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Objects evoke feelings about our history

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These last two weeks, as we remembered both a cyclone and an earthquake, I am reminded of the importance of our collective memories. Museums and archives often hold important objects from our past. These items, sometimes seemingly unimportant such as a torn shirt, contain the memory of a moment, evoke feelings, and hold our history.

One such piece in our collection is indeed a torn shirt (along with a pair of shorts and cap) worn by Harold (Harry) Pond when he was trapped in Napier Technical College following the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. The shirt was cut from him by medical staff at Nelson Park after he was dug out from under the ruins. These items he carefully stored away for decades without any of his family knowing.

Other items we hold that represent the earthquake are burnt and damaged ceramics, fused jewellery, and displaced possessions never reclaimed. In the very nature of their abandoned or damaged condition the enormity of that event is kept and remembered.

A cyclone is harder to collect material from as so much was contaminated and needed to be disposed. What item(s) could encapsulate the horrific nature of that event? In decades to come, it will only be in objects and archival material carefully protected and kept, that future generations will have a sense of that moment in Te Matau-a-Māui / Hawke’s Bay’s history.

At MTG Hawke’s Bay Tai Ahuriri we hold all the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust’s treasures gently on behalf of the entire community, current and yet to come. The enormous importance of what we care for is not lost on us. Our dedicated team of collection staff know how to hold, store and care for these important treasures. They ensure we know what we have, where it is and where it came from. The stories that accompany our collections are what give them life – what is the relevance of a torn shirt from Napier Technical College without knowing the personal story behind it?

The enormous task of preparing our collections to move them in their entirety to their new permanent home in Hastings next year is daunting. This space will allow us to store each item in the best way possible but often means we need to prepare or repack them before we move.

Paintings for example, currently housed in crates making them hard to access, will be stored on painting racks that can be pulled out to allow the paintings to be easily viewed. In order to hang the paintings on racks there needs to be specialised, earthquake proof, hanging mechanisms attached to hundreds of artworks.

Each object type is carefully considered and the best option for storage and protection selected. Some objects are having specialised crates made, others are being secured on pallets or repacked for pull out drawers, and so on.

The collection preparation and move is a massive logistical exercise and one which is undertaken with care and love for each precious item. It is an exercise in ensuring our collective stories and memories are protected, not just for now but for future generations - to whom we will be as mysterious and fascinating as our earlier ancestors are for us today.

Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper on 17 February 2024 and written by Laura Vodanovich, Director at MTG Hawke’s Bay.

Image: Harry Pond’s Napier Technical College shirt, cut off him by medical staff after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.

19 February 2024

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