major 1930’s painter and this painting was created in 1931, the year of the Napier earthquake. The woman, Annette Stiver, was either his major patron, his mistress or both.” Jenkins says it’s unclear whether she’s wearing a dress or the artist’s red dressing gown, but regardless, it depicts a stylish 1930’s woman.
Napier Technical College uniform, 1930s, made for McGruer’s (Napier) Ltd, gifted by the Pond family, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2009/44/1-3
When the 1931 Napier earthquake struck, student Harold Pond was trapped and buried in rubble at the Napier Technical College for more than an hour. This shirt was cut from him by medical staff tending to him. While Pond survived, eight boys and two teachers died at the school. Jenkins says the shirt and the story it represents is a poignant reminder of the earthquake. “This was cut from him in the hospital. He survived, but when he died his family found this shirt neatly folded up in the hotwater cupboard.”
Tahā huahua food preserving gourd
kua noho pani te taonga nei unprovenanced
kua takohatia e Lady Florence Maclean gifted by Lady Florence Maclean
te kohinga taonga o Ruawharo Tā–ū-rangi, 38/252
This rare container was once used by Māori for preserving food. There are very few surviving examples of such vessels left and Jenkins says this piece has been included in the opening show because it is in keeping with the idea of care and nourishment which he hopes will resonate throughout all the pieces on display in the opening exhibitions.
Horse and Rider, c1935, Chrystabel Aitken (b.1904, d.2005), purchased by Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā–ū-rangi, 2011/27
Made of plaster of Paris, this Art Deco-era hand-carved New Zealand sculpture will be the centerpiece of the museum’s art deco exhibition. In the late 1930s, Aitken was part of a team of sculptors commissioned to carve individual works for the Centennial Exhibition Buildings at Rongotai. Her work from the exhibition cemented her reputation as a sculptor of excellence. Jenkins describes the work as: “a lovely piece by a young sculptor in the Art Deco style.” A similar work is held in Te Papa’s collection.
Grande Bagnante III,
1957, Emilio Greco
(b.1913, d.1995), memorial to Leo Bestall, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā–ū-rangi, 
Affectionately called ‘The Bather’ this striking bronze by internationally acclaimed sculptor Emilio Greco is the most valuable and internationally important work in the museum’s collection. One of three, Napier’s statue was bought in Europe in the 1960s by art historian Peter Tomory with funds raised by Hawke’s Bay residents who wanted to create a memorial to former museum director, Leo Bestall.
The statue recently went through a cat scan so museum staff could devise a secure way to mount the work to protect it from potential earthquakes.
Kiwi and Kaka feather muff, date unknown, gifted by
E J Herrick, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā–ū-rangi, 64/137
An example of European influence on Māori tradition, this beautiful nineteenth century muff has been in the collection since the 1960s. Jenkins says they’re not sure whether the muff was made for a European or Māori woman but, regardless, it’s an excellent illustration of the fusion of two cultures to create a fashion piece.
Ngā Raukura o Ahuriri, 2013, Rakai Karaitiana,
commissioned graphic design project.