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Canterbury Museum marks 150th birthday with exhibition and book

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The world’s last remaining Huia nest is one of the rarely-seen taonga (treasures) to be showcased in a new exhibition celebrating Canterbury Museum’s 150th anniversary.

1 October marks 150 years since the Museum’s doors first opened on Rolleston Avenue. Since 1870, the Museum’s collection has swelled from 25,000 objects to more than 2.3 million.

From 1 October, 31 of these taonga will emerge from the Museum’s storerooms to be displayed in the exhibition House of Treasures: Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho.

Highlights from the exhibition include the boots Sir Edmund Hillary wore when he summited Mount Everest, the dress Kate Sheppard wears on our $10 note, and the only remaining nest of Aotearoa New Zealand’s extinct native Huia bird.

The taonga range in size from the 4.5 metre-long South Island Giant Moa skeleton to the 0.63mm long fairy fly - one of the smallest flying insects in the world.

House of Treasures includes probably the oldest human-made object in the Museum’s collection, an Acheulean hand-axe likely crafted by an ancient human species up to 450,000 years ago.

Museum Director Anthony Wright says the exhibition is an opportunity for Cantabrians to view some of their more rarely-seen treasures.

"Some of these objects don’t go on display very often, either because they’re too delicate, like the Kate Sheppard dress, or because we just don’t have the space.

"The Huia nest is one of my absolute favourites. It’s the only known nest in the world, which makes for very poignant viewing."

The objects in the exhibition are drawn from a book the Museum has produced celebrating its 150th year on Rolleston Avenue.

Titled House of Treasures: 150 Objects from Canterbury Museum Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho, the book features 150 taonga from the Museum’s collection, superbly captured by award-winning photographer Jane Ussher with accompanying by text by Museum staff.

The book will be sold at selected bookstores nationwide, in the Museum Store and through the Museum’s website.

Museum Director Anthony Wright says House of Treasures: 150 Objects from Canterbury Museum Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho is a worthy way to celebrate a major Museum milestone.

"We’re very proud of this book. Jane’s photographs are stunning and our staff have written some really lively and engaging text to accompany them.

"The book is a terrific way to showcase to Aotearoa New Zealand, and the world, the huge range of the collection that we care for on behalf of the people of Canterbury. It also honours the generations of staff, volunteers and visitors who have made the Museum the remarkable and much-loved place that it is today."

In addition to the 31 objects in the House of Treasures exhibition, a further 38 objects from the Museum’s permanent displays feature in the book. These have been placed inside gold frames to highlight their significance and their connection to the exhibition.

These objects include Canterbury Museum icons like the Tucker Sno-Cat in the Antarctic Gallery, the carved kānuka kurÄ« (dog) in Iwi Tawhito and Ivan Mauger’s gold-plated motorbike.

Wright says the 150th anniversary is a time to celebrate the Museum’s history but also to look to its future, as the Museum gears up for a proposed redevelopment that will protect its heritage buildings and create more exhibition and storage space suitable for a modern museum.

"It’s fantastic to be celebrating 150 years in the same building we started out in, but we urgently need to make some changes to ensure we can stay here for many more," Wright says.

The exhibition House of Treasures: Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho opens on Level 3 of the Museum on 1 October. The book House of Treasures: 150 Objects from Canterbury Museum Ngā Taonga Tuku Iho will go on sale shortly after.

The Museum will celebrate its 150th birthday on 1 October with complimentary birthday cake for visitors (while supplies last) from 10.00 am in the foyer.

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