Big Ted to Rita Angus: Gems uncovered while revamping Collections

Big Ted to Rita Angus: Gems uncovered while revamping Collections

For the last seven months a team of eight people have been completely immersed in giving us a new, beautiful Collections website. In doing so, they’ve come to know the 190,000 images in Te Papa’s collections better than anyone else.

We asked the team to share their favourite objects and images they’ve found along the way and tell us a little bit about working on this massive project.

Karyn Brice, UX/UI Designer

Teddy bear
Big Ted, 1968, New Zealand, maker unknown, BBC. Gift of Whitebait TV Productions, 2004. Te Papa (GH014511)

I was able to have this image, and other associated Play School characters, on my screen at work while designing layouts for the site. I grew up with Play School and I also found out the devastating news of what happened to Little Ted!

I was the user experience/user interface designer on the project and incorporated key feedback from our users into the new design. My work focused primarily on simplifying the search process, and visually exposing the vast collection of objects and associated content to the user.

Sam Bonner, Developer

Oil painting self portrait of Rita Angus
Rita Angus Self-portrait, 1966, Te Papa. © Reproduced courtesy of the Estate of Rita Angus. Te Papa (1967-0013-1)

I chose this image as Rita Angus has been my favourite search during the last two years of working with Te Papa. I was the developer for the front end applications for Collections Online – basically, everything that wasn’t the API was built by me.

Tracie Almond, Project Manager

Woven horse with a pink mane
Model Horse, maker unknown. Purchased 1993 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (FE010242)

There are so many amazing things in our collections that choosing a favourite is nigh on impossible. However, I stumbled across this one when I was testing, using “horse”. Among all the much more expected collection items, there was this lovely woven horse with its pink mane. How could that not then become a favourite?

My role on this project has been to help remove blockers from the team’s path – the rest of them did all the actual work. This has mostly involved liaising with IT, keeping contracts sorted with external partners, and keeping the team food supplies well-stocked. I also got stuck with the Internet Explorer testing.

Douglas Campbell, Data Analyst

Black and white photograph of a family outside a house
At Pungarehu, near Parihaka, May 1886, Dunedin, by Burton Brothers studio, Alfred Burton. Purchased 1943. Te Papa (C.010274)

I love ‘At Pungarehu, near Parihaka’ because I have so. many. questions. How are they related? Why are they posed this way? What was his role at Parihaka? When did that dog suddenly appear?

Over the years, Te Papa has created incredibly rich semantic metadata to describe its collections. My role as data analyst has been to tame this metadata so that it can be easily used within Collections Online, but also by external developers in the future via a data API.

Adrian Kingston, Digital Operations Lead

Photograph of a lady's torso in a long tight knitted dress
Martha Graham – ’Ekstasis’, 1935, United States, by Barbara Morgan. Purchased 1984 with New Zealand Lottery Board funds. Te Papa (O.003320)

With a background in photography (including previously being Collection Manager for the photography collection) and looking after Collections Online for nearly 10 years, it’s impossible for me to choose a favourite collection item, there are far too many amazing objects that have all given me joy over the last 16 years.

I’ve gone for a part of the collection that may be less well-known; the incredible prints we have from iconic American photographers from the 1930s through to 1970s. Martha Graham’s Ekstasis is one I particularly enjoy for its incredible composition and flow, but also because no-one ever believes it could have comes from the 1930s, but demonstrates the new visual languages that were evolving for photography internationally at this time.

I used my experience of managing the previous versions of Collections Online to help out with the collection data structure, audience background, and image management.

Fiona Moorhead, Collection Information Systems Manager

A dolls head, the eyes lie beside the head
Doll’s head and eyes, 1910s, Paris, by Societe Francaise de Bebes et Jouets. Te Papa (GH015367/3)

I chose this image as it illustrates how great museum collection photography can make the (sometimes) ordinary look extraordinary.

I look after Te Papa’s Collections site, which includes the publishing of information and images from our collections database, and how this information is made available to the public on the Collections site.

My involvement on the project was to work with the team to identify and prioritise development, and to help with any data fixes or collections knowledge required, along with Adrian, who managed Collections Online before me.

Frederik Leonhardt, Developer

Black and white photograph of a house with people standing all around it, including the roof
Te Aro House, 1879, Wellington, by James Bragge. Purchased 1955. Te Papa (D.000025)

Chosen for the incredible detail that’s revealed when zooming in.

I’ve been involved in Te Papa’s Collections API project as a developer since its inception in early 2016. I’m responsible for most of the behind-the-scenes work that is required to expose Te Papa’s huge amount of collection data to the public in a structured way. That includes working on the data extraction process, the search engine, and API, all of which are used to power the new Collections Online website.

I’m hoping that the API allows creative minds to build awesome data-driven applications, and I’m looking forward to exploring what people come up with.

Kate Wanless, UX Researcher

Red plastic toy dinosaur
Plastic cereal collectible, Tyrannosaurus, 1962, by Nabisco. Gift of Christine Kiddey, 2011. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH021038/15)

I find it incredible that Te Papa has cereal box dinosaurs in its collection.

As a UX Researcher I’ve been talking to people who use Collections Online to understand how it’s used in the ‘real world’. Combining interviews, user testing, surveys, and analytics has given us a picture of who Collections Online users are and what the site can do to make them happy.

Have a browse through our new Collections website and let us know what your favourite object is!


  1. Great selection of items – thanks you girls

  2. I loved ‘Fatbird’. It was a Don Binney painting I hadn’t seen before. Thanks for that

  3. Wonderful! I’m a bit jealous of you guys!!

    1. Thanks Vera. It was a very cool project to work on and the team (mostly) had a ball.

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