Behind closed doors – packing Hawke's Bay Museum & Art Gallery

By Adrienne Rewi

The sign on the door of the Hawke’s Bay Museum & Art Gallery in Napier may say ‘closed,’ but inside it’s all hands on deck as the museum team prepares for the building’s $18-million redevelopment. As soon as the museum shut its doors back in July, the staff started work on the mammoth task of dismantling exhibitions, returning loaned exhibits and packing up over 100,000 individual collection objects ready to move off site. It’s a job that’s expected to take nine months to complete.

Museum Director, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins says that not only does each object require a crate and protective packaging for the move it also needs to be tracked in and out of the building through the collection database.

         “We want to reassure donors that precious items they have donated to the museum over time will be treated with utmost care; and that they will be transported to an off-site facility for the duration of the re-development,” he says.

A packing team has been assigned to each collection area – Taonga, Social & Natural History, Decorative Arts, textiles, Library, Archives, Furniture and Fine Arts; and as each collection has unique handling and packing requirements, team members are receiving specialist training and will remain responsible for their assigned collection until the objects have been safely transferred and housed in the off-site storage facility.

HBMAG team members Ken Miles, Jeremy Walton and Craig Bell have landed to job of building all the crates that will be required. That’s no mean feat when you consider that for the Fine Arts Collection alone, they’ll need an estimated 3,000 metres of timber and 81 sheets of plywood to build 31 crates of six different sizes, travelling frames for seven plan drawers and 15 other custom-built crates for particularly large or fragile works. Cymon Wallace and James Price then take over, carefully measuring, cutting and fitting the crates with Ethafoam to protect the objects during their journey.


Another 1,000 boxes will be required for the Ceramics, Textiles and Archive Collection objects. Each archival box is being specially fitted out and many will be used for long term storage in the new museum collection store. All of the boxes will travel to the off-site facility in a larger crate and will then be transferred onto shelving.

To give the preparations a kick-start, the museum held a ‘box-making bee’ at the Museum in early October. Twenty volunteers, many of them friends of HBMAG, helped staff to assemble pre-cut boxes and to cut foam, fabric strips for ties, sewing cushions and by cleaning plastic tubes ready for use. It is expected that the entire collection will be packed and relocated to the storage facility by the end of March 2011, when the exciting architectural re-development then begins. 

A project website has been set up and you can view redevelopment progress at

All photographs of collections packaging supplied by Hawke’s Bay Museum & Art Gallery, Napier.

Adrienne Rewiworks full-time as a freelance journalist, sub-editor, blogger and travel guide writer. When she is not traveling the length and breadth of New Zealand updating travel guides, she is based in Christchurch where she readily gives in to her passion for art, museums, photography and fiction writing. In addition to publishing several non-fiction books and travel guides, photographing everything in sight and writing on almost every subject, she is a passionate collector of far too many things and really needs her own museum.

Adrienne Rewi