Sarjeant Gallery restoration will need skills of master craftsmen
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Sarjeant Gallery restoration will need skills of master craftsmen

Curator of Collections Jennifer Taylor Moore pictured with the gallery’s unique flooring which will be carefully retained

While the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui may sit on the hill looking much as it ever has; behind the scenes at Sarjeant on the Quay and at Whanganui District Council there is a lot of action happening. Donations for the redevelopment’s remaining funds continue to be sought and won and even when the first sod is turned next year these fundraising efforts will continue.

As the redevelopment’s design had been established some years ago by architects Warren and Mahoney, the detailed design is now being undertaken as expected and scheduled and this next step in the project is being performed by a number of leading consultants. On a project the scale of the Sarjeant Gallery with its strengthening and new wing being built to the north – this element of the job is critical and construction cannot start without it. It is in this work where numbers are crunched and financial outcomes predicted and tailored to meet the budget. Decisions will be made that affect the detail of the building and the cost of it. Following on from this will later come a call for expressions of interest for a Main Contractor with tenders occurring thereafter. Once the Main contractor has been appointed in 2019 construction can be scheduled to begin leading to a two year build period.

Interestingly the detailed design also allows the team to understand what sort of master craftsmen will be required to work on the project when construction does start. There are many elements of the original building that will require traditional skills to reinstate, for example the Oamaru stone cladding on the Sarjeant, the beautiful richly-coloured matai flooring, the cornice workings, ceiling details and so many other beautiful original features. They will all require traditional skills to faithfully restore them. It could be that some of the firms who helped build the Sarjeant in 1917 – 1919 still exist today and can work on the rebuild. Wouldn’t that be something?

Stories surround the Sarjeant. The Sarjeant tale is in many ways the story of Whanganui. A bustling important place, the fortunes of which have varied and changed over time. Recently I studied a timeline of the Gallery’s life from the beginning of the 20th century, until now. There are so many moments of beauty and drama, excitement and glory mixed with major disappointments and even scandal.

Henry Sarjeant’s bequest was £32,000.00 in 1912 and he instructed the money be used to build a gallery for “the inspiration of ourselves and all those who follow us”. Could he ever have known just how inspiring the Gallery and its collection would become and how many people’s lives would be affected by it? In today’s money that £32,000.00 by some measures equates to $70 million – so the generosity of Sarjeant’s original bequest is clear and it is now our responsibility to secure Te Whare o Rehua, or House of Inspiration, for the generations ahead of us.

Next year is the centenary year of the Sarjeant Gallery and so much more change is in store. The seismic strengthening, construction and restoration works will be underway when the building has its 100th birthday on 6th Sept 2019. For now the project schedule moves solidly along and happily there is one thing that won’t change – entry to the Sarjeant Gallery will always be free.

Jaki Arthur
Sarjeant Gallery Relationships Officer

This story was first published in the Wanganui Chronicle on 5 July, 2018

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