New home for the Charlotte Museum

By Miriam Saphira, Charlotte Museum Trust.

Near the Whau Creek where, in earlier times, the whau tree was used to make eel nets, is a boutique museum displaying other lost New Zealand histories.

The Charlotte Museum, a museum of lesbian history and culture, has recently moved from Mt Albert to 8 Bentinck Street, New Lynn, in the Whau Local Board.

Charlotte Museum at Bentinck St, New Lynn. Image courtesy of Charlotte Museum Trust.

In its new location, the museum has two rooms for the display of its collection, a research library, and meeting and recreational rooms.  There is also an art gallery, which displays changing exhibitions of contemporary art as well as shows from the Museum’s permanent art collection. The Charlotte Museum had its first exhibition in February 2007 during the Auckland Pride Festival.

Waistcoat on display. Image courtesy of Charlotte Museum

As well as having this contemporary focus, the Charlotte Museum holds an extensive historical collection of artifacts. The six small Venus figurines are some of the highlights of its permanent display. They are certified replicas from the Natural History Museum of Vienna, Austria.  These figurines, gifted to the Charlotte Museum, sit quietly on deep violet cloth in a glass case with other silver pieces from Crete.

As well as displays on the ancient world and the poet Sappho, the museum holds a large collection of material on theatre, music, sports, gay liberation, poetry, literature and early lesbian artists.  Our liberation display includes quilts made from activists’ t-shirts, and a badge collection.  A collection of coming out stories is able to be viewed on DVD, and we have an extensive research library.

Kissing quilt. Image courtesy of Charlotte Museum Trust.

Currently we have a researcher working towards a publication on lesbians at work.  We already have four publications on lesbianism in New Zealand, sport, theatre and lesbian music.  Much of lesbian history is lost so we are currently researching female companions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, with the hope of being able to honour the stories of these women.  Now that lesbianism is more accepted in society, we hope that historical enthusiasts may see the loving relationships their great-aunts or ancestors may have had with other women in a new positive light.

Sports book launch. Image courtesy of Charlotte Museum Trust.

The Trust endeavors to collect objects with significant lesbian meaning. These include the Web LP from the eighties, early photographs, stories of lesbian mentors, two t-shirt quilts, a large badge collection, a wide range of art objects, early posters and 1700 books in the collection. In addition, filmmakers are carrying out interviews on DVD which are available for viewing during opening hours.

While the Lesbian and Gay Archives (LAGANZ) based at the Alexander Turnbull Library collects papers, they are unable to collect objects – hence the need for the museum’s collection.

The Charlotte Museum Trust is a registered charity and is run by volunteers. With the assistance of National Services Te Paerangi and Friends of the Museum, the volunteers are offered training by way of ServiceIQ’s National Certificate in Museum Practice. Another active group of volunteers is working on the New Zealand Museum Standards Scheme to ensure the museum achieves a high professional standard.

Charlotte Museum on parade. Image courtesy of Charlotte Museum Trust.

The Charlotte Museum, unique in the Southern Hemisphere, displays objects and information on lesbian culture, and has a well-being project to assist lesbians in finding services they might be seeking.

The Charlotte Museum is open on Wednesday 12-4pm and Sunday 1-4pm.

Charlotte Museum Trust

8 Bentinck Street, New Lynn, Auckland

Phone 09) 5507403