Curiouser and curiouser

Curiouser and curiouser

Most of us need a good excuse for researching outlandish subjects on the internet while at work, but collection manager Bronwyn Reid’s recent trawl was all in the line of duty.

She was researching cow hairballs, to gather more information on four such objects currently featuring in a show at Aratoi called Additions - recent acquisitions to the Collection. The hairballs, along with around 150 other historic objects from the former Masterton Museum, have recently been returned to Aratoi, after being held in safekeeping in the national collection since the 1950s.

Like cat hairballs, cow hairballs are formed when cows repeatedly lick themselves but because cows cannot expel them by vomiting, they are generally only discovered after the animal has been slaughtered. The world’s largest cow hairball is possibly the biggest thing out of Kansas since Dorothy. At roughly the size of a basketball, it was left on the steps of the Garden City historical society by a slaughterhouse worker. Aratoi’s hairballs cannot compete with the Kansas monster, but ours do win the day for tidiness: “They seem to be much neater and more spherical then others I found on the net,” says Bronwyn. (Big ups to Wairarapa cows).

Other oddities in the show are a lock and key from a colonial gaol on The Terrace; a Crypto Bantam Safety Bike (the forerunner of a modern two wheeler), and a Bennett’s wallaby – a species introduced to New Zealand and thought to have died out, until a colony was discovered near Waimate. Bronwyn says people still arrive at Aratoi with curious objects. “We recently had a box of textiles brought in by a local family whose relative had connections to Napoleon.” But this, as with other objects brought into the museum, will have to be assessed against the collection policy, which sets out what can be admitted to the collection and what will have to stay with an individual.

A key criteria for Aratoi is that an object needs to be relevant to Wairarapa, a local person or family, telling our stories and those of previous generations. Many museums turn away objects that need extensive conservation, due to limited resources, and textiles unfortunately often fall into this category. There has to be space to admit large objects, and there is no point taking in objects that duplicate objects already in the collection – unless of course the new object is in better condition or a more complete example.

Part of Aratoi’s policy is that it does not collect technology or agricultural machinery and equipment, and it considers photographs and documents the domain of Wairarapa Archive, with whom it regularly collaborates with anyway on exhibitions and other projects.

The Nelson Provincial Museum has some interesting additional restrictions in its collection policy, including items that are “a risk to the collection or staff; [and] items with a fraudulent, unethical or illegal background”. Also in the Acquisitions exhibition are artworks from the Aratoi collection, and china and paintings from The Beresford Maunsell Collection, also recently returned from Te Papa. Phoebe and Beresford Maunsell lived in the original Rathkeale homestead. If you enjoy imagining the backstory of a ship’s medicine cabinet or an Hawaiian king’s drinking bowl, and don’t mind experiencing your contemporary art alongside colonial curios, you’ll enjoy this show.