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A battle against time: New exhibition reveals museum trade secrets

27 October 2022

A glimpse into the core work of a busy museum is on display in Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga O Waikato’s new exhibition Collection Caretakers, open from 28 October 2022.

The exhibition delves into different threats, from fire and corrosive fingerprints to silverfish and lost labels, which prey on the extensive collection of items cared for by Waikato Museum. It shows how museum staff are able to mitigate risks to protect the irreplaceable collection and preserve it for generations to come.

“Deep in the heart of this building are our collection stores, which are home to over 30,000 taonga. Their wellbeing is one of our core responsibilities,” said Liz Cotton, Director of Museum and Arts, Waikato Museum.

“This exhibition Collection Caretakers gets to the essence of the Museum’s role in our community, maintaining these treasures for the future. Understanding the preventative conservation needs of different materials is a detailed skill, informed by tikanga, technology, and industry standards for best practice.”

Including some hands-on features, Collection Caretakers introduces the public to practical techniques such as crating for transportation and mounts for display, as well the importance of tikanga Maaori and the spiritual aspects of caring for significant taonga. Visitors will be able to explore unusual items which are commonplace for museum staff, such as quake wax, vinegar syndrome, and a thermohydrograph.

“The collection stores are out of public view, so this exhibition is a unique opportunity to discover what happens behind the scenes,” said Jon Primmer, Waikato Museum curator.

“It is our hope that our visitors will be inspired and empowered by what they learn here, and have the skills to become a Collection Caretaker for their own taonga at home.”

This new exhibition follows on from Curator Notes which was on display at Waikato Museum in 2020 and provided insight to the curatorial process and decision-making which shapes exhibition development.

Collection Caretakers will run until 26 March 2023 and entry is free. Open daily 10am to 5pm, except 25 December.