Our world in minia­ture at Pataka


The staff at Pataka know very lit­tle of J G Pen­man – not even his first name – but it’s keenly ap­par­ent he loved his toys.

‘‘I’ve been try­ing to do this for years – ever since I knew about the col­lec­tion,’’ says Kylie Fyfe, cu­ra­tor of Iti Bity. The ex­hi­bi­tion com­prises 1011 metal and plas­tic minia­tures, from toy soldiers, cow­boys and In­di­ans, to zoo an­i­mals, roy­alty and even politi­cians.

The fig­ures be­longed to J G Pen­man and were be­queathed to the mu­seum by his wife Di­nah in 1981. Iti Bity marks the first time it has been dis­played en masse.

‘‘It’s fan­tas­tic to see them dis­played. I don’t think any­one on staff has seen it all. This isn’t even the whole col­lec­tion. I left out the ve­hi­cles,’’ says Ms Fyfe.

Timed for the Christ­mas sea­son, she ex­pects it to wow kids and col­lec­tors alike. The de­tail of the fig­ures – most of which are in im­mac­u­late con­di­tion – is amaz­ing, from the in­tri­cate ar­mour of Sa­mu­rai war­riors to the kink in Sir Robert Mul­doon’s gen­er­ous cheek.

Ms Fyfe wasn’t sure if Pen­man had done the paint work of some minia­tures him­self, but they ap­pear to have been amassed from a num­ber of coun­tries. Some were still in their orig­i­nal boxes while oth­ers have clearly been worn by lit­tle hands.

‘‘It’s nice to see some have been played with.’’

Though a lover of toys her­self – ‘‘I never grew up’’ – Ms Fyfe says she is no ex­pert when it comes to minia­tures. She hopes col­lec­tors who visit the dis­play will fur­ther the staff’s knowl­edge on the col­lec­tion, in re­spect to the brands, their age and scarcity.

Most of the dis­plays are at eye level for chil­dren and Ms Fyfe has de­vised some ap­pro­pri­ate back­drops for sev­eral of the themed sets. Cir­cus per­form­ers have been graced with a stage, while a royal assem­bly and cow­boys and In­di­ans are framed within old tele­vi­sions.

Ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer Linda Fordyce says it is of­ten for­got­ten that Pataka is a mu­seum as well as a gallery, and they are crit­i­cised for not dis­play­ing enough of its col­lec­tion.

‘‘Well, this is the big­gest col­lec­tion of minia­tures in New Zealand.’’

There are also ta­bles of toys which kids can play with, boardgames, and ac­tiv­i­ties – such as lo­cat­ing spe­cific fig­ures among the thou­sand on dis­play.

‘‘I’ve gone a bit nuts,’’ con­fesses Ms Fyfe. ‘‘I’d like to think [Mr Pen­man] would be re­ally pleased.’’

Iti Bity - Toys from the Pataka Col­lec­tion opened on Satur­day and runs un­til Fe­bru­ary 12. En­try is free.

Chan­nelling child­hood: Iti Bity cu­ra­tor Kylie Fyfe puts the fin­ish­ing touches on a skir­mish be­tween cow­boys and In­di­ans, dis­played in­side an old tele­vi­sion set ‘‘since that’s how they were most fa­mil­iar to us’’.

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