Auckland Museum is currently embarking on an ambitious 20-year renewal plan, encompassing both our onsite galleries and online presence. Since the Museum was moved to its current home, in 1929, expansion and maintenance of our beautiful building and its contents have been ongoing.
In 1997, a programme of restoration and refurbishment, which included the establishment of many current galleries, was nearing completion. However, an extra push of funding was needed to bridge the final gap. To meet this, the Museum turned to the citizens of Auckland.
Names in Stone
The “Names in Stone” project gave individuals and families the opportunity to significantly help the Museum, and to have their contribution publicly acknowledged through a fixture in the building.
The museum approached sculptor Denis O’Connor, and gave him a simple brief: to design a cartouche which featured the list of 110 donors.
In design terms, a cartouche is a simple scrolling framing device which often contains text. O’Connor spent weeks in the Auckland Museum foyer, considering how to reflect the iconic architecture in his piece.
Designing the cartouche
The dominant U shape was chosen to echo the fluting (shallow, vertical grooves) of the foyer columns.
Understated references suggest the movement of the Museum’s collection through time: blue azul marble was cut and carefully arranged to create the effect of cascading water, and the list of names form an hourglass.
A double-ended paddle – a recurring motif in O’Connor’s work – suggests buoyancy, balance, and migration. These themes were repeated in an edition of lithographs, printed by Muka Studio and gifted to the benefactors.
In October 1999, "Hourglass" was formally unveiled at the museum by Sir Edmund Hillary at a reception attended by donors to the project, many of whom went on to form the Museum Circle Foundation.
Elsewhere in the museum, our Applied Arts and Design collection contains a representation of O’Connor’s work from the late 20th century. Alongside salt-glazed stoneware from the 1970s – bottles, bowls and mugs, often made of “creek clay” from near O’Connor’s home on Waiheke Island – sit works which show the increasingly sculptural focus that emerged in his practice in the late 1970s.
These include “Paloma (1978)”, O’Connor’s first ever purely sculptural form; and “Off Musick Point ("Ship to Shore" Radio Auckland) (1982)”, which appeared in “Songs of the Gulf” (Auckland Art Gallery and Dowse Art Museum, 1984-1985).
This major exhibition of O’Connor’s work led to a string of significant commissions. By 1999, O’Connor had established himself as one of New Zealand’s foremost public sculptors, and "Hourglass" remains a significant work in O'Connor's oeuvre.
Cite this article
Names in Stone. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 9 August 2017. Updated: 9 March 2021.