Posted on Thursday August 27, 2020
Kia ora koutou
One of the pleasures about being a Friend of Te Papa is becoming informed about things, objects and, a few days ago, spiders and modern approaches to living in the 1950s. If you had lived in the 1950s, as many of us have, then the objects in Modern Living: Design in 1950s New Zealand, for which members had a preview, will have had a familiar feel. You know them but seeing the items again in a museum gives them a different flavour. Having them explained for what they meant then, and now in retrospect, makes the objects like a Len Castle pot more memorable. Seeing them when you had to wait because of distancing limits consequent on the Level 2 restrictions at the time, may have added a level of frustration as well but that does not take away the quality of what was there to be seen, heard and read.
Why was I drawn to the John Weeks painting? John Weeks lived at the top of our street in Auckland and our section was subdivided off the Weeks’ farm. But then I have always liked John Weeks painting irrespective the farm connection. What were you drawn to and why? Did you have a Triang tricycle? Do you remember the studio potters of the time, people like Doreen Blumhardt, Jack Laird, Barry Brickell? Did you have a pottery dinner service? If you are under a certain age, however, the objects and explanations might instead give you an understanding of just how revolutionary these new approaches to design were at the time. These objects are evocative in unique ways for us.
Thanks to Lizzie Bisley and Justine Olsen for their insightful floortalks on how the exhibition was constructed and how the objects and images to be seen in it were selected and what they were selected to represent.
Before I visited the Modern Living exhibition, I dropped in on a session in Te Taiao devoted to Conservation Week. This is where the spiders come in. Three of the conservators in the natural history section explained how mosses and liverworts differ and therefore how to tell them apart, the differences between native bees and introduced honey bees and the contribution they make to plant pollination. Then there were the spiders featuring the Australian Redbacks vs the New Zealand Katipos. I have never seen either but I have read about redbacks. The inimitable Clive James had this to say about them, something that was not said at Te Papa;
‘The redback is mainly black, with a scarlet stripe down its back where its spine would be if it were a vertebrate. … It had the awkward habit, in unsewered areas like ours, of lurking under the lavatory seat. If a redback bit you on the behind you were left with the problem of where to put the tourniquet and not long to think about it. Nor could you ask anyone to suck out the poison unless you knew them very well indeed.’
Clive James made redback spiders memorable to me in a non-zoological way. Te Papa made them memorable in quite another. Te Papa has so much to offer to us all.