Many of the historic wooden display cabinets from the Macleay Museum are being relocated for use in the new Chau Chak Wing Museum, including in the galleries, education rooms, boardroom and offices. The cabinets pictured above are made of solid Australian red cedar (Toona ciliata), except for the top of the cornice, which is made of California redwood, a cheaper wood. They were made in March 1890 by what appears to be a government cabinet shop; each is stamped with an image of a crown, and the letters VR MAR 1890 (ie, Victoria Regina March 1890).
The Macleay Building has seen many changes since it opened to the public in 1890. When two concrete floors were inserted in 1918, the Macleay Collections were moved to the top floor, along with the cabinets. Most visitors to the Macleay will remember the cabinets from their use to show exhibits. They were also used for the storage of collections not on display. More than 20,000 objects were housed; small labels and a variety of curatorial numbering processes remain, detailing the variety of collections.
When installed in the new museum, the cabinets will once again fulfil their role as fine, purpose-built exhibition furniture for a new generation of visitors.
The contents are now being rehoused ahead of the move into the Chau Chak Wing Museum, and are as varied as the Macleay collections themselves – mounted birds, crustaceans, corals, fossils, scientific equipment and more. These items will be stored elsewhere in the new museum, as the Macleay cabinets will no longer be used for storage.
As each cabinet is emptied, it is also being restored. Layers of paint from a century of exhibitions are being stripped back. Some cabinets will be refurbished as shelves to house historic book and resource collections. The cabinets being used for public display will be transformed internally, with LED lighting systems installed and exciting new display designs. Antique specialists and cabinetmakers Ian Thompson and Francis Boutry have helped prepare the cabinets for the move.
Too large to be moved as a single unit, each cabinet was designed to be dismantled. Screws, rather than glue, were used in the construction; even in the beading holding in the glass. Ian estimates each cabinet contains around 450 screws. Even disassembled, the cabinet components are very large. To move the long sections, a pane of glass from the stairwell leading to the gallery in the Macleay Building had to be removed. When installed in the new museum, the cabinets will once again fulfil their role as fine, purpose-built exhibition furniture for a new generation of visitors.
Written by Chris Jones, Collections Manager, Documentation
This article originally appeared in Issue 25 of Muse Magazine.