Ian's Diary

On the Road diary – Ian Wards

Recently I’ve been in Feilding working with the Coachhouse Museum on their redevelopment plans. They are stars – having put together good planning documents and consulting widely before they approach funders, etc. Anyway, that is not the topic I’m writing about in this Diary.

Why I mention the Coach House Museum is because they have a fantastic old Hawkers wagon that was used to sell goods ranging from needles to anchors. The wagon’s former owner, Peter Kerouse, drove it throughout the Manawatu and over into Hawkes’ Bay during the middle decades of the 20th Century, becoming something of a local legend in the process. 

The hawkers wagon of Peter Kerouse, Coach House Museum, Feilding.

Peter selling his wares.

This wagon, with accompanying photographs of Peter selling his wares, is a marvellous example of how people and things can mesh into one. Rather than being ‘just another wagon’ this vehicle provides a fascinating insight into the lives of New Zealanders from an era most of us can only imagine.

Good things with good stories are one thing, telling those stories well is another. When approaching ways to interpret an object – or tell its stories – try communicating without words. Photographs, illustrations, film, sound and diaramas (my favourite!), are all things to think about before you resort to words. Different people absorb information in different ways.

Surveys have shown that people often only read labels for an average of 2 seconds. It is also very easy to get ‘museum fatigue’: that feeling of being exhausted within minutes of entering a museum or gallery due to the share variety of stimuli you brain is having to process (speaking from experience here…).

A great example of displays that are both sensitive to the environment in which they live, while also being stimulating in their content, can be found at the Colin McCahon House in Titirangi. Initially on entering the tiny house in which the McCahon family lived during the 1950s, everything looks Spartan and clean; as it might have been half a century ago. It is only upon being prompted to open some cupboards by your guide that a whole world of information about the McCahon household comes to life – using photographs, audio-visuals, and text.

Display cases inside Colin McCahon house

So I reckon that when you are planning exhibitions, think about the engaging people related stories and ways to interpret them though means other than text.