She tells Rebecca Fox about her decision to move south.
Catherine Hammond spent hours immersing herself in the life of 19th-century painter Frances Hodgkins – now she can walk in her shoes.
One of Dunedin’s favorite daughters, Hodgkins was born in the city and began her painting career here before becoming one of the leaders of the English avant-garde movement.
Her time in Europe is the subject of an extensive book Frances Hodgkins: European Travels co-edited by Hammond and Mary Kisler in 2019, which accompanied a traveling exhibition and went international.
However, Hammond has never spent any significant time in Hodgkin’s hometown until now – with her appointment as the University of Otago’s Hocken Collection Librarian.
“Now I can follow in their footsteps. I walked down the street where she was born, the house is no longer there but you get a sense of the grand houses of the time.”
Hammond’s move south from Auckland marks her first time living in the South Island. She grew up in East Tamaki and studied Art History at the University of Auckland before completing her library studies in Wellington.
Having lived in Auckland for the past 20 years, her only experience of the south is on the family’s popular vacations in Central Otago and Queenstown.
“It is so beautiful. There is a real sense of excitement about moving to this part of the country.”
Being able to settle in a new city is part of the appeal of the new job, she says. With professional advancement, of course, working in one of the best research libraries in the country with a university affiliation and being responsible for a larger team.
“There is a sense of adventure not having lived in Te Waiponamu [South Island]. As one of the country’s leading research libraries, Hocken has an enormous cultural heritage profile.”
Hammond was Head of Documentary Heritage at Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira and was previously Head of Research Library at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki.
“They’re quite similar collections there, a mixture of archives, libraries, artworks; really living collections. I love working with these collections.”
Having spent 18 years at the Auckland Art Gallery, she has always been familiar with Hocken’s art collections.
“That’s a big win too.”
She was also secretary to the Colin McCahon Research & Publication Trust, which represents another artist with strong ties to Dunedin.
“There are significant holdings of his work here and Colin’s and Anne’s papers are also kept here – there are many friends in these collections for me.”
In her new role at Squat, Hammond wants to build on the work she has done at the War Memorial Museum to improve its connections with the community.
“I’d like to see that squatting here.”
Although the collection had a strong national profile, there was plenty of potential to strengthen this connection with its local community.
“It’s at this stage that I’m learning and getting a feel for who is using us, what our audience is and what our programs are.”
The extensive nature of Hocken’s collections means that there is much to learn and in many ways she is starting from scratch.
“It’s a great privilege and a lot of fun. You meet old friends and meet new ones.”
She knows that when a new leader joins an organization, there is always an anticipation of change.
“It’s really important to be relevant, like how squatting can be relevant to academics and students at the university and the wider community, so we’re developing programs to make that happen.
“I love meeting new people.”
She has carried out a major digital project around cataloging the Frances Hodgkins collection and knows that institutions can do a lot in the digital space.
“I think we can make the collections accessible to people online. Covid showed us that the digital space has become very important for researchers. We have a wonderful personal service, but I think there’s a lot we can do online. That will definitely be a focus for me.”
Hammond also brought with him a project – a joint project with the Memorial Museum and the Turnball Library to display the very first early photographs of New Zealand. She is also publishing a book about the exhibition.
“This is going to be a really nice project to get into the collections here and really get to know them.”
While Hammond took a few sideways steps over the years while she was working for New Zealand Tourism in Los Angeles and pursuing a law degree, she always found her way back to library and collections work.
“I love this world and exhibitions and publishing is another love of mine – how you can share a collection with people in all the different ways and bring them to life.”
But she also discovered her love of leading people when she got her first opportunity at the memorial museum.
“I’ve discovered that I love helping other people achieve things. It’s very satisfying.”
So your new job ticks all the boxes. Once her family joins her, everything will be complete. She has a son who is graduating from secondary school in Auckland this year, but Hammond hopes they will be settled by the end of the year.