Portraits may go to museum

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A treasure trove of North Otago’s early history may soon have a new home, if a Waitaki District Council proposal is supported.
Oamaru’s Early Settlers Hall is full of more than 150 portraits of North Otago’s first settlers, as well as other memorabilia.
The contents of the hall, on Severn St, are looked after by the North Otago Early Settlers Association.
However, the association’s numbers are dwindling and, at a meeting last year, a vote was conducted among the members to decide whether it should continue.
It was decided, by a majority of one vote, that the association should remain active.
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher, who attended the association’s recent annual meeting, said the slim majority of the vote concerned him, as did the future of the hall’s contents.
He believed some of the members felt they should move on, but were reluctant to because they felt an obligation to the association.
“My concern was what would happen to all of those things if they were to fold.”He said a proposal had been made to the association which would lead to the guardianship of the portraits and memorabilia being assumed by the North Otago Museum and Forrester Gallery.
That would ensure they were well cared for and displayed for the public to enjoy, Mr Kircher said.
While the hall is used by several community groups, it is not open to the public. The council uses the building for emergency services training.
The proposal also floated the idea of the hall being leased out.
North Otago Early Settlers Association president Helen Stead supported the proposal and said the future of the portraits and memorabilia if the association folded was a concern for her, as was the future direction of the association and how the hall would be used.
“We do believe it’s an excellent move to find a home that ensures the portraits are safe and that they’re made available for the public to see.
“In those 156 portraits, I would guess there is just on 500 different people photographed; some individuals, some couples and some families.”She is working on establishing a “research project” so that information on the people in the hall’s portraits can be provided to people who view them, both online and at the site.
However, there was no timeframe as to when the hall’s contents may be moved.
“Great minds have come up with a solution. We don’t know exactly when or where they will go. There are a number of options … we’re very enthusiastic about making memorabilia more publicly available.”She said discussions with other heritage groups had also taken place.
Members of the public with photographs they would like to donate can contact Helen Stead on 434-1173.

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