For the last seven years the ‘Friday Ladies’ have been volunteering on the costume and textile collection for the Museum’s Applied Arts and Design. The group, so named because they come in on Friday only, includes Vivien Caughley, Alwynne Crowsen, Kim Smith, Robyn Hart, Joan Hamilton and Deborah Peek. They spend the mornings in the basement assessing, cataloguing, measuring and photographing the reserve textile collection.
All together, the group examined more than 560 boxes and catalogued around 10,000 objects. Associate Curator Finn McCahon-Jones, and lead co-ordinator on the project, says each member contributes “a unique set of knowledge and experience; objects often trigger immense conversation about technique, use or style. The combined knowledge of the team is outstanding”. The ‘Friday Ladies’ have finished stage one of the project, and McCahon-Jones says the next stage we focus on distinct areas within the collection. “This is where we will build and strengthen existing knowledge.”
McCahon-Jones, who played a pivotal role in the current exhibition V&A’s Selling Dreams, looks back on some of the group’s achievements.
We keep our textiles in acid-free costume boxes, known internally as a ‘texbox’. The boxes are roughly the size of a winter coat, if you roll the shoulders in. Where the contents of the boxes have been sorted into categories, the box will be labelled ‘Japanese Clothing’, ‘Baby Wear’, ‘petticoats and undergarments’, ‘Lace, Needlepoint’, ‘Printed Textiles’ and so on. Each week I would bring a box up from the basement to the workroom. Every week it was like a lucky dip. On opening the boxes a gasp would follow as the contents were revealed.
Until the Friday Ladies started working on the textile collection, only some objects had good information or digital images. The idea was to go through the entire collection to see what we have; and to measure, describe and take identification photographs for the database. At the same time, everything was wrapped in acid-free tissue and repacked.
There is nothing like opening up a box of fine Chinese embroidery and seeing the silk and gold threads shimmer under the fluorescent lights, closely studying a piece of honiton lace or looking at the picots and fillings to ascertain if it was handmade or not.
One of the last objects we catalogued was a two piece red suede leather suit. The leather was purchased in a shop off Cook Street, down town Auckland and made into a suit by Sir Dove Myer Robinson’s daughter, Heather Robinson in 1973. According to the donor, Heather Robinson was making and selling similar garments in the ‘hippy style’ to boutiques around the city. The cut of the trousers and the seam accentuate the wearer’s legs and behind. It would have looked stunning on the wearer!
The project was initiated by Auckland Museum’s former Applied Arts Curator Louis Le Vaillant with the aim ‘to know what we have and where it is; so anyone could find any object at any time’. By adding images and cataloguing the collection, the Friday Ladies have made the collection more accessible both internally and externally. It is the interest in the collection that brings them back each week – they consider looking through the textile collection first-hand to be a real privilege.