Judith Taylor

Judith's on-the-road diary - December 2012 

Keeping up with the Coast

Large question marks over the future of some West Coast organisations are one of the longer-term effects of the Canterbury earthquakes, as buildings housing museum collections come under threat from the more stringent structural regulations. Despite these challenges, museums on the Coast are always moving ahead.

At Westport, construction of a new museum exhibition area and i-site on the main street has started. The exhibitions are all planned and Coaltown Museum Manager Chris Hartigan was supervising the removal of a huge piece of machinery the day I visited. A part of the roof of the older building had been removed and the machinery was to be lifted out the next day by crane. It was to be relocated so the new museum could be constructed around it. Chris says ’The biggest single lift was the Mawhera dredge engine: it came in at 18.5 tons. We took one bit off it to lower the weight otherwise it would have been closer to 22 tons. A Q Wagon was about 8 tons, the break drum from Denniston was 16, but with its supports the weight was about 30, so it was moved in 3 bits.

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The older Coaltown Museum building is basic, uninsulated, in poor condition, and in a quiet street. All collections are being packed, bar-coded and removed to the new exhibition area or to a storage area adjacent to the new building.

Like all heritage parks, Shantytown (at Rutherglen, just south of Greymouth) has to work hard to stay on top of developments in the museum world which have raised visitor expectations. Shantytown aims to encourage visitors to return, and to keep them interested and involved through the development of new attractions. Along with a new holographic theatre and sawmill area that opened in the last few years, there is a new foundry and train exhibition area. CEO Andrea Forrest showed me around the area. It makes good use of interactive displays to focus on local industry. The central story is the Dispatch Foundry, established in 1873. An audio guide enhances the park experience.

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Biennial South Island curators’ seminar at Hokitika

Further down the coast at Hokitika, curators from the South Island and a few from further afield spent two full days and evenings together listening, discussing projects, and sharing ideas.

Presentations included Sharon Henderson describing how Okains Bay Māori and Colonial Museum achieved a new display with assistance from an Expert Knowledge Exchange. Te Papa Conservator Rangi Te Kanawa went on a five-day exchange to assist with kete supports and displays, and training for museum staff. The result is a new kete display and more skills sharing and learning in collection care.

Visit Okains Bay Māori and Colonial Museum

Read about Okains Bay Expert Knowledge Exchange.

West Coast Heritage Forum

On the Saturday after the seminar, I attended the West Coast Heritage Forum at the Westland Vintage Farm Machinery and Industrial Heritage Park at Hokitika, where volunteers ‘steamed up’ reconditioned machines. Several ambitious projects are underway to renovate other collection items and install a railway.

The Forum included a demonstration of an augmented reality project with video links that are available through the Heritage West Coast’s website and QR code on the new West CoastMuseums and Heritage brochure. These short clips link present-day sites to stories about historical events and places. The brochure project was supported by an NSTP Strategic Projects Grant.

Visit Westland Vintage Farm Machinery and Industrial Heritage Park

Visit Heritage West Coast

Canterbury: Methven eHive cataloguing training

Methven Historical Society andMethven Snow and Grain Heritage Centre requested assistance with on-site eHive cataloguing training, and we worked through cataloguing principles before moving onto eHive and cataloguing practice. This support is offered to any museum requiring help to get started, or to answer questions about cataloguing.  You can request assistance with cataloguing or any other aspects of museum practice through an Expert Knowledge Exchange or through my regular Museum Development Officer on-site visit.

Visit Methven Snow and Grain Heritage Centre

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Further down south

Further south at Te Hikoi Southern Journey in Riverton, Southland, experts Russell and Ann Beck have been on an Expert Knowledge Exchange working with museum volunteers Hugh Brown (Wallacetown Early Settlers Association volunteer and Te Hikoi Heritage Museum Trust member), Muriel Brown (Ōraka Aparima Rūnaka), Cathy Onellion (Otautau Museum), and several others.

Wallacetown Early Settlers Association (WESA) knew its collection of adzes needed to be reconnected back to the area. All the basics of marking and photography, weighing and measuring were completed by volunteers before the Expert Knowledge Exchange. It was decided that the best storage for the collection would be nesting the adzes in drawers (for ease of access and for use as an attractive display), and this was completed with the assistance of Southland’s Roving Museum Officer Jo Massey. 

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Storage drawers. Image courtesy of Jo Massey.

Storage drawers at Wallacetown. Image courtesy of Jo Massey.

By the end of the project, Russell and Ann will have worked their way through the entire collection of around 400 toki and other stone taonga. Russell has been impressed by the variety of stone types and southern styles, and Jo says everyone was fascinated to learn more about this. As well as describing some previously unidentified special items, Russell has been able to enrich knowledge about the collection that will give it a much clearer regional identity.

and as far south as you can go….

Although the wind was 45 knots and the trip across Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island was nearly cancelled, several hardy souls made it to the island for a very worthwhile workshop at Rakiura Museum.

This Expert Knowledge Exchange workshop was led by Conservator François Leurquin, and supported volunteers to develop skills needed to prepare the collection for moving into the new museum building at Rakiura. Over the last few years, Jo Massey has been working with the Museum to prepare for the move by cataloguing and digitising the collection.

Rakiura Museum workshop group. Image courtesy of Jo Massey.

Rakiura Museum workshop group. Left to right: Lee Wadds, Elaine Hamilton, Alan Wadds, Bev Cowie, Andy Riksem, Object Conservator François Leurquin, Jo Riksem, Stephanie Herring (Gore Heritage Museum), Kaaren Mitcalfe (Owaka Museum). They are gathered around the first completed layered lined foam and nested archaeology collection box. Image courtesy of Jo Massey.

Cutting foam. Image courtesy of Jo Massey.

François showing Bev Cowie how to cut foam using a filleting knife or finely serrated bread knife. Image courtesy of Jo Massey.

Nesting, packaging and labelling

All participants tried various tasks such as cutting foam, measuring objects, nesting objects, labelling, moving collection items, and recording information in the database. Volunteers also worked through a pilot project to assign tasks, choose objects, and house and label an entire box of History objects themselves. Over the three days, 93 objects were stored in colour-coded crates representing the Archaeology, Natural History and History collections, and these will be used as examples for further collection storage. François also demonstrated that it is possible to maximise storage space by layering items into stackable crates.

Jo Massey says:

On the third day of the workshop, a break in the otherwise inclement (I can think of another word to go here!) weather allowed us to see how iron objects were treated using simple brush cleaning and the application of tannic acid, and also micro-sandblasting of larger objects. François talked about the difference between cast, wrought and forged iron, and we hope to gain some funding to have him come back and treat Rakiura Museum’s historic ‘Pacific’ canon as soon as possible. I think it is one of the most enjoyable workshops that I’ve been to. Great morning and afternoon teas helped too. The pub put on a quiz night to get a car for François to whiz around in – Rakiura Museum fed and housed him and supplied a compressor and grit for the workshop while I supplied the materials for this NSTP funded Expert Knowledge Exchange.

Read about Rakiura Museum