Gifts and Legacies

by Insiders Dunedin

The Gift and Legacies exhibition tells the history of the generous benefactors who have helped build the Otago Museum’s world-class collection. The story of these benefactors is told through  celebrating and showcasing the varied objects that they have given to the humanities and natural science collection over the existence of the Museum. 

45 donors are profiled in the exhibition, each of these donors highlighted in the show have gifted one or multiple objects; a cross-section of donors have been showcased some have donated over 8000 objects while others have donated just one. The Museum celebrates a proud history of philanthropy and honours the members of the public who over the years have contributed so much to the Museum’s collection.  

The exhibition is an eclectic collection of objects, that is showcased in a cabinet of curiosity style.  Items on show range from a surf board that was from the 1971 St. Clair shark attack, a preserved deer foetus, Moa poo, several guns a taxidermy Kiwi and more. The story of the Kiwi explained why it has black feet.  The taxidermy bird used to sit on the desk of one of the Directors of Kempthorne Prosser & Co., who first trademarked the name ‘Kiwi’ for the shoe polish company. There is a bit of everything in the exhibition and definitely something that will interest all visitors. 

Of the donors, eight or nine of them are living and a number of them were present at the exhibition’s opening on the 15th of August. Barry Watkins, who was in the shark attack, was among the living donors profiled in Gifts and Legacies who was present at the opening. The Museum staff said a highlight of the exhibition was seeing the reaction of the living donors when they saw their donated objects lit up and on display. 

All of the objects have come from the Otago Museum’s collection and will not be shown elsewhere in the country. The exhibition explains the process of how the public can donate objects to the Museum and what is involved in preparing objects that have been stored in the Museum’s basement for public exhibition. We are encouraged to realise what role we could have in shaping the Museum’s collection in the future. This exhibition has been an opportunity for staff to showcase objects in their collection that might not neatly fit with other displays or exhibitions throughout the Museum. An example of this is the deer foetuses which are difficult to categorise and the Museum would not have enough objects of a similar vein to hold a large-scale exhibition. 

This exhibition is the first time in four years to have been fully curated, researched, designed in-house and to feature all objects from within the Otago Museum collection. The initial planning for the exhibition began in October 2013 and was originally going to be a much smaller showcase in the recently renovated Annex space in the Post Office building diagonally opposite the Cook Tavern. As more and more exciting stories came out of the team’s research, it made sense to upgrade the exhibition’s size. A smaller version of the exhibition is planned to open soon in the Annex. There are half a dozen benefactors who will be featured in the Annex space, because the breadth of the items that have been gifted to the Museum is so wide that the curatorial team felt further recognition was warranted. A core project team of around ten people with up to forty other staff have played a role in bringing this exhibition together. 

Public feedback from Gifts and Legacies has been very positive so far, however at the time of the interview the Museum were still in the process of recording visitor numbers. The exhibition will be open until mid-November. Once the exhibition finishes there is a de-installation period for each of the items on show. The objects undergo condition reports to ensure they are still in good condition prior to the Collections team packing the pieces up and returning them back to the Museum basement. The team is working towards creating an online database of all the pieces that will hopefully be available on the Museum website for the public to view. 

The exhibition has a range of merchandise that can be purchased from the Museum shop. A pop-up shop selling the goods shifts around a couple of locations in the Museum and runs for a period during the day as well. Visitors can purchase limited edition t-shirts, tea towels, cards, bookmarks, tote bags, art prints and jewellery among other items. The talented Museum staff have hand drawn the designs that are on the tees  and soft goods are an interpretation of several notable objects from the exhibition, such as the shark attack surf board and deer foetus. The home-grown nature of the exhibition has allowed the Museum's design team to develop a range of goods specifically for Gifts and Legacies. Craig Scott, the Design Services Manager, has designed two of the artworks. He hoped to target a different audience from those who usually attend exhibitions. By creating a range of limited edition art-inspired goods, he hoped it would encourage more students to pass through the Museum's doors. A range of jewellery has been created in a collaboration between the innovation workSpace at the Otago Polytech and the Museum. A range of objects from the exhibition were scanned and 3D printed and four final pieces were chosen to go to production with. Moa tracheal bones have been transformed into finger rings, a piece of giraffe jaw into a necklace, a sandstone tablet from the Mesompotian era and mollymawk head brooch were all produced by a specialist 3D printing company in the Netherlands. A beautiful exhibition 118-page catalogue has been completely written, photographed and designed by an in-house team for the show. 

Gifts and Legacies is well worth a visit. It is exciting to see such a range of objects presented in an interesting way. This show definitely caters to all ages and locals are likely to recognise many of the names of the benefactors profiled. The nature and layout of the exhibition enables visitors to enjoy it at a quick glance or those wishing to immerse themselves in a more in-depth way will find plenty to keep themselves occupied. The Museum staff have successfully pushed the boundaries with Gifts and Legacies. They have celebrated the very important donors who have gifted the items on display and created a beautiful range of merchandise and catalogue. This exhibition continues the legacy the forebears of the Otago Museum and encourages the public to donate items to continue to grow a world-class collection here in Dunedin. The future for the Otago Museum looks to be in very safe hands.   

Submitted by Jon Thom. 


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