Drawn to Dunedin

New Hocken Collections librarian Catherine Hammond learns more about the Dunedin Sound in the ...
New Hocken Collections librarian Catherine Hammond learns more about the Dunedin Sound in the "Kaleidoscope World: 40 Years of Flying Nun" exhibition on in the Hocken Gallery, on until September 22. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Settling in to her new job as head of Dunedin’s Hocken Collections, Catherine Hammond is also discovering Dunedin.

She tells Rebecca Fox about her decision to move south.

Catherine Hammond has spent hours immersing herself in 19th-century painter Frances Hodgkins’ life — now she gets to walk in her shoes.

Hodgkins is one of Dunedin’s favourite daughters, having been born in the city and starting her painting career here, before going on to become one of the leaders of the English avant-garde movement.

Her time in Europe is the subject of an extensive book Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys co-edited by Hammond and Mary Kisler in 2019 which accompanied a touring exhibition and went international.

However, Hammond has never spent any significant amount of time in Hodgkins’ home city until now — with her appointment as the University of Otago’s Hocken Collection Librarian.

"Now I get to follow her footsteps. I’ve wandered along the street where she was born, the house is no longer there, but you can get the sense of the grand houses of the day."

Hammond’s move south from Auckland is the first time she has lived in the South Island. She grew up in East Tamaki and studied art history at the University of Auckland before doing her library studies in Wellington.

For the past 20 years she has lived in Auckland and her only experience of the South is the family’s much-loved holidays in Central Otago and Queenstown.

"It’s so beautiful. There is a real sense of excitement in moving to this part of the country."

The opportunity to settle in a new city is part of the attraction to the new job, she says. Along, of course, with career advancement, working in one of the top research libraries in the country with its university connections and having responsibility for a larger team.

"There’s a sense of adventure having not lived in Te Waiponamu [South Island]. Hocken has a huge profile in the cultural heritage sector as one of the foremost research libraries in the country."

Hammond was head of documentary heritage at Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira and was previously research library manager at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki.

"They’re quite similar collections there, a mix of archives, libraries, art works; really vibrant collections. I love working with those collections."

Having spent 18 years at Auckland Art Gallery, she has always known about the Hocken’s art collections.

"That’s a big drawcard too."

She has also been secretary for the Colin McCahon Research & Publication Trust which represents another artist who has strong connections with Dunedin.

"There are significant holdings of his work here and the papers of Colin and Anne are held here too — there are lots of friends in this collections for me."

One of the works by Frances Hodgkins (1869-1947) Friends, Double Portrait, 1922-1925, from the...
One of the works by Frances Hodgkins (1869-1947) Friends, Double Portrait, 1922-1925, from the Hocken Collections ( bequeathed by Charles Brasch) that appeared in the European Journey exhibition Hammond was involved in. PHOTO: HOCKEN COLLECTIONS
In her new role at the Hocken, Hammond wants to build on the work she did at the War Memorial Museum enhancing its connections with the community.

"I’d love to see us enhance it here at the Hocken."

While the collection had a strong national profile there was heaps of potential to strengthen that connection with its local community.

"At this stage I’m learning and getting the sense of who uses us, what our audiences are and what our programmes are."

The extensive nature of the Hocken’s collections means there is a lot to learn and she is starting from scratch in lots of ways.

"It’s a great privilege and a lot of fun. You meet some old friends and make some new ones."

She knows there is always an anticipation of change when a new leader starts at an organisation.

"Being relevant is really important, how the Hocken can be relevant to academics and students at the university and wider community so we develop programmes to make it happen.

"I love meeting new people."

Having undertaken a large digital project around cataloguing the Frances Hodgkins' collection, she knows there is a lot institutions can do in the digital space.

"I think we can make the collections come alive online for people. Covid has shown us the digital space has become very important for researchers. We have a wonderful in-person service but I think there is lots we can do online. That will certainly be a focus for me."

Hammond has also brought a project with her — a collaborative project with the memorial museum and Turnball Library on a show of the very first early photographs of New Zealand. She is also editing a book on the exhibition.

"That will be a really nice project to get my teeth into the collections here and really learn them."

While Hammond took a few steps sideways over the years working for New Zealand Tourism in Los Angeles and doing a law degree, she always found her way back to library and collection work.

"I love that world and exhibitions and publishing are another love of mine — how you can share a collection with people in all the different ways and bring them alive."

But she also discovered a love of managing people when she was given her first opportunity at the memorial museum.

"I discovered I loved helping other people achieve. It’s very satisfying."

So her new job ticks all the boxes. Once her family joins her, all will be complete. She has a son finishing secondary school in Auckland this year, but Hammond hopes they will be settled in by the end of the year.

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