A fashion-focused celebration

Hand-printed programmes, by Elizabeth Begg and Joan Wilson, for a reception at Otago Museum...
Hand-printed programmes, by Elizabeth Begg and Joan Wilson, for a reception at Otago Museum marking the centenary of the arrival of European settlers from the John Wickliffe at (Koputai) Port Chalmers on Mach 23, 1948. Photo: Supplied
In 1948, Otago celebrated its provincial centenary with great style.

A historical re-enactment brought to life the arrival of settlers from the John Wickliffe at Koputai (Port Chalmers) on March 23, 1848. Sixty-four floats formed a "cavalcade of progress"; centennial postage stamps were issued; an aero pageant, flower show and fireworks display were held. The emphasis was on the structural and economic changes that the arrival of Pakeha had effected.

At the Otago Museum, one highlight was a reception for Governor-General Sir Bernard Freyberg and his wife, with about 500 invited guests. The focus was a costume parade held in the museum's Willi Fels Wing. Models descended the grand staircase at the Great King St end of the gallery, to a stage decorated with masses of hydrangeas.

The models wore fashion from four periods: the development of fashion before hooped crinolines, the crinoline era, the bustle era and Edwardian costume. Music was provided by Ida White, a member of the Society of Women Musicians, and Ritchie Hanna.

An Otago Daily Times report by "the Lady Editor" noted that the "frocks modelled were of interest, not only for their exquisite needlework, material and cut, but also for the mental picture they evoked of bygone times". She observed that Lady Freyberg herself wore "a lovely gown of mauve corded tinsel tissue with a matching coatee trimmed with sequins".

It was an interesting moment to be looking back at fashion. Christian Dior's New Look had featured on the cover of Vogue that year and was about to change the silhouette of women's dress.

Two members of the museum's exhibition staff - Elizabeth Begg and Joan Wilson - hand printed and painted programmes of the event to present to Sir Bernard and Lady Freyberg. Elizabeth Begg's name is not so well known now, but in the late 1930s she had shared a studio in Dunedin with Doris Lusk and Anne Hamblett.

She and Joan Wilson also made a personalised copy of the programme for the museum's director, HD Skinner, and his wife, Eva, which the Skinner family has recently donated to the museum.

- Moira White is curator humanities at Otago Museum


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