Desire to see Minerva on display again

Southland and Museum Art Gallery manager Wayne Marriott is looking forward to having Minerva on...
Southland and Museum Art Gallery manager Wayne Marriott is looking forward to having Minerva on display again. PHOTO: LUISA GIRAO
Under the pyramid building roof and among boxes and containers of art pieces, one of Invercargill’s oldest public sculptures lies waiting to be displayed again.

The statue of Minerva used to guard the entrance to the Southland Museum & Art Gallery (SMAG), but it has been in storage since the closure of the museum in 2016, when it was deemed an earthquake risk.

But SMAG manager Wayne Marriott said that did not mean the statue had not been well looked after.

In the past 12 months, with the support of the Invercargill City Council (ICC) and the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board, the statue had its old paint and active corrosion removed, holes repaired and was re-blasted, ready to be painted with a protective coating.

Mr Marriott said his team was researching Minerva’s original colour to finalise the restoration.

‘‘Records indicate a belief that Minerva was bronze, later to be found incorrect, which may indicate that a metallic leaf of some description was originally used.

The statue of Minerva was removed from the museum for repairs in 2018. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The statue of Minerva was removed from the museum for repairs in 2018. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
‘‘It is possible that this may have reacted to the changes in the environment while at sea — as Minerva would have been packed in a crate with straw — hence the possibility of a change in the metallic leaf colour.’’

When the restoration was completed, Mr Marriott would like to have the statue displayed in one of the windows of the closed museum until a decision on its future has been made.

He said Minerva was in storage, not for a lack of trying to get the statue rehomed.

The team tried to place it in the Invercargill Public Library, at council or at the temporary museum and art gallery, He Waka Tuia, for the 150th commemorations of the ICC.

‘‘However, she is a bit too tall. Also because of her weight, we have to drill her in the floor and leave a big space around, due to health and safety.

‘‘So she came back to the museum ... she has been a sleeping beauty. We absolutely want to exhibit her, but she may end up being exhibited once we open [the museum.].’’

Mr Marriott said the statue needed to be seen as ‘‘she has an amazing story’’.

Originally bought for the Invercargill Athenaeum in 1875 for £251 18s 8d ($36,500 in 2021 money), Minerva was shipped on Boldon, from London on November 10, 1875.

It arrived in Bluff, via Nelson in May 1876, and was unveiled on July 1, 1876.

Mr Marriott said members of Invercargill Athenaeum, the original library and museum at Wachner Pl, bought the sculpture because they wanted something ‘‘amazing’’ to be put on the top of the building.

Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom and strategic war (equivalent to the Greek goddess Athena). The statue is “symbolic of the patronage of learning and wisdom, and the fine arts’’.

‘‘This sculpture actually divided the entire organisation because there were some very traditional Scottish Presbyterians, who formed part of the Athenaeum, and they were a bit horrified that a heathen goddess would be over their place of learning.’’

A few years later, the ownership of Minerva was transferred to the city council and, during World War 2, the Government asked the local authorities to take down any heavy or balustrade places in the building, he said.

On October 31, 1940, the Baths and Library Committee recommended the statue of Minerva, housed in the library building, be demolished and sold as scrap metal.

‘‘Someone thought she was made of bronze, because she was so heavy. So what they were going to do was sell her for scrap metal to fund the war effort.

‘‘However, they discovered she was not made of bronze and she was only worth £4 [$401.11 converting to 2021 values]. ’’

As the council was then planning to open a new museum in the city, the statue was moved to the front of the building — where Mr Marriott would like to see it again soon.

‘‘I like the fact that here is this wonderful woman who is dominating the skyline of Invercargill from 1874 to the early 1940s and it is amazing to have this person, a young woman can really look up to.

‘‘I think this is really important and inspiring for our young woman of today to know there are no glass ceilings to break through, they’re going to keep breaking, and breaking, and breaking — because they can do anything they want to.’’

An ICC spokeswoman said the restoration projected cost was $14,398.56, against an original budget of $23,954.89.

A grant of $15,970 was received from the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board.

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