Paradise Lost

Russell Museum, and one of its temporary exhibits in particular, were big hits with Swedish Ambassador to New Zealand, Pär Ahlberger, who made a special trip to Te Whare Taonga O Kororāreka, earlier this week. He was there to promote Russell Museum’s next big exhibition, Paradise Lost, Daniel Solander’s Legacy, which will be one of the most prestigious exhibitions the museum has ever hosted. The exhibition pays tribute to the life of the famous Swedish botanist Daniel Solander  (1733-1782) who was on The Endeavour with James Cook when it called at the Bay of Islands 250 years ago. It opens April 6th and is sponsored by the Swedish Embassy.

Ten artists were specially selected for the exhibition, they were asked to flesh out the character, attributes and many talents of Daniel Solander: his scientific credentials in botany, his cross cultural awareness and his enthusiasm for the preservation of the unique species of the natural world. Artists include Michael Tuffery, well known to many Russell people, Jenna Packer, John Pusateri and Alexis Neal.

When the ambassador found he was unable to make the official Russell opening he arranged to make a special trip to the museum, to show his support for it and the exhibition. While at the museum, and visiting the current exhibition Tuia Toi Whakaata, The Māori Printmakers Collective, he was drawn to a piece by Vanessa Wairata Edwards of ?????. It’s a delicate and beautifully realised series of prints featuring New Zealand flora and fauna, with pest species superimposed on top of them. It is called The Solander Box, and also invokes the concept of Paradise Lost.

While Ms Edwards’ Solander Box refers to the destruction of our native species by introduced predators, the original box was invented by Solander to preserve the unique plant species he was collecting in Aotearoa in 1769. Such boxes are still used by scientists today. The reference to Milton’s famous epic poem is because Solander tore pages from the book to press the leaves and flowers he had gathered.

So impressed was the ambassador by this work that he has asked if it can be included in the Daniel Solander’s Legacy exhibition which opens at the Solander Gallery in Wellington on Saturday. The show will then transfer to Russell Museum, April 6th, before going on tour around New Zealand and then leaving for Australia and Sweden.

But an impressive piece of art relating to a famous countryman, was not the only pleasant surprise Russell Museum had in store for Ambassador Ahlberger. A couple of days later he was taken out on to the Bay by Katarina and Stefan Jung and their son Vidar. The family made the big move from Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, to Russell two years ago and they now run a very successful fishing tackle shop and charter boat business, Screaming Reels. Museum Curator Kate Martin, was also on board and took the party to several of the areas where Solander and The Endeavour had visited a quarter of a century ago, relating the stories of each area visited.

Daniel Solander can lay claim not only to being one of the foremost botanists of his day, he was keenly interested in other cultures and formed a strong bond with another famous non-Brit on The Endeavour. Tupaia, the Tahitian High Priest and Master-Navigator was translator and mediator for the two peoples in their first meetings, plus the link back to Polynesia for tangata whenua. His role was crucial in those first contacts.

The pieces that make up The Māori Printmakers Collective show Tuia Toi Whakaata, now on at Russell Museum reference both Tupaia and Solander, the exhibition runs until March 24th.

Paradise Lost, Daniel Solander’s Legacy, opens in Russell April 6th and will be opened by the Swedish Deputy Head of Mission, Henrik Grudemo.