There has been a great deal of interest in our new exhibition Meet You at The Radiant Hall which looks back at the fun and activities staged at this venue.
As expected, those people who attended balls, dances, concerts, and even a boxing match, have been most excited and many have told us stories, which we are adding to our files.
However, something we didn’t expect was the popularity of our activities area.
Apart from designing and installing the actual exhibition, museum staff spend quite some time thinking about how we can connect the theme of the objects on exhibition, and their story, to the younger hands-on audience.
So this exhibition has featured peg people.
We have supplied our craft table with the humble (and old-fashioned) wooden clothes pegs, and lots of crafty stash – fabric, felt, pipe cleaners and shiny bits and pieces.
Youngsters are invited to create a peg person, either to take home as a souvenir, or add to what we hope will be a party of peg people dressed up in their finery.
Some of the creations are most ingenious from party frocks to pirates, mermaids and even a few super heroes.
We welcome the children and their caregivers and are always keen to see what they have made.
During the school holidays, and especially during such appalling weather, it is not surprising that we have had very good numbers and sometimes there is a sizable throng of people around the activity table.
What has surprised us is that children of all ages seem to be undertaking this activity as something completely new and different.
Not so long ago, every mother or grandmother would have an impressive collection of things to occupy children during school holidays, especially when playing outside wasn’t an option.
Scrapbooking was popular and the Ashburton Museum has a number of scrapbooks which feature ‘scraps’ – little designs made specially for scrap books (obviously) or pages cut out from magazines.
My mother had two of the royal family, which she decorated with little drawings. Not only did it keep her busy when her cousin caught scarlet fever; going through the scrapbook entertained her as well.
Everyday objects, such as pegs, were often revamped.
This was a perfect activity, as not only would the child be kept busy designing the item, but the finished object became a play thing.
I can recall my aunt keeping old or odd socks and with wool, pipe cleaners, buttons, and other found objects, my cousin and I would transform them into puppets and then perform ad hoc plays for the family.
It was quite an occasion with my ‘arty’ cousin making tickets and me singing at intermission! My aunt, no doubt grateful we kept out of mischief for a day, provided a splendid afternoon tea.
Such basic crafts were an important part of children’s education. It taught ideas such as colour identification and developed manual dexterity. It required children to use their imagination, and increase their communication and social skills.
Not only was it fun and a chance to be creative. Such activities were designed to entertain both boys and girls.
A peg could be a pretty party person or a gun. Fabric could make a doll’s dress or a pirate’s patch.
There was no expectation that the item would be retained (although of course some were) but there was a freedom knowing that the saved resource wasn’t expensive or important, so after it had been used, it could be thrown out.
Just rummaging through the latest pile of ‘found’ objects had so much excitement and potential. I’m sure mothers had just as much fun sourcing the materials, and seeing them used.
Sometimes we imagine that the children of today have very high expectations and are hard to entertain.
After seeing the intense faces of children and their caregivers, and the time spent searching through the materials we have on offer, it obviously isn’t true.
They may have PlayStations and iPods at home, but deep down they have the same creative streak as we did when we were little.
A few times I have overheard children ask if they can make more things when they go home.
Perhaps we have ignited a spark with our activities.
It may be something they hadn’t experienced before, or maybe children appreciate the time they can spend with their grandparent or friend on a shared project?
We are not really sure why peg people are catching on, but it is rewarding to see so many real people relishing the activity.
We do hope that people continue to visit the exhibition and relive the fun of The Radiant.
We also invite you to view the collection of Radiant Peg Party People.
The craft table is open to anyone, so boys or girls, young and not-so-young, are always welcome to fossick through our stash and create something new.
– By Kathleen Stringer