Working in a museum is kind of like riding in a time machine every single day. One where you often not only find yourself in the distant past, but also in a distant location. We here at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum hold fossils from millions of years ago, and also objects that have travelled all the way to the top of Mount Everest. When surrounded by this much history, it’s easy to forget that the very place you’re standing has its own. Yes, the first Pacific explorers to Aotearoa or the upcoming Stonehenge exhibition are fascinating subjects, but so is the history of the Museum itself. And it’s easy to find. If you know where to look.
One of those places is inside the Auckland Museum Newsletters (later called MQ Museum Quarterly). As part of the larger Improved Documentation and Enhanced Access (IDEA) project, I spent five-months enriching the records of these newsletters and had the opportunity to peer into a narrow window of the Museum’s history. Over the course of 27 years, and more than 11 design changes, I traced two museum directors as their individual legacies helped the Museum find its own identity. Beginning in 1980 with Director Stuart Park, to the 2007 departure of Director Rodney Wilson, the Auckland Museum Newsletters transformed alongside the Museum at its home on top of Pukekawa in the Auckland Domain.In 1980, as an experimental attempt to keep Members of the Auckland Institute and Museum better informed about the goings on at the Museum, the new director, Stuart Park, launched the first issue of Auckland Museum News. It is a brief four page black and white A4 pamphlet with a few short articles on new staff, exhibitions, and the Institute syllabus of lectures for the year. Nothing too impressive.
But by issue 13, there had already been some changes. Alongside institute lectures and volunteer call outs, there were now articles on topics like the Museum’s Women’s Archives Collection and a rare 1917 film reel of Auckland’s Walsh Brothers’ flying school. A highlight for me is the inclusion of the progress of the recent work that had begun on refurbishing the Māori Court gallery. This is illustrated by the stunning photo of a helicopter delivering materials to the roof as it was the only way to get them safely up there.
Over the next 14 years, Director Park oversaw the transformation of the newsletters. Much like natural evolution, the changes were small but by the time he left in 1993, the newsletters barely resembled the first issue. Although still a pamphlet, a few more pages were added along with colour! (Even it if was only a single colour per issue).
When Director Rodney Wilson took over, the newsletters changed again in issue 59. A new format was debuted alongside the new director (now with two colours!). Although this would only be a brief stepping stone as in the very same issue, Director Wilson announced a major redevelopment project for the Museum.
During this redevelopment of the Museum spaces, the newsletters also got an upgrade – and a new name. Now dubbed MQ Museum Quarterly, the newsletters were produced in full colour with content more focused on the refurbishment process, with a few short, interesting notes about the collections. By the end of the first stage of the development, and conveniently the turn of the millennium, a brand new MQ was unveiled with issue 81 that include articles showcasing the highlights of the changes.
Again, this design didn’t last long. A mere 8 issues later, with issue 89, a brand-new approach to the newsletters dropped. Gone were the articles on staff updates and curious collection items. This was the age of the exhibition. Now in a smaller, and easier to hold booklet, MQ focused on the current exhibits in all the newly designed spaces. The Museum too was entering another stage of development. The South Atrium had just been green lit.
Issue 104 brought the final form of the newsletters. A far change from the black and white four-page pamphlet, now MQ was a full glossy magazine with over thirty pages. It beautifully merged the announcements of exhibitions, with in depth interviews and articles on the people who helped bring them to life.
Then with issue 109, the magnum opus. A whole issue that focused on the life and changes of the Museum on the hill in the Domain. From its origins in 1922 to the completion of the South Atrium in 2007 all laid out by a professional magazine editor. The issue contains thorough and beautiful photo documentation of the transformation by then Museum photographer Krzysztof Pfieffer.
Sadly, the MQ magazine would only last for a few issues after the departure of Director Wilson. New directors have new directives, and MQ was not one of them. Thankfully copies of this marvellous lens into a brief period of the Museum’s long history are kept safe within the Museum Archives. And now, with their full digitisation onto Collections Online, they are available for you to discover any of the hundreds of stories that live inside.
Cite this article
The Museum Newsletter: Recording the Redevelopment of an Icon. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 25 February 2022. Updated: 3 March 2022.
No search results are available