For National Museum of Australia curator, Dr Sophie Jensen, the Museum’s $15 million acquisition of the world-renowned Trevor Kennedy Collection is a highlight of her decorated career.
Comprising a menagerie of taxidermised native birds, sparkling jewels, mass-produced Western Australian ceramics, 19th century handmade furniture, other curious items and priceless artefacts, the eclectic collection of Australiana was previously housed and displayed privately in Kennedy’s office on Sydney’s Kent Street.
“Anyone who was lucky enough to go to Trevor’s museum will never forget it,” Jensen said.
“It was a private office, but it was all out on display … You open the door and every single room was overflowing with objects.”
Jensen played a pivotal role in the years of negotiation it took to acquire the collection and described the entire process as “a curator’s dream”.
“It feels remarkable to have come to this point,” she said, “it’s been a tremendously long process.”
Bringing the 5,000-item collection down into the Museum’s stores from their previous location in Sydney took a month alone.
A further six months were then spent by Jensen and her team preparing and curating the 500 items displayed in the newly opened Trevor Kennedy Collection: Highlights exhibition.
“It feels as though it’s a big moment in the Museum’s history, and a huge moment in the development of our collection.”
Jensen said the exhibition was “really difficult” to curate, as the Museum wanted to do it “as quickly as we could” to imbue their own excitement to the public.
“We have tried to give people, in this exhibition, a flavour of the character of Trevor’s collecting style, and the unique nature of a collection of this scale and diversity,” she said.
incorporating a purchase by the Museum of over $8 million and a donation by Mr Kennedy valued at some $7 million, the exhibition is a showcase of the Museum’s largest ever acquisition that was officially announced in September 2020 after a decade of negotiations.
“There are pieces in here that are unlike anything people will have seen before, and it’s remarkable that so many of them have been in private hands for so long and now they belong to all of us.”
This is the first time Australiana objects from the Trevor Kennedy Collection have been available for public viewing.
“The injection of this amount of material into the national historical collection represents for us not just in its own right, but a collection that we can draw on for exhibitions and programs on any number of themes and ideas into the future,” Jensen said.
At the exhibition launch, Kennedy said it was fitting his collection has found a home in Canberra given his 58-year longstanding connection to the city, having come here from his hometown of Albany, Western Australia “when the lake was not half full”.
“The combination of growing up in a town where history was its main objective and interest, to a place like Canberra which was making history,” he said.
“I can remember walking down to Parliament House one day … and getting a friendly smile from Bob Menzies.
“History was constantly being made here.”
An active program of research will now begin into the Collection, getting it online so it can be enjoyed by all.
The 500 objects within the exhibition have already been digitised, and over the coming weeks will be made available online.
From there, the entire collection will be digitised and made available online too, while a series of further exhibitions, publications and programs on the collection is being devised.
Trevor Kennedy Collection: Highlights is on display at the National Museum of Australia until 10 October 2021; click here for more.
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