Our collections team are busy installing the Attic exhibitions right now, so this seems like a good time to reveal a few behind the scenes antics. According to Assistant Registrar, Taila Roth, they’re actually ‘pre-installing’, which means bringing in cases and large objects, organising mounts, lighting and other technical stuff, like painting the giant’s castle. It sounds really fancy, but what it looks like most of the time, is pictured above.
A couple of weeks ago, I bumped into Taila when I was leaving work. The team were bringing in our Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun, and she mentioned her gun license. This wasn’t high on my ‘qualifications a museum registrar should have’ list, so when we sat down to talk about what’s happening behind the scenes, I asked her about it.
“Someone on staff has to have a gun license because we have firearms in the collection, and that’s the legislation under the firearms act. The registrar before me had one as well… I had to do the firearms course and the guy that does the licensing had to come to the house and interview my family, and make sure that I’m mentally stable. It makes no difference that I don’t like guns, I don’t want guns, I don’t like shooting. I just have to have all the boxes ticked to stay safe.”
Fair enough. But when we talked about her other registrar work I began to realise that it might be best to remember that gun license next time I want to touch Taila’s things…
“I think we become extremely maternal and possessive. Objects become our children, so we’ll get quite possessive and quite protective. It’s kind of said that you always find a lot of women in the registration role because of that nurturing, maternal aspect. We just get really obsessive about our collection, making sure that they’re okay, and feeling like they’re an extension of you.”
“We’re just really antisocial. A lot of people think we like donations and all, but really it’s a lot of hard work, so we don’t really like a lot of people around. We like objects.” This from a person who always makes a flash morning tea when the curators come to visit. “It’s a really weird feeling, to feel so protective about things. They’re the public’s objects. We’re just kaitiaki of them so we’re just caring for them on behalf of the region or the audience, or WCC and the Wellington region. But you get really possessive – they’re your objects, they’re mine. You’re the guardian of it so you’re going to protect it at all costs. You get really intense about it. You lay your life down. You don’t drop things.”
I reckon Māori must make really good registrars, I say. Taila is Tainui, and I am Te Āti Awa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Ngāti Rangatahi (though not a registrar…)
“There’s an inherent nature about it. Definitely.”
Right now it’s full stress on the whole collections team as our precious objects get shifted to their new home. But the worst thing about the install, so far, has been timing issues and having to depend on so many different groups coordinating so many different tasks. The best thing, for a registrar, is “…doing different things. With registration it’s quite rare to get so much object time, let alone other things like building crates, making mannequins, making clouds, set dressing, making props, paper-mache eggs. So that’s quite fun, doing different things. It’s cool for expanding our skill base as well. In a larger museum, for an exhibition of this size you’d usually have 40 staff involved, you’d have five per team for all the jobs, whereas we’re a team of five.”
The main thing to take away from all this?
“Come and visit, and don’t break things.”