During 2014 – 2015 the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui relocated its entire operation, including exhibitions and the collection, to Sarjeant on the Quay to allow for the strengthening and redevelopment of the earthquake prone Category I listed heritage building at Queen’s Park. The project to relocate the collection provided an unprecedented opportunity to inventory and catalogue every single item in the Gallery’s possession after more than 100 years of collecting. For this epic task the Gallery secured NZ Lotteries funding to employ a team of four transition assistants for 21 months to inventory, pack and move the collection.
The collection had previously been housed in extremely cramped conditions in the basement of the heritage building. Many items were almost impossible to access for display in exhibitions or to catalogue their records. At the start of the relocation project the Gallery had just over 5,500 records on its computerised database. During the project an additional 2,800 items were inventoried, making the total number in the Gallery’s possession now just over 8,300 items.
Having undocumented collection items is not unique to the Sarjeant Gallery as most historic museums and galleries worldwide are continuously working to fully catalogue their collections. The Sarjeant Gallery’s collection is one of the oldest in New Zealand as it started in 1901 with a gift from the Wanganui Arts & Crafts Society of an oil painting by C.F. Goldie from 1900.
During the relocation project, while the collection was inventoried and packed for transport, many fascinating and sometimes humorous stories emerged as the team discovered items that were unknown to existing staff hidden away behind shelves and in old sealed crates in the labyrinthine Gallery basement. Any item that could not immediately be matched to an existing record was given a unique number prefixed by an X which easily identified it for further investigation once the collection move was complete.
This exhibition features many of these items and a selection of older impressive paintings that have been difficult to access for display until now. The relocation project has and continues to be a journey of discovery as we research our wonderful collection and investigate the stories of the works.
Highlights include the escapades of the Gallery’s resident cat, Mrs McSweeney, who accompanied visitors as they viewed exhibitions in the early 1970s; the ‘Tree of Life’ crewel work embroidered by Annie Wilson, an early settler in Bulls, and gifted by the artist to the collection in 1922; a mysterious portrait of an Elizabethan gentleman discovered on a shelf; and a selection of four lithographs from a series by William Simpson of the Crimean War which were found inside an old wooden crate under a group of empty ornate frames. We are delighted to be able to present this exhibition which reveals a small selection from our rich, varied and surprising collection.
Jennifer Taylor Moore
Curator of Collections
18 June - 11 September 2016