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A history of transport in SA: Exploring DITSONG’s animal-drawn vehicle collection

CF: How do you curate a collection with such big pieces? What do you focus on displaying permanently and what is being rotated to show at a particular time?
JS: The animal-drawn vehicle collection of DITSONG: Museums of South Africa is a unique collection and has good examples of wagons dating back as early as 1848 until the early 20th century. Most of the collection is on display at DITSONG: Willem Prinsloo Agricultural Museum and features fine examples of Landaus, Spaiders, Cape carts and wagons. The collection further extends to DITSONG: Kruger and Pioneer Museums. Some of these objects are very heavy and need special equipment to move if the need arises. The specialised cleaning of these objects also requires a special skill – in particular the tent canvases of wagons and Cape carts, which need a specialised method of vacuuming.

DITSONG Museums of South Africa history of transport animal-drawn vehicle
This double-harness coach was used as a mourning coach by W Roger & Sons Undertakers, Pretoria and occasionally by President Kruger

CF: What do you look for when adding an animal-drawn vehicle to the collection? How and from where do you acquire such ‘museum pieces’ today?
JS: Because these objects are so big one would be very careful in selecting new editions for the collection. A few more variations of donkey carts would be interesting to add to the collection as they are still in use in some parts of the country. It would also be interesting for visitors to the museum to experience donkey cart rides at festivals and see how these animals are harnessed and to demonstrate professional skills when it comes to the correct handling of donkeys. A fine collection of fibreglass statues of oxen, horses and donkeys to show how these animals are harnessed will also add value to the exhibitions.  

CF: Where do you source the skills for the restoration of such precious artefacts?
JS: To restore wagons requires special skills and craftmanship and is practised by only a handful of experts around the country. Special craftsmanship is required for the making of the wheels, as it involves a lot of time. We are fortunate to have Prof. Eric Holm, an expert in wagon restoration and who also did some work on the collection in the past as with the restoration of one of the few remaining ox wagons from the epic 1838 Great Trek era, which is currently on display at the Willem Prinsloo Agricultural Museum, near Rayton. 

Continue reading our Q&A with Jaco Schoonraad

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