Museum - second
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This was the second Museum Building to be constructed after the one designed by FARROW & STOCKS in 1930 could no longer accommodate the collections.
Twelve sculpted concrete owls form an integral part of the first floor windows surrounds and form a pleasing counterpoint to the large square sculpted concrete relief panels of a lizard, a scarab beetle, a seahorse, a scorpion and a locust. The originals of these architectural sculptures were modeled by Willem de Sanderes HENDRIKZ who was a lecturer in Fine Art at the University of the Witwatersrand and later a full time sculptor.
[William MARTINSON. May 2010]
A transcription of a contemporary newspaper article published after the stone laying ceremony:
HOW NEW E.L. MUSEUM WILL LOOK
Foundation Stone to be Laid Today
On July 19, 1921, the first meeting of the Museum Society was held. Today 28 years later, the foundation stone of a new Museum (artist’s impression above) will be laid at the upper end of Oxford Street by Mr G G Smith, chairman of the Museum Board.
Much water has flowed under the bridge since that first meeting in 1921 and only one of the original members of the Society still plays an important part in its affairs. Mr B H Dodd, who was the first vice-president of the Society, today serves on the Museum Board. Dr George Rattray was the first president and laid the foundation stone of the present Museum in 1931.
After 18 years the present Museum has reached the stage where it is imperative that it should have further educational facilities. The provincial government sanctioned the application of the new Museum because it realized this, and also that the Technical College has applied for the present Museum building for a new arts department. Therefore, the East London City Council gave the new Museum site to the Board to assist education as a whole.
TEN TIMES LARGER
When the new Museum is completed, it will be ten times larger than the present building and will include the much sought after lecture room. Costs have been cut to a minimum and the Museum staff have made all the models and done all the mounting for the new lay-out.
East subject will have its own hall and colour scheme and the settings will be as natural as possible. Every gallery and hall will be equipped with huge panoramic cases with a background painted and natural grass and models in their native habitat. It is hoped that the Museum will have a guide-lecturer to organise tours and talks for school children in classes and the public in general.
Perhaps one of the chief features of the new Museum will be the ethnological hall. This hall will be arranged as a Transkei scene. Native (sic) huts, models of sheep, goats and fowls, a Native (sic) woman grinding corn and the local tribal dress will be displayed on figures and heads. As much information as possible has been collected about each tribe.
Another hall of interest will be of East London’s historical background. Here the visitors will walk into a 19th century lounge and will be surrounded by the treasures of the British and German settlers – the founders of East London. Other halls are set aside for archaeology, geology, marine life, reptiles, mammals and birds.
Caption to photograph accompanying the article:
Yesterday afternoon Mr G G Smith, chairman of the Museum Board of Trustees, laid the foundation stones of the new East London Museum building. As can be seen from the photograph on the left, there are two stones, one inscribed in English and the other in Afrikaans. Under the stones were placed, in jars, the issue of the Daily Dispatch and coins of the date when the stone was laid for the existing Museum in 1931 by Dr George Rattray. Yesterday’s issue of the Daily Dispatch with coins of the realm, were also placed under the stone (right). Mr Smith after declaring the stones “well and truly laid,” thanked the Mayor and Councilors most sincerely for the gift of the site on which the new Museum is being built and the Provincial Government for allowing the Board to raise a loan to defray the cost of the building.
Ref: Daily Dispatch, East London. Wednesday 20 July 1949.
A transcription of a contemporary newspaper article published after the official opening ceremony for the new Museum building, held in November 1950:
ADMINISTRATOR OPENS NEW MUSEUM
Powerful Force for Education and International Understanding
Museums were powerful forces for the good of mankind and the peace of the world, said the Administrator of the Cape, Mr J G Carinus, when he officially opened East London’s new Museum at a ceremony in front of the Museum's main entrance yesterday afternoon. By showing the extent to which scientific knowledge developed by contributions from world-wide sources, independent of national boundaries, museums should help to bring about better international feeling and co-operative action, he said.
Mr Carinus formally opened the main door of the Museum after being presented with an inscribed key by Mr R (sic) SMALE, representing the firm of architects.
The Administrator said comparatively recently there had been a complete reversal of design and scope of museums in relation to the original concept of a store-house closely packed with specimens of stuffed animals, various national and foreign antiques and curiosities, with a few mineral and other geological specimens thrown in for good measure. Today, the importance of specimens, as such, had receded into the background and the educational functions, for both children and adults, now tended to predominate. The most famous use of the word "museum" in antiquity was as the title of the Museum of Alexandria, founded by Alexander the Great, not as a museum as it was known today, but as a great library and home for scholars and used for the purpose of study. The modern trend in some ways seemed to be to turn the museum again into a place of visual study.
The haphazard accumulations of earlier museums had been systemised during the last century and museums had acquired a recognized place in the national life. In the present century, when everything possible was streamlined, from trains to business methods, attempts were being made to streamline museums as well. This was particularly the case in the United States of America, where the growth of museums had been remarkable and the institutions there illustrated the modern development of museum theory to the full.
It was interesting to note that in America only a few were national and State museums. The large majority, more than 1,000, were municipal museums supported partly by municipal funds, but still by private subscriptions and bequests. The collection of these funds by organized propaganda was an important part of the administrative activities of the museums. The American museums did not originate from the collections of princes or nobles. They were in the main deliberately created as part of the educational system of that country.
"This brings me again to one of the most valuable aspects of a museum, namely, that of education," said the Administrator. "As you can expect, this interests me greatly, for the Provincial Administration is charged with the education of the youth of our country, and any institution helping in that direction is encouraged in its activities, as far as provincial funds permit, of course. As you are aware, the Province pays half the interest and redemption on the loans raised for the construction of your building and also pays an annual grant, recently increased to £2,000, towards the museum."
"We should constantly bear in mind that a museum is no longer regarded as a collection of curiosities, but is an institution for research and popular education. Its duties are to the general public, the student and school child. Here again it is visual education which plays such an important part. Witness the remarkably lifelike tableau setting of cases specially designed, arranged, lighted and displayed to represent a slice of natural conditions."
"In the United States, museums are being used to a considerable extent for visual education in the public schools and colleges," he said. The American Museum of National History in New York, for example, deals with more than 1,000,000 school children in New York city by means of exhibition room talks, lectures in museum classrooms and so forth. The Illinois Museum in the United States has a museumobile, that is, a motor caravan with various museum specimens neatly and interestingly set out, for taking to the country areas."
Mr Carinus quoted from the report of the 1950 Commission of Inquiry regarding certain state and provincial aided institutions in South Africa. This report said the exhibited collections in museums and art galleries were designed for the recreation and, more important, for the education of the visiting public, both juvenile and adult. Ideally, there should be the closest possible integration between the educational activities of school, technical college, university and voluntary organization with those of the museum and art gallery, an integration that was only possible when those responsible for displays in the latter were cognizant of the needs of the teacher and pupil. South African museums lagged behind those of some overseas countries in this respect.
A museum benefited the public in three main ways, said Mr Carinus. Firstly, it gratified the human being’s natural curiosity and this in turn increases knowledge. It makes men more aware of the world in which they live, of its position in time and space, the materials of which the earth is composed, the creatures that live on it, including, of course, man and his many activities in peace and war, both constructive and destructive. Secondly, it placed before him the beautiful products of nature and of art, hence developing an appreciation of that which is beautiful. Thirdly, it is provided refreshing recreation and intellectual and aesthetic enjoyment.
"That is of course, or should be, the ideal aimed at, but unfortunately it is not always attainable, not because the material is not there, but because the need is suitable and adequate accommodation, and to meet that requires money. However, we should not be discouraged. All advancement of what ever kind is comparatively slow. Wonderful progress, as we know, has been made by the museums overseas, but South Africa, although it has not the great riches of some of these countries, need not despair. In fact, a young country like South Africa has an advantage in many ways over the older countries in that we can or should learn from their mistakes and plan our new museums and those in the future on the right lines."
Mr Carinus said the general and almost world-wide movement to make museums of greater service and interest to the public, was having a profound effect upon museum development. It had materially assisted to growth of educational work at all levels of culture and for all ages in countries spread throughout the world. “It is refreshing to see that the guardians of the materials of learning in the arts, in culture and in the sciences stored in the world’s museums, are no longer confining their specialized knowledge to restricted elite only, but also initiating a larger public into understanding and enjoying those special fields of knowledge," he said. "This means an active movement towards museums becoming part of the general system of education and bringing to the many in the democratic world the fruits of culture and knowledge. Ultimately, this should surely lead to a broader and truly international understanding as opposed to a narrow circumscribed viewpoint. Museums that reflected development in a country of many races, such as South Africa, where all had contributed their quota, must make for mutual appreciation and tolerance," Mr Carinus added.
The Administrator said he was sure East London's new museum, together with the other museums of South Africa, would contribute its fair share to the knowledge of South Africa and of other nations, and therefore through the years that lay ahead add its quota towards the building of a happier world.
The Administrator, who was accompanied by his private secretary, Mr J.A. Grobbelaar, was welcomed by Mr G G Smith, chairman of the Museum Board of Trustees. The Mayor, Councillor E.H. Tiddy, congratulated Mr Smith and his Board on the opening of the new Museum.
At the conclusion of the Administrator's address Mr G H Randell, M.P.C., thanked Mr Carinus and the Mayoress, Mrs E H Tiddy, presented a bouquet to Miss M. Courtenay-Latimer, Director of the Museum.
Among the guests was Miss Jessamy Sprigg, daughter of the late Sir Gordon Sprigg.
Ref: Daily Dispatch, East London. 01 December 1950.
[Both articles submitted by William MARTINSON, August 2011]