Seminar: Rebecca Rice, ‘Conversazione at the “Curiosity Shop”’

In 1866, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker congratulated James Hector on the recent opening of the Colonial Museum, writing ‘I am heartily glad you have started the Museum at Wellington; there is nothing like a Museum and gardens to screw money out of the public for science. Every shilling we have here has been through the popularity of the Gardens and the Museum, and diverted thence on pure science’. What role did art play in popularising the activities of the museum and of science in colonial Wellington? The Museum was a generator of art, particularly when seen as a tool of science. It was a repository for art, its collections ranging from photography to sculpture, to old master prints and paintings. And at the conversazioni held in association with the inaugural meeting of the New Zealand Institute on the 5 August 1868, it also functioned as an art gallery, as sketches and paintings were displayed in Te Hau ki Turanga. The apparent miscellany of items acquired by the Museum during Hector’s tenure led to it being dismissed as little more than a ‘curiosity shop’ by the 1890s. Yet perhaps this diverse activity was crucial in gaining the support of the public and colonial elite for the New Zealand Institute and Colonial Museum. By turning an eye to art within this setting, we might also begin to register the rich and complex attitudes that individuals such as Hector had towards art and science.

Rebecca is Curator Historical New Zealand Art at Te Papa. She researches, publishes, and curates in the field of colonial New Zealand Art, with particular interests in histories of collecting and display and the art of the New Zealand Wars.

Venue:            Old Kirk 406 (F L W Wood Seminar Room)

Date:               Friday, 7 June 2019

Time:              12:10pm to 1:30pm

For more information: Contact Dr Alexander Maxwell (; 04 463 6753).