Written by John Williams
Photography by Samuel Hartnet
The exhibition repopulates one of Auckland’s finest houses that functioned as a home for little more that 10 years of its life. When it was first built, between 1877 and 1879, The Pah Homestead was one of the largest and finest homes in Auckland. It was also one of the most over-specified, with the cost of the furnishings and fittings almost exceeding the cost of the build itself.
Unfortunately, barely a decade after it was completed, its owner was made bankrupt, and the then Bank of New Zealand repossessed it. Since then, the house has functioned as an orphanage, a boarding school, a religious-training institution, emergency housing, and latterly, the home for an art collection.
Vanish Delft’s curator, Anna Miles, says she wanted to locate the exhibition at The Pah Homestead because of this very interesting history.
“Today the Pah is home to the Wallace Collection, which is an interestingly broad collection that encompasses contemporary object making, and craft and art,” says Anna. “In addition, Sir James Wallace has a collection of Arts and Crafts movement furniture, and I was interested in locating this in relation to the contemporary work.”
“The historic features of the rooms – the marble mantelpieces for example – are often ignored in exhibitions. My ambition was to make use of them,” she explains. “The wife of the first owner reputedly spent an inheritance on the mantelpieces, alone. Aside from the hatstand in the hall, these are all that remains of the original fit-out… and they seemed to cry out for an object exhibition.”
Anna describes her exhibition as part wonder cabinet, part hardware store, begging the question, what is the future for ‘applied arts’ in the age of Briscoes? “It assigns a number of uncategorisable objects to the realm of domestic apparatus. ‘Furniture’ or ‘Tools’ sound straightforward, but the contents of these groupings may be perplexing,” she says.
The journey from room to room is certainly beguiling – an intriguing and, at times, inexplicable collection of the recognisable and the odd, the useful and the useless, the historic and the contemporary.
As Anna says, “It’s an invitation to wander off-piste, outside the usual categories and fashionable theories that curtail what it is encountered in the contemporary art gallery.”
Vanished Delft – Handmade Material Culture is showing at The Pah Homestead, 72 Hillsborough Rd, Hillsborough, Auckland until 14 May 2017, and is open Tuesday to Friday, 10am - 3pm, Saturday and Sunday, 8am - 5pm,