New visitor attraction planned for Christchurch's Cultural Precinct

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Ravenscar House, Artists impression, September 2015Canterbury Museum and the Ravenscar Trust today unveiled plans for New Zealand’s first contemporary house museum to display the Trust’s collections of New Zealand arts, sculpture, designer furniture and classical antiquities.

Canterbury Museum will own the Ravenscar House Museum and operate it jointly with the Trust. Christchurch City Council, which owns the preferred site at 52 Rolleston Avenue, will consult the community on whether to gift the land to the Museum in perpetuity.

Jim and Dr Susan Wakefield, who co-chair the Ravenscar Trust, began collecting art in the early 1990s. Their Collections were previously housed in a Trust-owned residence in Scarborough which was extensively damaged in the earthquakes. The Trust will use a combination of its own funds and its earthquake insurance settlement with IAG to build the $13 million development.

Dr Susan Wakefield says that the couple had always envisaged that they would gift their Scarborough house and the Ravenscar Collections to the people of Christchurch, but the earthquakes forced a change of plan.

“We think the Rolleston Avenue site is the best available in central Christchurch for our house museum concept. The design, by award-winning architect Andrew Patterson, together with the scale and landscaping of the building are sympathetic to the surrounding two and three-storey heritage buildings,” says Dr Wakefield.

Museum Director, Anthony Wright says that the Wakefields’ extraordinary generosity will create a development of national significance which will enrich the cultural life of the city and complement other visitor attractions in the Cultural Precinct.

“This is a tremendously exciting new development for Canterbury Museum. We have a strong design theme in our collections and programming, and we’ll benefit from having a purpose-built facility in which to exhibit and promote these in the future. The new building will also enhance and complement any future development of parts of the Museum’s current site,” he says.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel says she is thrilled by the generosity of the Ravenscar Trust. “It really is a very special gesture. The Wakefields lost their home in the earthquakes and are opting to replace it in a way that will be of enormous benefit to the city. The Council will make a final decision on gifting the land, currently used as a car park, once we have received feedback from residents and other interested parties.”

The Ravenscar Collections of about 300 paintings and objects are regarded as one of the country’s most important private collections. They feature significant paintings by leading artists such as Frances Hodgkins, Rita Angus and Colin McCahon.

The Trust will retain ownership of the Ravenscar Collections. The house museum will be largely self-financing through ticketed entry, car parking revenue and other income. The Museum will support the operation of the house museum from its existing staff and resources. It is expected to create nine new jobs.

Public consultation on the Council’s proposal to gift the land to Canterbury Museum runs from Thursday, 17 September until midday Monday, 19 October 2015. The Trust’s decision to proceed with the house museum is subject to the outcome of the consultation, obtaining resource consent and confirmation of project costs. Construction is expected to start in 2016 with the building opening to the public in 2018.

House Museums
There are a number of nineteenth and twentieth century examples of house museums in New Zealand including Olveston, Dunedin and Highwic and Alberton in Auckland.
Ravenscar House will be New Zealand’s first contemporary house museum. It will stand alongside international exemplars such as Peggy Guggenheim Museum, Venice; Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge; the Dali Castle, Spain and the Musee Marmottan-Monet, Paris.
The Ravenscar Trust

This registered charitable trust was set up in 1999 by Jim and Dr Susan Wakefield and has assets of $18 million. Over the past 15 years it has donated $895,000 to charitable organisations and initiatives such as the Christchurch Art Gallery, the Canterbury Charity Hospital, Isaac Theatre Royal, Nurse Maude, the Local Heroes project at The Arts Centre and educational scholarships.

Ravenscar House
  • The House Museum will display the Ravenscar Collections, about 300 paintings and objects collected by Jim and Dr Susan Wakefield since the early 1990s.
  • Collections will be displayed in the domestic setting of a grand residence in a sequence of rooms traversing periods from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day.
  • The House Museum will have space for temporary exhibitions and functions, a reading room, shop and accommodation which could, in the future, be used for curators/experts ‘in residence’.
  • The development will have about 80 surface and underground car parks, about the same as on the site which is currently occupied by Council-operated car parking.
Design Concept

Architect, Andrew Patterson, says: “The new Ravenscar House is based on the old Ravenscar Main House (at Scarborough), as we imagine it would have been laid out on such a different site. We have re-arranged the spaces to form a loose oval shape around a quiet central courtyard. Most windows look into the courtyard, for privacy and to reduce the traffic noise.

“The cladding is stone and concrete as before but the stone is an amalgam of the rubble of Christchurch: small pieces of brick and stone and Port Hills rock fused together, ground and polished and coated to give the whole facade a faint lustre.

“It’s designed to be in synergy with the heritage precinct around it.”

Andrew Patterson is an internationally-recognised architect with an acclaimed 20-year portfolio of buildings. They range from intimate residential projects to large-scale infrastructure, urban housing, public, commercial and tourism developments and the recently opened Christchurch Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre.

Operation of Ravenscar House 
  • Canterbury Museum Trust Board has approved in principle an agreement with the Trust conditional on the Council gifting the site to the Museum.
  • The Trust will lease the land during construction of the house museum. Ownership of the land and the building will pass to the Museum on completion.
  • Nine jobs will be created (General Manager, Librarian/Secretary and reception and security staff).
The Ravenscar Collections

In an independent appraisal of the paintings collection Ben Plumbly of Auckland auctioneers and dealers, Art+Object, says that: “Taken as a whole the Ravenscar Collection is far greater than the sum of its parts and is, without question, one of the most important private collections of New Zealand art featuring many of the country’s most significant and treasured paintings by our leading artists.”

McCahon Taylors MistakeColin McCahon's 1948 painting of Taylor's Mistake.
Frances Hodgkins, Still Life Self PortraitFrances Hodgkins, Still Life Self Portrait.

The Ravenscar paintings collection includes works with a Canterbury emphasis including a 1948 Colin McCahon of Taylor’s Mistake and Rita Angus’s Cass, 10 works by Frances Hodgkins, portraits by Charles Frederick Goldie and Gottfried Lindauer, and paintings by female modernists including Gretchen Albrecht, Lois White and Evelyn Page.

Other objects in the Collections include French bronzes, New Zealand sculpture by Paul Dibble, Terry Stringer, Jeff Thompson and Graeme Bennett and art glass, ceramics and furniture by New Zealand and overseas artists. Antiquities include a strong collection of Roman domestic tools and equipment.