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Illuminating the Battlefield Memorial Architecture

Illuminating the Battlefield Memorial Architecture of Samuel Hurst Seager

A new exhibition displaying the work of renowned architect Samuel Hurst Seager as the designer of New Zealand’s First World War battlefield memorials has opened in the Matariki Gallery at the University of Canterbury.

Constructing Memory: Samuel Hurst Seager and New Zealand’s First World War Battlefield Memorials showcases the keen vision of Christchurch architect Samuel Hurst Seager (1855–1933) who designed and oversaw the building of New Zealand's five First World War battlefield memorials in Turkey, France and Belgium.

Aged in his late sixties, Seager designed and oversaw the construction of the five memorials after the New Zealand government appointed him to the role in 1920. The stories behind how each of the memorials at Longueval, Le Quesnoy, Messines, Gravenstafel and Chunuk Bair came to serve as markers of New Zealanders’ deeds on the battlefields during the Great War are showcased for the first time.

The exhibition brings together Seager’s photographs, drawings, and archives from the collections of the University of Canterbury’s Department of Art History & Theory, the University of Canterbury’s Macmillan Brown Library, and Archives New Zealand.

The exhibition is part of the Illuminations and Commemorations Project, which focuses on Seager’s use of photography in his memorial designs and the impact of visual cultures of remembrance following the First World War.

‘Constructing Memory’ opened in the same week as the centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres at Passchendaele and features images of the memorial commemorating the Battle of Broodseinde, a key part of the Passchendaele campaign that took place on 4 October 1917, during which the New Zealand Division played a vital role.

Samuel Hearst Seager

Samuel Hurst Seager is known as one of New Zealand’s most prolific architects and was a graduate of Canterbury College (now the University of Canterbury), having studied there from 1879 to 1882. He later lectured in the School of Art from 1893 for over twenty years and served on the Board of Governors from 1910 to 1919.

Seager was married to fellow alumni Hester Connon, making him the brother-in-law of Helen Connon, the first woman in the British Empire to graduate with honours, and John Macmillan Brown, one of the University’s founding professors and namesake of the Macmillan Brown Library andMacmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies.

More about Seager’s connection to the architecture of UC’s original campus (now the Arts Centre) can be found here.

Lantern Slide Views

Also known as glass plate negatives, lantern slides are a fragile photographic format that preceded plastic 35mm negatives. A photographic emulsion was sandwiched between two thin sheets of glass that were bound together with tape. Images were then projected using a magic lantern that was powered by candles or gas, functioning in a similar way to the digital projector.

When Seager returned to New Zealand in 1925 he gave lectures around the country using the lantern slides and showing audiences how the efforts of New Zealanders had been commemorated at the battlefield sites.

In 1928 he gave his collection of 4000 lantern slides and his architectural library to Canterbury College’s School of Art. After nearly a century, theIlluminations and Commemorations Project aims to give the lantern slides the best-practice care they require and preserve their data via digitisation.

Constructing Memory: Samuel Hurst Seager and New Zealand’s First World War Battlefield Memorials exhibition at the Matariki Gallery, ground floor, Matariki building, University of Canterbury Ilam campus. Open9am–5pm, Monday to Friday, until 4 September.


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