Inside the Collection

Our curators are Ready for Ask a Curator Day 2016

#Ask A Curator Poster

Our curators have a huge job caring for our enormous and diverse collection of over 500,000 objects! Their areas of expertise are as diverse and interesting as the scope of the Museum’s collection. They are knowledgeable about fashion, health and medicine, architecture and the built environment, engineering, physical sciences, design and decorative arts, technologies and contemporary cultures.

Ask a Curator Day is dedicated to giving museum audiences direct access to the expertise of our curators in the form of a worldwide Q&A. We’re excited to be one of over 1,300 museums taking part this year across 49 countries. Below, meet our participating curators and learn about their specialisations and passions.

How to ask a question?

In 2016, Ask a Curator Day is on Wednesday, 14 September. Our curators will be available from 10am to 6pm (AEST) to answer your questions. Head over to Twitter and join in using the hashtag #askacurator. You can tweet questions to us @maasmuseum or post questions on this blog.

The curators for the day will be:

Alysha Buss

Studio portrait Alysha Buss, Assistant Curator

What is your specialty area?

At university I completed a Bachelor of Arts where I majored in Archaeology (Classical and Near Eastern) and Heritage Studies, and also studied Art History and Anthropology. I have recently graduated with a Master of Museum Studies. However, at the Powerhouse Museum, I am most familiar with the Bruno Benini photography archive, which I have been working with exclusively for over a year now! This archive contains photographic prints, negatives, transparencies, contact sheets, proof prints and newspaper clippings covering fashion, portraits, flowers and nudes, as well as biographical material, from the 1950s to 2001.

Favourite object in the collection?
There are too many – every time I open a box from the archive, I find another photograph to love! As I look through the boxes of prints and negatives, I am now recognising favourite models, locations, props and styles which Bruno Benini and his wife Hazel used over and over, and they almost feel like old friends.
However, my favourite object in the archive, for its sheer beauty and sophistication, is a photograph taken by Bruno in 1956 of Pauline Kiernan, about which I wrote a ‘photo of the day’ blog post. I first saw this in Parade: the story of fashion in Australia by Alexandra Joel (1998) when I was 14, and have loved it ever since. I didn’t remember it was by Bruno Benini, and so I was shocked when I saw the physical photograph in the transit room for the first time! Each element of the composition, such as the model’s graceful pose, the use of an elegant sofa as a prop, and the high contrast between the deep black background and the model’s luminous face and gown, all work together to create an incredibly glamorous image.

Matthew Connell

Matthew Connell with Thacher's Calculating machine

 What is your specialty area?

My speciality area started as computing and mathematics, but now extends into other areas of IT. It includes calculation and logic, and computing histories, robotics, human computer interaction, new media, gambling machines and digital records.

What is your favourite object in the collection?
My favourite object is the Tote Model built by George Julius between 1908 and 1912 as a prototype and demonstration for prospective customers of his automatic totalisator. It is a beautiful piece of complex machinery which led to the establishment of an Australian company (Automatic Totalisators Limited) that dominated the international tote industry for 67 years. I am also very fond of idea that Australia’s contribution to the history of computing stems as much from our gambling urges as to our military and scientific endeavours.

A recent exhibition I curated is Out of hand: materialisng the digital. 

What is your area of expertise? 


Nina Earl

Portrait, Nina Earl, Assistant Curator.

I’m still working on the answer to this! But I was hired because of my background in science and so know a bit about our science collection in particular new technology and renewable energy. But I am working soon on documenting and moving part of our ceramics collection so hopefully will be more enlightened in other areas.

 How did you become a curator?

I studied a Bachelor of Science and volunteered at the museum while completing an honours in Earth Science. I then worked in Canberra for a few years as a Water Conservation Officer which gave me the chance to talk to schools and the community about sustainability. I enjoyed talking so much about science I completed a Masters in Science Communication and found a job as a science presenter and educator for a few years. But when I saw the museum was hiring I applied, it was always a dream to work in a museum.

Favourite collection object?

That questions suggests I can pick only one. Every time I visit the collection stores I gain a new favourite item. Up there though would be the Enigma machine, our Penicillin mould samples from Howard Florey, an amazing black jasperware Wedgewood vase and the drawers of kimono.

Glynis Jones

Curators Portraits : Glynis Jones

What’s your area of expertise?

Fashion and dress.

How did you become a curator?

I completed a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Archaeology and Fine Arts and a postgraduate degree in Museum Studies. It was working as an archaeologist on the excavation of the First Government House site on Bridge Street, Sydney that gave me first hand experience of studying the past through artefacts. The glass, ceramics, drains, bones and clay pipes left me with a vivid impression of early colonial occupation of the area.

I joined the Museum as an Assistant Registrar, cataloguing the textiles and dress collection and from there became Assistant Curator and then Curator of fashion and dress. I most recently curated the Collette Dinnigan: Undressed exhibition

Favourite collection object?

I love wearing elastic sided boots and never get over the thrill of looking at the first pair of ‘elastic’ sided boots invented by Joseph Sparkes Hall. These very dainty boots are Sparkes Hall’s prototype version of the elastic-sided boot and were presented to Queen Victoria in 1837. At the time they hadn’t perfected the use of elastic rubber in clothing so the gussets are actually made of coiled wire. Sparkes Hall had to wait a few years for rubber technology to catch up with his invention.

Min-Jung Kim

Portrait of Min Jung Kim
What is your area of expertise?
My specialty is Asian decorative arts and design. I look after the Chinese, Japanese and Korean collections in all mediums including ceramics, textiles, wood and lacquer, metal, jade and paper, among many mediums.
I most recently curated the Spirit of Jang-In: Treasures of Korean Metal Craft and Japanese Folds.
How did you become a curator?
I studied Cultural Anthropology and Art History in Korea and Curatorial Studies in Australia. I was always interested in ‘old things’ and that drew me to work in a museum in the first place. Although these days, the Museum is no longer for ‘old things’ only!
Favourite collection object?
A carved figure of ‘Shou Lao’ (God of Longevity). This was excavated under a banyan tree in Doctors’ Gully in Port Darwin, North Territory in 1879. This object symbolises the star ‘Canopus’ which is only visible in the southern sky a few times a year in China. Chinese people believed that seeing this star at least once a year will cause them to live longer. However, the star is visible in the Australian sky most of time, which makes Australia really special!

Melanie Pitkin

Portrait of Melanie Pitkin
What is your area of expertise?
Egyptian history and archaeology (specifically First Intermediate Period false doors and stelae), Islamic and modest fashions, historical and contemporary shoes, Collette Dinnigan, museology.
How did you become a curator?
I’ve studied degrees in Egyptian history, archaeology and museum studies (Honours, Masters and towards the end of a PhD). I also started volunteering at the Powerhouse when I was studying for my undergraduate degree and that ultimately led to a position in Registration before I moved into Curatorial.
Favourite collection object?
It’s impossible to have one and the list is forever growing! The Joseph Box shoe collection certainly stands out for me though. It comprises around 300 rare, handmade shoes from the 1500s to early 1900s, predominantly from Europe. Not only are they exquisitely beautiful objects in their own right, but there are so many stories behind each pair which reflect the changing social and cultural fabrics of the time.





Sarah Reeves
Portrait, Sarah Reeves, Assistant Curator.

What’s your area of expertise?
My main area of knowledge is Astronomy. For my PhD I studied galaxy evolution using radio telescopes like the Parkes dish. But I should be able to answer most general questions about Astronomy, and possibly others about broader areas of Physics and Science.
How did you become a curator?
I did a Bachelor of Science (majoring in Physics and Chemistry) followed by a PhD in Astronomy. I always had a passion for teaching and communicating science, so during my PhD I worked as an astronomy tour guide at Sydney Observatory, which is part of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. When I saw an assistant curator position at the Powerhouse Museum advertised it seemed like the perfect way to combine my love of astronomy and science with communicating that to the public and inspiring the next generation of scientists.
Favourite collection object?
A 1 kg perfect silicon sphere made at CSIRO in the 1990s. CSIRO made just a handful of these spheres for labs around the world as part of the Avogadro Project and they are the roundest objects in the world. Using perfect spheres made out of a single crystal of silicon, the Avogadro Project aims to redefine the mass of a kilogram based on the number of atoms in the sphere rather than the weight due to gravity. The sphere is just over 9cm in diameter, but has a deviation in sphericity of just 30-40nm! Even more amazingly the spheres are all made manually and the maker, Achim Leistner, feels for imperfections by hand. The spheres represent an amazing scientific achievement and a great Australian contribution to an international project. Plus they’re really, really shiny.

Anne-Marie Van de Ven

Portrait of   Anne-Marie Van de Ven

What is your specialty area?
Visual communications – graphic design, new media design and commercial photography (or as some like to say – flat rather than fat things!)

What is your favourite object in the collection?
I’m compelled to mention two – the boab wood nut carvings carved by Ngarinyin artist Jack Wherra using a three inch nail and pieces of broken glass in Derby, Western Australia between 1950 and 1960, and the graphic and textile designs of David McDiarmid which are so vibrant and full of a zest for life but with the tragic HIV/AIDS epidemic woven into their very fabric!

2 responses to “Our curators are Ready for Ask a Curator Day 2016

  • I am writing an article on Splayds eating utensils for the Australiana Society Journal.

    How can I access MAAS information that I can see on the net is in a box with an article about the Martha Washington restaurant in Martin Place in 1940’s on the top ?
    Is it possible to arrange for an appointment to view this material please ?
    Or can a curator give me the relevant information please ?

    • Hi Yvonne,
      Thanks for getting in touch. If you have a question about the Museum’s collection or accessing information on any of our objects, you can contact us via the following email: and your query will be forwarded to one of our curators.
      Kind regards,
      Sarah Reeves, Powerhouse

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