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What a Character – Sarah McClintock

A monthly column by Wairarapa Library Service where people in our community are interviewed about their love of books. This week, Madeleine Slavick joins Aratoi’s Sarah McClintock on a Monday morning at Featherston Library.

Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art and History has installed a pop-up museum here and director McClintock delivers a fascinating talk – to younger and older people – that starts with a beautiful wooden writing box [c.1955] on display, and leads to Napoleon, time travel, and olive leaves.

“Objects in the museum context tell so many stories,” McClintock says. “If we don’t know the stories behind the object, it’s just a thing.”

This writing box was owned and used by Reverend Denzil Brown [1925-2019], son of Ella Edith Laura Brown [née Ibbetson] and Ebenezer James Brown, manager of Wairarapa Age and later Wairarapa Times-Age. Ella’s great-grandfather, Denzil Ibbetson, commissary officer and artist, supervised Napoleon Bonaparte’s household during his last exile and made several drawings and paintings of Napoleon.

“Working at a museum is like time travel,” McClintock says. “We learn about the past, present and the future.” I smile when she tells me her preferred genres are science fiction and fantasy. She has just read The Murderbot Diaries.

But back to the writing box. Used in the 19th and 20th centuries, these boxes would carry items like ink, quills, papers and blotters for writing “on the go” – not unlike using a laptop today. Rev Brown also kept memorabilia inside, including two olive leaves from Gallipoli, where his Uncle Alf served.

Rev Brown studied in Wellington and Scotland, was ordained in Taumarunui, and served as a minister in Karori, Dunedin, Ohio, Auckland and California. Active in social and labour issues, he held roles at regional and national levels of the church. Definitely someone on the go.

McClintock herself has worked in Wellington [Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga], Whanganui [Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui], and Nelson [The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatu]. Since becoming director of Aratoi in 2022, a major project has been preparing to put much of the museum collection online – yet another way to tell stories.

As McClintock says, “A museum is not a place where things go to die – it’s where they live again.”

The pop-up museum is also on the go. It runs at Featherston Library during the International Organisation of Book Towns’ global conference in March through to the Featherston Booktown Karukatea Festival in May.

Next stops – each with different objects on display – are Greytown Library during its wintry festivities, Carterton District Library in daffodil season, and Martinborough Library during both Martinborough Fairs in 2025.

Feedback or suggestions? Contact Madeleine Slavick: [email protected]

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