The Shadbolt name is well known in New Zealand so it’s good to get the question out of the way early. “Yes, it’s my husband’s name – his father is first cousin to both Tim and Maurice.” Right, moving on then ... By Simon Burt.

German-born Susanna Shadbolt was probably destined to end up living in the southern hemisphere. Growing up in a small village on the edge of Cologne, close to the Dutch border, her parents dreamed of emigrating to Australia but for reasons which aren’t entirely clear, the family relocation project was never realised.

However, fifteen years ago Susanna ended up in the South Pacific anyway. After finishing a Master’s Degree in Art History and Classical Archaeology at the University of Cologne, she travelled with her Kiwi boyfriend around Asia and to New Zealand, initially to Christchurch. The first North Island town Susanna visited was Masterton, where her friend’s grandmother lived. The boyfriend didn’t last but Wairarapa’s biggest town was to come back into her life all these years later.

Nearby Palmerston North has been a big part of Susanna’s time in New Zealand, having landed her first paid museum job as Collections Manager at Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History not long after arriving. The Manawatu city is still officially her home and is where her family is – husband Darren and three children aged nine, seven and four. Susanna has also worked at the Square Edge in Palmerston North and at Massey University where she taught the Museum and Heritage Studies course. Her career also includes stints at Christchurch City Art Gallery, Cologne’s Ludwig Museum and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

With a master craftsman carpenter/joiner father who took great pride in creating beautiful things from wood, the “object” was always going to be a focus in Susanna’s creative life. “I’m an admirer of art rather than an art practitioner. I’ve always enjoyed the visual culture, visiting museums and learning the stories associated with the objects as well as just appreciating their beauty. I love how an object gets passed on through generations and has a story to tell.” She also has a love of languages, speaking German, Dutch, English, French and Latin and is currently learning Maori.

The museum world is well known for having to fight for funding and having to work with shoestring budgets and this is a challenge Susanna is happy to take up. “I see this institution as looking after the local culture, both the tangible and intangible, on behalf of the whole of New Zealand really. This is the social service that we need to provide. No-one else is going to do it.” She is quick to praise the unpaid support that the museum receives. “Aratoi has 57 active volunteers, they are so generous with their time.”

Dividing her own time between the two centres has its challenges too but with the help of a self-employed husband (albeit a busy one), after-school activities for the children and nearby family, it seems to be working very well. Susanna is a snowboarder – in fact she met Darren on a New Zealand mountain and he proposed to her on another, in Canada. They managed to get up to Whakapapa recently for the first time since their youngest child was born. 

Susanna usually stays a couple of nights a week in Masterton and feels very much at home. “I love the drive over here to the Wairarapa, the great variety of light and the morning mist. When you get here the people are so friendly, I’ve been very humbled by the welcome I’ve received. Friendliness is a New Zealand trait, I know, but particularly in this area it seems. Is it because they know they live in a beautiful place?”