#Gauteng52, Week 16: The Roodepoort Museum

by | Apr 19, 2017 | #Gauteng52, Arts and Culture, Johannesburg, Museums and Buildings | 4 comments

Welcome to Week 16 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Roodepoort Museum.

I’ve held off on writing about the Roodepoort Museum for a few weeks because it’s so obscure. But the museum’s obscurity is also what makes it worth writing about.

The Roodepoort Museum is, not surprisingly, a museum about Roodepoort. Roodepoort is one of those towns outside Joburg (to the northwest of the city centre) that is technically a town on its own but also a suburb of Joburg. I heard about the museum while visiting Lindfield House and Marie-Lais and I decided to give it a try.

When we first pulled up I thought we may have made a mistake. The Roodepoort Museum is inside one of the blandest government buildings I’ve ever seen.

Outside Roodepoort MuseumThe Roodepoort Civic Centre, which contains the Roodepoort Museum. The Roodepoort Theatre is next door to the museum.

Things got better as soon as we went inside. We met Carolina Geldenhuys, the museum’s curator, who plunged us right into Roodepoort’s history.

Statue in Roodpoort MuseumA miniature version of the tribute to South Africa’s gold miners that stands in downtown Braamfontein.

The first room of the museum was pretty normal museum stuff — ancient rocks, gold mining implements (Roodepoort, like most towns around Joburg, started as a gold rush town), large placards explaining the history of the area’s earliest humans, the mining workers from China, etc. All very informative but nothing to really write (or blog) home about, in my opinion.

As we moved down the hallway, things started to get weirder and more interesting.

Digging Deeper into the Roodepoort Museum

The first display to catch my eye was the Victorian hair art exhibit.

Victorian hair artBrooches containing intricately sculpted locks of hair. 

Did you know that the Victorians made brooches out of dead people’s hair? Me neither, although I can’t say I’m totally surprised.

We then moved on to some beautiful Victorian ceramics made by a handsome woman named Hannah Barlow with a handsome dog named Rufus Darwin.

Hannah Barlow and ceramicsHannah Barlow, her vases, and Rufus Darwin. 

I was pretty impressed by the hair art and Hannah and Rufus Darwin. But we had yet to reach the main event. We rounded a corner and there it was: a life-size Voortrekker diorama.

Voortrekker diorama in Roodpoort MuseumLife-sized child Voortrekker dolls with a painted highveld background.

Voortrekker is the term for the Afrikaans-speaking South Africans of Dutch descent who migrated from the Cape Colony to the South African highveld (including today’s Gauteng Province) during the 1800s. The Roodepoort Museum has a full-on, life-sized Voortrekker farmhouse surrounded by murals that convey the feeling of being in the 19th-century highveld.

Carolina in Voortrekker houseCarolina poses at the entrance to the Voortrekker house.

Inside Voortrekker houseInside the Voortrekker house, which is inside the Roodepoort Museum, which is inside the bland civic building. I love the mannequin girl gazing out the pretend window toward the mannequin children.

After the full-sized Voortrekker diorama the rest of the museum was a journey through Roodepoort time, with room upon room guiding us decade after decade from the mid-1800s, to the Victorian era, through the 1930s.

Victorian room at Roodepoort Museum One of the Victorian rooms in the museum.

Decorative arts in the Roodepoort MuseumA separate room containing beautiful decorative arts from the early 20th century.

1920s room at Roodepoort MuseumMarie-Lais and Carolina explore the 1920s room. Check out the flapper doll legs in the foreground.

The 1930s room was my favorite — all modern-looking and brown.

1930s room at Roodepoort MuseumThose curtains! That rug! The crazy velvet pillows! I want this exact room in my own house.

I enjoyed the Roodepoort Museum because I’ve never visited anything like it before. My one objection is the white, Eurocentric nature of the exhibits. With the exception of a few placards in the first room, this museum documents only the history of white people and culture in Roodepooort — a testament to the apartheid era in which the museum was first opened.

Nonetheless, the Roodepoort Museum is worth a visit if you have a hankering for quirky life-sized dioramas, Victorian hair art and awesome Art Deco decor.

The Roodepoort Museum is at 85 Christiaan de Wet Road, Roodepoort. Visits are by appointment only. Call +27-11-761-0228 for more information.

Read all of my #Gauteng52 posts and check out the interactive #Gauteng52 map.


    • 2summers

      Haha, I try.

  1. autumnashbough

    Wow, the exhibits are as white as a 1950s Virginia textbook. Kind of unnerving.

    • 2summers

      Yup. Very 80s South Africa.


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