Pukerua Bay School Museum visit European Splendour

Pukerua Bay School Museum visit European Splendour

The European Splendour 1500-1800 exhibition opened on Friday 16 September in Ngā Toi | Arts Te Papa.

Our friends from Pukerua Bay School Museum: Aurelia (aged 9), Paddy (aged 11), Isaac (aged 12) and their teacher Cat Lunjevich, came to visit and spent time in conversation with our curators Justine and Mark. They have kindly written this post about their experience, and how it links to their museum too.

After our initial visit to Te Papa, we were invited to come on a special guided tour of Splendour with Justine Olsen (Curator, Decorative Arts and Design) and Mark Stocker (Curator, Historical International Art). Waiting for the tour was intense because we were all so excited. It was particularly exciting for Isaac because he has a special interest in 17th and 18th century British history, Rococo and royalty.

Our two best days at school ever have been our visits to Te Papa. When we arrived at Te Papa this time it had not opened yet, so we had to go under some red ribbon and we were the only ones at the exhibition. Splendour was so amazing!

Posing downstairs, Photograph by Rebecca Browne, © Te Papa
Posing downstairs, Photograph by Rebecca Browne, © Te Papa
Entering Splendour, Photograph by Justine Olsen, © Te Papa
Entering the Splendour exhibition upstairs, Photograph by Justine Olsen, © Te Papa

Things we discussed together with Justine and Mark on the way around the exhibition were…

  • How Splendour started off in churches and palaces and then began to go into people’s homes
  • How to look at a painting as a curator or collection manager:
    • Check its history and see if it has its original frame.
    • Think about what items you are putting together e.g. religious paintings, royalty, or the same era.
    • Ask – do the items complement each other?
  • How to look at a painting as a visitor to the exhibition:
    • Look for detail and colours.
    • Look at the history caption and the artist.
  • The collection was arranged so things that were similar were next to each other.
  • Usually in a gallery the walls are white but not at Splendour. The deep colours were chosen because they looked more historic and regal.
  • We looked closely at what things were made of, the wood on the chairs linked together like a puzzle and some of the fabrics had silver woven into it.
Chairs started it all! Photograph by Justine Olsen, © Te Papa
Chairs started it all! Photograph by Justine Olsen, © Te Papa
With the Senses - Isaac's favourites! Photograph by Rebecca Browne, © Te Papa
With some of the Senses – Isaac’s favourites! Photograph by Rebecca Browne, © Te Papa
The shark skin adorned cabinet we saw last time, Photograph by Rebecca Browne, © Te Papa
The shark skin adorned cabinet we saw in crate last time, Photograph by Rebecca Browne, © Te Papa
Being thoughtful with Mrs. Humphrey Devereux, Photograph by Rebecca Browne, © Te Papa
Being thoughtful with Mrs. Humphrey Devereux, Photograph by Rebecca Browne, © Te Papa


Seeing the Splendour exhibition has added ideas to our own museum. It has made us think about the colours for our upcoming Secrets of Art exhibition. We liked the labels that were with each item on display at Splendour and we talked about coming up with a format that we could use for our displays. This will also make it easier to display the information in our exhibitions. We are working on digitizing our catalogue and it was helpful to hear from Mark and Justine that this will make it easier to know what is in our museum when it gets bigger. We are getting lots of donations – the smallest being a seahorse that was found on Pukerua Bay Beach 20 years ago, and the biggest being a working Pianola!

We are trying to find ways to share our museum for kids who can’t read very well yet; or who have limited mobility and can not get in the museum door; or people who live far away and can’t visit. We are going to start a blog with YouTube clips, and might offer live tours on Skype. We want our museum to be interactive like Te Papa. Our ideas are: an art trail, a dress up box and displays that can not be broken or damaged by people playing. We play a game and have adapted it for Splendour. It is called ‘Name the Splendour Piece’ and it involves one person describing something in the Splendour exhibition and the other people have to guess it:

At the end of our tour of Splendour, we tried to decide which piece from the exhibition we would each take for Pukerua Bay School Museum if we were allowed to choose one. Isaac said he would take The Five Senses paintings, Aurelia wished for the painting that showed animals, and Paddy said he would like Mrs. Devereux. He calls her the thoughtful lady. Ms Lunjevich said she would take the cream silk dress.

The European Splendour exhibition is a magnificent exhibition. We highly recommend it but you need to visit more than once!


  1. Hello Aurelia, Paddy and Isaac, I am Yanjie, come from China. It’s interesting to read your experience in the post and I am inspired by many of your amazing ideas of museum engagement. I love your ideas of using Skype live tours, Youtube clips for people who can not physically visit the museum. Your book did give me an understanding of the exhibition and the knowledge behind the artworks. I hope I can visit your school museums in the future !

  2. I was really impressed by the way you engaged with the issues facing museums today, Aurelia, Paddy and Isaac. It’s really important that we give everyone a chance to see the special things museums hold and it is great to see young curators coming up with such imaginative ideas. Perhaps one day you will join one of our courses and become a professional curator at Te Papa!

    1. Hi Professor
      I would love to be a curator when I get older. I really like the 18th century and rococo and baroque. I like art. I could be the curator of historical art at te Papa or the curator of furniture, I don’t know what you would call that. I think it is really important that museums are around to tell people about history and show artifacts to the world. Do you do any online courses for kids? Thank you for your comment.

    2. Thank you for the comment. I think it is good to see what happens if you give someone the space to do something. That is what happened to us and look what it has turned into. I think our museum experience will change what we do when we get older but I am not sure how yet. If you are ever in NZ come and visit.

  3. Hi Siren Deluxe. You are welcome to and have a private tour of Pukerua Bay School Museum! The staff (Paddy, Isaac and Aurelia) have strict rules around touching exhibitions. They also have a range of ways of sharing these boundaries with visitors, just like te Papa do! And we are very lucky to have three passionate kids on our team who love sharing their knowledge. Come visit!

  4. Hello Siren, thanks for your query.
    Many of the paintings are behind barriers and there are alarms throughout the exhibition.These images were taken under close supervision in the course of a special tour. The students were not leaning on the frames and were well in front or to the side of the paintings
    In terms of other exhibits, furniture items are positioned on plinths, and ceramics, textiles etc are in glass cases. We do appreciate your interest and the wellbeing of the collection is a foremost concern to Te Papa.

  5. This is a great story, and I enjoyed hearing about curatorship, display and conservation from a young students perspective. I was particularly thrilled to read that there is a 12 year old boy called Isaac with a special interest in 17th and 18th century British history, Rococo and royalty; (sounds like a future museum professional)!
    I wonder, are the paintings behind any barriers? In a couple of the photos it looks as if the students are leaning on gilded frames… which reminds me a little of this

    1. Author

      No frames were touched – I promise! There are barriers, but they might not be obvious in the pictures. I am sure Mark or Justine can explain more about how this works with you 🙂

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