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Museums Wellington

Our Science Wahine

Sexism in Science has been a fairly well-publicised issue in recent months, with several articles and the publication of a new BWB text Why Science is Sexist by Nicola Gaston. I have been wanting to write about our Science Curators for some time as they both have fascinating and diverse backgrounds, they’re both women with international careers, and they’re both curators primarily at Space Place at Carter Observatory. Strong evidence of why it’s important to make sure prejudice doesn’t hold girls & women back! Here are their stories in their own words:

Dr Claire Bretherton

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As a child I was always fascinated by the stars, looking up to the sky and wondering what was out there. I remember  going outside with Dad to see Halley’s comet in 1986. I grew up in a small village near Winchester in the south of England. We had pretty dark skies with no street lights along our road, but even so it was pretty hard to spot and didn’t quite live up to the spectacular previous visit in 1910 when Carter Observatory’s Cooke Telescope was amongst the first in the world to photograph the comet. Rather than being deterred, this just inspired me to find out more.

Continue reading “Our Science Wahine”

Space, and a Certain Time and Place

As happens regularly in museums, we have recently been updating an exhibit at Space Place at Carter Observatory. This means ‘resting’ objects that have been on display, swapping in objects that have not been on display, returning items that we have on loan from generous individuals or institutions, and refreshing graphics and interpretation panels. Along the way we might go through the archives and rediscover stories hidden away like old scrapbooks at the back of a cupboard.

My beautiful picture

Peter Read, the People’s Astronomer, was an iconic figure on 1960s and 70s New Zealand television. There is a special place for him at Carter Observatory, and at NZ On Screen. Digging through one of our digital cupboards, we rediscovered these wonderful old images from a 2010 Carter Observatory exhibition about Peter. Some of them are from his time in the US witnessing the Apollo 15 launch. They are affecting for capturing a specific time and place while focusing so fervently on space and the future. They also tell part of Peter’s story, as do the film clips of his long-running television show ‘Night Sky’. The refreshed Peter Read exhibit should soon be installed at Space Place at Carter Observatory; in the meantime enjoy this online exhibition. And look out for a special Wellington feature at the end featuring a whole lot of history you won’t want to miss (but you may want to forget!)

My beautiful picture

2-3in 2in 4in cooke 4 in gregorian Continue reading “Space, and a Certain Time and Place”

I was photographing everything – Alison Jones

One of the great pleasures of opening The Attic at Wellington Museum has been seeing visitors spot themselves or their family members in the exhibits. We’ve had a visit from the granddaughter of the architect of our 1890 building, Frederick de Jersey Clere, and from the grandchildren of Ken Coles who features in the 1956 Chimpanzee Tea Party film. One of our most popular exhibits has been ‘Working on the Job’, a series of images of New Zealand Rail in Wellington in the 1990s, taken by then-clippie Alison Jones. It is with some delight that people recognise places and faces in the images, and sometimes even see themselves. Our Social History Curator, Nik Bullard, has curated an excerpt of the show for our first online exhibition. Also featured below is a brief but exclusive interview between Nik and Alison. If you want to see more, you can find it in The Attic

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2005-5043-6 Continue reading “I was photographing everything – Alison Jones”

Nairn St Cottage – View of a City

One of the lesser-known treasures of our collection is Nairn St Cottage, built in 1858, considered to be Wellington’s oldest residential house (restored as near as possible to original condition). The cottage sits on a hill above Aro Valley, overlooking the entire city, which was slightly obscured by a light drizzle the day I took this photo. Even so, one of my favourite things about the cottage is how you can immerse yourself in the story of an English settler family and their home in the same moment as you can look out over a 21st century New Zealand city. It’s impossible to do so without thinking about what used to exist on these streets, what you might find if you dig underneath the apartments, how the city has transformed since the New Zealand Company obtained the land from Māori in the mid-nineteenth century (which Māori, you might ask? That’s an excellent question that we might revisit in a future post).

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Some favourite spots inside the house. From top: wash house, master bedroom, kitchen, scullery

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Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi

Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi – The Expansive Pathway to the Heavens. It’s a beautiful name that carries with it quite different connotations than ‘Space Place at Carter Observatory‘, and adds depth to our understanding of what the observatory is for, and the roles it plays. As I mentioned in my last post, there are heaps of genuinely cool things about the heritage buildings of Carter Observatory and its surrounds. Spend some time in the Thomas Cooke telescope room and it’s hard not to be awed and floored by the technology of the 1860s. I’m sitting under the telescope as I write this, and am reminded of our tendency to underestimate the knowledge and pure experimental guts of our forebears, who figured out how to build such a thing from scratch:

Think, then, how awe-inspiring it is to discover astronomical knowledge hundreds, if not thousands of years older: Polynesian people from many nations had such a keen awareness of the stars and their movements that they could confidently travel throughout the Pacific by reading the sky. They didn’t build telescopes or compasses like the Thomas Cooke, but that doesn’t mean their knowledge was any less substantial. They bet their lives, and the lives of their families, on the strength of their astronomical matauranga (knowledge) and they ventured far beyond their own ocean neighbourhoods to settle places like Aotearoa. Continue reading “Te Ara Whānui ki te Rangi”

Looking After the Future as well as the Past: Human Rights in Museums

Most people think of museums as repositories for nice old stuff, interactive exhibits and historical or scientific information. While it’s true we have some nice old stuff (and the other bits), the modern museum often has priorities that have more to do with who we are now and who we wish to be. How does our old stuff inform that? This is where museum perspectives and traditional Māori perspectives might meet: for Māori, our past lies in front of us, leading us towards our future. In other words, we cannot know where we are going unless we know where we’ve been.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the Federation of International Human Rights Museums (FIHRM) conference at Te Papa. Human rights are not generally the first thing most people think of when they consider museums, but as UN youth delegate Melissa Gibson noted in her closing panel remarks, FIHRM  transforms perceptions of what museums are for, and how they can affect our lives.

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Save the Date! Opening Weekend Saturday 14 November 2015.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Part Two – Getting Busy)

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. Continue reading “Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Part Two – Getting Busy)”

Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Part One – Getting Emotional)

There was some sadness expressed this week after Auckland Museum announced the finale of their longest running exhibition – Centennial Street, also known as Auckland 1866.   Historical streets in museums often evoke cherished museum memories – sometimes the most vivid or only memories. There is something extraordinary about these re-creations of times and places we can no longer access any other way. For many of us, being close to historical objects, absorbing a facsimile of historical space, or being encapsulated in an historical frame, however limited, is the closest we can get to time travel.  My earliest museum memories include Whanganui Regional Museum’s Edwardian street, and if they ever decide to pull it down I will most likely throw a full tantrum.

Continue reading “Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Part One – Getting Emotional)”

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