Inside the Collection

Our Curators are Ready for Ask a Curator Day

AskACurator at MAAS

Our curators have a huge job caring for our enormous and diverse collection of over 500,000 objects! Their areas of expertise are as diverse and interesting as the scope of the Museum’s collection. They are knowledgeable about fashion, health and medicine, architecture and the built environment, engineering, physical sciences, design and decorative arts, technologies and contemporary cultures.

Ask a Curator Day is dedicated to giving museum audiences direct access to the expertise of our curators in the form of a worldwide Q&A. We’re excited to be one of nearly 1,000 museums taking part this year across 49 countries. Below, meet our participating curators and learn about their specialisations and passions.

How to ask a question?

In 2015, Ask a Curator Day is on Wednesday, 16 September. Our curators will be available from
10am to 5pm (AEST) to answer your questions. Head over to Twitter and join in using the hashtag #askacurator. You can tweet questions to us @maasmuseum. Tune in at 10am for a livestream tour and Q&A from our Collette Dinnigan: Unlaced exhibition!

You can also ask your questions as comments on this post or reach out to us on Facebook.

 

Glynis JonesPhoto N¼: 00z48810

  • What’s your area of expertise?

Fashion and dress.

  • How did you become a curator?

I completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Archaeology and Fine Arts and a postgraduate degree in Museum Studies. It was working as an archaeologist on the excavation of the First Government House site on Bridge Street, Sydney that gave me first hand experience of studying the past through artefacts. The glass, ceramics, drains, bones and clay pipes left me with a vivid impression of early colonial occupation of the area.

I joined the Museum as an Assistant Registrar, cataloguing the textiles and dress collection and from there became Assistant Curator and then Curator of fashion and dress.

  • Favourite collection object?

I love wearing elastic sided boots and never get over the thrill of looking at the first pair of ‘elastic’ sided boots invented by Joseph Sparkes Hall. These very dainty boots are Sparkes Hall’s prototype version of the elastic-sided boot and were presented to Queen Victoria in 1837. At the time they hadn’t perfected the use of elastic rubber in clothing so the gussets are actually made of coiled wire. Sparkes Hall had to wait a few years for rubber technology to catch up with his invention.

 

Andrew JacobPortraits of 'research active' staff: Andrew Jacob, Curator.

  • What is your area of expertise?

Optical and observational astronomy, though I should be able to answer most questions about any area of astronomy. I’m also learning more and more about Australia’s astronomical history so I might be able to help out here also.

  • How did you become a curator?

First an engineering degree, then a PhD in astrophysics. I worked for 25 years as a guide at Sydney Observatory and four years as temporary acting Curator of Astronomy, also at Sydney Observatory. That, and I have difficulty throwing things out!

  • Favourite collection object?

I have several, including:
– Flinders chronometer for its importance to Australia’s history and for its reliability;
– the south dome refractor for all its historical connections (from Transit of Venus on) and that it is still in use for public viewing;
– the NSII collector segment for its connection to Australia’s greatest but least known physics experiment;
– anything connected to the Astrographic Catalogue project;
– finally, ‘Astronaut’ Bunnykins!

 

Paul DonnellyPortraits of 'research active' staff: Dr. Paul Donnelly, Curator.

  • What is your area of expertise?

I prefer to talk about being comfortable with or love for areas rather than being an expert!  The diversity of the MAAS collection makes it hard to settle on specifics. Some of the numismatic (coins, medals and banknotes) are works of art and significant connections to amazing places, people, and events. Furniture of the 20th century, especially chairs, can act as ideals of a specific era’s style and aspirations. With ceramics, I appreciate how profound the end result can be from a potters’ most subtle decisions.

  • How did you become a curator?

I studied Mediterranean archaeology and in my Bachelor of Arts honours thesis I researched the Museum’s Egyptian amulets. I started contract work soon after and never left! I later did a PhD on ceramics in the middle East.

  • Favourite collection object?

There are so many and each is representative of our many categories. I love miniaturisation, so toys come to mind, but in the end the Boulton and Watt engine is an incredible representative of such important technological development at a pivotal period in Europe (1785).

I also return to a Spanish dollar, also of 1785, which has its story stamped into it like a passport, starting with its place of manufacture in slave-run Peruvian silver mines. It’s marked with the stamp for Lima, joined at some stage later by a stamped head of King George III of Britain so it could be used there during the currency shortage during the Napoleonic Wars. Then many, many ‘chopmarks’ or letter symbols from China and south east Asia were inflicted to test the authenticity of the coin. Such a well-travelled coin and it’s story is there for all to see 200 years later!

 

Angelique HutchisonPortraits of 'research active' staff: Angelique Hutchison, A/Senior Curator.

  • What is your area of expertise?

Product and industrial design, engineering, technology and innovation.

  • How did you become a curator?

I studied engineering and science communication, worked in science centres and museum education before becoming a curator.

  • Favourite collection object?

The VentrAssist heart pump is one of my favourites, because it shows how the significance of an object can change with time, often quite quickly.

The VentrAssist implantable heart pump received an Australian Design Award and Engineering Excellence Award in 2006. At the time, it represented excellence in Australian medical product design. It features a rotating impeller which ‘floats’ in the blood, reducing wear and potential for blood clots. It received market approval in Europe in 2006 and Australia in 2007, and a successful major US clinical trial was completed in early 2009. But despite the world-leading technology and the efforts of shareholders, global financial turmoil meant the company could not find the funds to continue and folded in mid-2009. This object now holds greater significance as it represents the challenges involved in making a product successful in the market.

 

Min-Jung KimMin_Jung_Kim

  • What is your area of expertise?

My specialty is Asian decorative arts and design. I look after the Chinese, Japanese and Korean collections in all mediums including ceramics, textiles, wood and lacquer, metal, jade and paper, among many mediums.

I most recently curated the Spirit of Jang-In: Treasures of Korean Metal Craft and Japanese Folds.

  • How did you become a curator?

I studied Cultural Anthropology and Art History in Korea and Curatorial Studies in Australia. I was always interested in ‘old things’ and that drew me to work in a museum in the first place. Although these days, the Museum is no longer for ‘old things’ only!

  • Favourite collection object?

A carved figure of ‘Shou Lao’ (God of Longevity). This was excavated under a banyan tree in Doctors’ Gully in Port Darwin, North Territory in 1879. This object symbolises the star ‘Canopus’ which is only visible in the southern sky a few times a year in China. Chinese people believed that seeing this star at least once a year will cause them to live longer. However, the star is visible in the Australian sky most of time, which makes Australia really special!

 

Melanie PitkinMelanie_Pitkin

  •  What is your area of expertise?

Egyptian history and archaeology (specifically First Intermediate Period false doors and stelae), Islamic and modest fashions, historical and contemporary shoes, Collette Dinnigan, museology.

  • How did you become a curator?

I’ve studied degrees in Egyptian history, archaeology and museum studies (Honours, Masters and towards the end of a PhD). I also started volunteering at the Powerhouse when I was studying for my undergraduate degree and that ultimately led to a position in Registration before I moved into Curatorial.

  • Favourite collection object?

It’s impossible to have one and the list is forever growing! The Joseph Box shoe collection certainly stands out for me though. It comprises around 300 rare, handmade shoes from the 1500s to early 1900s, predominantly from Europe. Not only are they exquisitely beautiful objects in their own right, but there are so many stories behind each pair which reflect the changing social and cultural fabrics of the time.

 

Tilly Boleyn 0050c

  •  What is your area of expertise?

I’m passionate about all areas of science, health, infectious diseases, medicine, pseudoscience, art/science with a sprinkling of eng.

  • How did you become a curator?

Hard work and luck! Bachelor of Science with Honors in Microbiology. Then a science broadcaster at ABC Science, manager of a science festival, then science education before becoming a Curator at MAAS.

  • Favourite collection object?

I ❤ the storpedoette. It’s the result of a 1950’s collaboration between the Australian Red Cross Blood Service, the Royal Flying Doctors and the Australian Air Force. Oh, and it’s gorgeous!

 

Rebecca EvansIS-3729-0005

  •  What is your area of expertise?

Fashion, dress and textiles!

  • How did you become a curator?

I studied visual arts with a textiles major and modern history at university, then did lots of work experience in galleries and museums.

I became a curator as I am intrigued by historic garments! I love looking in detail at dress, in which the real bodies of history lived. They can tell us so much about the past. I also enjoy the public focus of museums, sharing stories (both historic and contemporary) with a range of audiences.

  • Favourite collection object?

The ‘Iced Vo Vo’ dress, designed and made by Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett of Romance Was Born in 2009 was the first item I acquired for the MAAS collection. And who wouldn’t love an iconic Australian biscuit dress? I like the playfulness of Plunkett and Sale’s design, it’s contemporary and fun!

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