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Safely Through the Shakes

Author: Courtney Johnston, Director
Here at The Dowse and Petone Settlers Museum, we’re glad to have come through the weekend’s earthquakes unscathed: our most significant incident was a fallen ceiling tile in our collection storage, which did no damage. The whole team looked a little sleep-deprived and shaken this morning, and we decided that emergency red velvet cake was called for.
Staff morale restored

Staff morale restored

In addition to making sure our buildings, collections and staff are safe, there are of course the exhibitions we have on display to think of. With a large ceramic show like His Own Steam: A Barry Brickell Survey, this is even closer to the top of our minds. Fortunately, all the works either have custom mounts or were secured with ‘quake wax’ (like Blu-tack for museums) and we have not seen any movement. Today we have contacted all the lenders to the show to let them know their works are safe.

It’s a salutary reminder that disaster preparedness is part of any workplace. As well as everyone today checking the emergency kits that live under their desks and making sure their phone lists are up to date, in a piece of rather good timing we are hosting Neil Semple from the Christchurch Art Gallery this Friday to talk about what they have learned about disaster preparedness and recovery from the Christchurch earthquakes. After Neil’s talk we have Triptych coming in to run a hands-on workshop around salvaging water-damaged collection items. Because you can never predict who will be in (or able to get to) the galleries during an emergency as many of our team as possible are going on the training day, and we have also invited colleagues from museums and galleries around the lower North Island to join us.

Finally, it’s also timely to think about securing your own precious items. I have to admit to berating myself for not having taken care of this yesterday afternoon when I heard all my John Parker vases tumbling off the shelf  (and the largest of them smash) 

My late, lamented John Parker vase

My late, lamented John Parker vase

Some quick pieces of advice:

  • make sure bookcases are fastened to the wall, rather than free-standing
  • use museum wax or putty (or even Blu-tack) to secure objects to shelves
  • don’t hang heavy framed objects over beds and sofas
  • use closed hangers, or crimp hooks, when hanging pictures and photographs
  • never put precious items directly on the floor (e.g. boxes on a garage floor) in case of floods.

The National Library of New Zealand and National Services Te Paerangi both have information pages on keeping your heirlooms, collectibles and artworks safe from harm.

Courtney Johnston, Director

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