Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

How I write: Te Papa’s Claire Regnault

Claire Regnault loves to read physical books – ones that feel nice in the hand, have enticing covers, crisp pages and most of all don’t glare at you.

How I write: Ockham Awards winner Claire Regnault, Stuff, 8 June 2022

Claire Regnault is Senior Curator New Zealand Histories and Cultures at Te Papa and has worked as a curator in the art gallery and museum sector since the mid-1990s. Although her curatorial practice is eclectic in nature, she is particularly passionate about New Zealand’s fashion histories. Her most recent exhibitions include Eden Hore: High Fashion / High Country which showed at the Dowse Art Museum over summer and Feathermania: Feathers in Fashion at Te Papa, which has just finished. Her book Dressed: Fashionable dress in Aotearoa New Zealand 1840 to 1910 won the Booksellers Aotearoa NZ Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction at the 2022 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

Which book do you wish you’d written and why?

The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women’s Lives, 1660-1900 – an incredible study of the complexities of women’s lives explored through the things they carried in their ‘capacious tie-on pockets’ by Barbara Burman and Ariane Fennetaux. It’s a brilliant example of a close study of a very particular type of material culture, and is moving, surprising and at times very funny. Whereas today, women struggle to find a pocket big enough to hold their mobile phone, in the past women’s pockets were large enough to carry cake, yards of fabric and even two live ducks.

Which book had such an impact on you that you bought it for your friends?

I like giving children books by Roald Dahl, my own childhood favourite, but I am more of a book lender than a gifter when it comes to friends – I have tried to get as many people as possible to read Susan Orlean’s The Library Book and think it should be compulsory reading for anyone who is responsible for making decisions regarding libraries.

When it comes to a memorable book, what is more important, a great plot or great characters?

Can you have one without the other? Surely, the best have both for which I love Agatha Christie – her plots are twisty, and you can almost smell her characters they are so well drawn. She also does place – from interiors to whole cities – very well.

What kind of books do you like to read for enjoyment?

Currently tote bags full of mysteries and thrillers from a friend’s attic – I spent year reading Agatha Christie novels, followed by Sue Grafton’s ABC murders and have just started Lilian Jackson Braun mystery series The Cat Who… from the 1960s, featuring a smart Siamese called Koko. It’s been decision-free, easy reading which is what I have needed – I just dip my hand in the bag. I am looking forward to The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern.

Do you read physical books or digital ones?

As I am pretty much glued to a screen all day, I love to read physical books – ones that feel nice in the hand, have enticing covers, crisp pages and most of all don’t glare at you. Words on a screen equals work, whereas a beautifully produced book is pleasure. I am afraid I print out articles and Phds as I hate reading anything long-form on screen.

Do you write in the margins of books?

Never! That’s defacement. I take notes elsewhere if I need to.

What “must read” book have you not read? Go on, fess up

Anything by Charles Dickens – his stories are so familiar from film, TV and ballet, and I’ve recently read A.N Wilson’s wonderful bio, The Mystery of Charles Dickens, but not a single one of his novels.

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