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Alison Duff: the essence of life

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Alison Duff was a major Aotearoa New Zealand sculptor with a career spanning over sixty years. She introduced new materials and techniques and combined them with a commitment to local subject matter including native flora and fauna, and conservation concerns. She was inspired by her surroundings, without any reference to what anyone else may have done in the same field or in similar media, wrote Peter Cape who interviewed Duff in 1969. “A tui is the sound of a chime as well as shape and movement, and so her tui sculptures have sound as well as form (a carefully tuned bell, or sounding disc at the throat).” Duff carved and welded images of fantails, pied stilts, tui and kingfisher in which she tried to capture the essence of the birds and these sculptures often included acoustic elements. When asked if she observed and then drew birds before creating her sculptures, Duff replied, “No, I’d get him into my heart and then he comes out. I don’t do them photographically…. They’re not natura…

Three Faces of Frank

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There can’t be too many Aotearoa NZ writers who have been immortalised in bronze three times – but Frank Sargeson has been. His three portrait busts were made by sculptors Terry Stringer, Anthony Stones and Alison Duff. They are being shown together for the first time in an exhibition called Three Faces of Frank, in the Angela Morton Room in Takapuna Library from 1 August – 31 October 2019.


Duff produced the first bust of Sargeson, commissioned by The Arts Advisory Council (forerunner of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council of NZ) in 1963. However, Sargeson took some persuading because he was annoyed that the Arts Council had turned down funding for a theatre production he was involved in. He finally agreed to sit for Duff, who was also a friend, and in the end he wrote that she had produced a torso which he was obliged to admire: “her work much more than myself.”


Duff depicted Sargeson in animated conversation, and in his shirtsleeves “because he is a writer of the people,” she said. …

Channelling negatives

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When I first came across this photograph from the Auckland Libraries heritage photograph collection I was mesmerised by the uniform yet complex and almost translucent pattern veiling the entire image. Shot from a landing above a stairwell, with a garden just visible through the large gridded window, the subject looks up resolutely towards the camera through what feels like a web of different physical and temporal spaces.


Auckland Libraries Principal Photographs Curator Keith Giles explained that this net-like pattern  - termed “channelling” - is caused by the contraction and deterioration of the cellulose layer in acetate film negatives. This degradation is usually the result of a process commonly known as vinegar syndrome (due to the strong vinegar-like odour) which occurs when the acetate ion reacts with moisture, signalling that ascetic acid has formed. While the issue is unavoidable with acetate film, preventative measures such as cool storage, acid free enclosures and stable rela…

Who was the mysterious Mrs Diamond?

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Jack Diamond is quite famous in the world of New Zealand history, especially West Auckland history. His extensive archive, gifted to Auckland Libraries, is inscribed onto the UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand documentary heritage register.

But few people know about his wife Melville who often accompanied him on explorations and site visits. She features in a number of his photos, lovingly portrayed and often as a useful element to give perspective to a scene.

We thought it would be polite to introduce her to you.
Married in the 1930s, Jack was already a passionate historian, out and about researching the historic places, industries and settlement of Auckland from the Manukau to the Kaipara. I wonder if Melville guessed what she was in for!
One of the earliest images in the Diamond archive which shows the Diamond children. John (junior) and Judith with their mum enjoying the warm water in a place now known as The Gap, at Piha.
Melville and children on what is clearly a warm summer…

Uncovering the Central City Library

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The Auckland Public library emerged in 1880, born out of the book stock of the Mechanics Institute and a substantial donation by Sir George Grey who made it a condition of his gift that a public library be established. The somewhat modest Institute however was not up to housing Grey’s extensive collection and in 1887 the present Art Gallery building was opened which until 1971 housed both the library and the gallery.

It is the present library building with which most people will be familiar and which serves as the focus of Research Central’s current display on level two of the Central City Library.


The current central library building was designed by Ewen Martin Wainscott as part of his long serving role as City Architect under the former Auckland City Council. Described as “short, thick-set with an unruly mop of silvery hair, a blunt rough-edged voice and a taste for surprisingly vivid bow ties”, Wainscott designed many well-known Auckland buildings including the Aotea Centre. His ex…

Eid Mubarak! Blessed Eid!

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During June in the Sir George Grey Special Collections Reading Room, there are two items from the Eastern Manuscript collections on display. EASTMS S294 and EASTMS S297 were selected to celebrate Eid al-Fitr or Eid, as it is commonly known. Meaning the "festival of breaking the fast", this joyous celebration is held over a three-day period and marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. The exact date of Eid varies each year depending on the rising of the Shawwāl or new crescent moon during the tenth month of the Islamic or lunar calendar. Each Islamic country has its own traditions and ways of celebrating Eid, but generally Muslim communities come together to pray, spend time with relatives and friends, visit graveyards to pay their respects to loved ones who have passed, give gifts and share food.



Both manuscripts were collected by bibliophile Henry Shaw (1850-1928) whose interests included items displaying fine calligraphy and illustration. Shaw’s collection contains …