Scottish households urged to join search for Australian children’s art

The global search for hundreds of valuable works of art created by Australian First Nations children who were forcibly taken from their families in the 1940s has reached Scotland, with households invited to join the search.

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Bounding For Home 1950 watercolor and ink on paper (Curtin University Art Collection).

A selection of the valuable collection created by Aboriginal children interned in the remote Western Australian settlement of Carrolup in the 1940s will be displayed at the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel from 6 October to 10 November.

This is the first time this selection of artwork has returned to the UK in 70 years – after London Soroptimist Club founding chairwoman Ms Florence Rutter met the artists for the first time and curated exhibitions in Edinburgh, Glasgow and other UK cities in the 1950s. Proceeds from the sale of the artwork were used to buy more drawing materials for the children of Carrolup.

Carrolup director of the John Curtin Gallery, Kathleen Toomath, whose late mother Alma was the last known surviving Carrolup artist, said reconnecting the missing artworks with the parents of child artists would be an important step towards reconciliation for the wrongs of the past.

“Imagine if your grandmother or grandfather – whom you have never met and of whom no known photographs exist – created one of these works at a deeply traumatic time in your family’s history. “said Ms Toomath.

“Finding something so precious and rare, a piece of art so historically significant that it can almost transport you to that time and offer a glimpse into their worldview, would mean so much. This piece of art could be the only physical link a family has with their ancestors, so it is an essential part of the reconciliation process and a tangible step towards a better future through the power of art.

The Director of the John Curtin Gallery, Mr Chris Malcolm, is calling on communities, organizations and the general public across Scotland to help find any other missing works created by the children of Carrolup.

“We encourage people across Scotland to help us in our global search for these culturally significant drawings by checking their attics, cupboards and households for any similar artwork,” Mr Malcolm said.

“The main clues people should look for include the use of chalk or pastel on paper and many depict the Australian landscape and wildlife, including kangaroos. We urge everyone to see for themselves when new exhibition in Glasgow, which tells this incredible story.

Michelle Broun, curator of Australian First Nations art at the John Curtin Gallery, said unearthing more children’s artwork would mark a milestone in Australia’s journey of truth.

“As a curator spending time with the artwork, I’m a moment in the world of children,” Ms. Broun said.

“As the daughter of a stolen child, children’s artwork and their stories resonate with me. I understand the pain on the children’s faces and hear their voices in their letters, but the drawings belie that pain and speak to our humanity. The child artists overcame adversity through art – they are the heroes of the exhibition.

Ms Rutter recognized the significance of the works after visiting Carrolup in 1949, where teachers Noel and Lily White had found their way into the hearts of children through art. Many Carrolup artists have become prolific artists, surprising the world with their ability to reveal their deep understanding of the country – Nyungar Boodja.

The children’s drawings began what turned out to be an incredible 65-year journey around the world, including a 40-year hiatus in the United States of America, where the works were not discovered in storage. at Colgate University in New York.

Since 2013, Curtin University Australia’s John Curtin Gallery – in partnership with Indigenous elders – has been the custodian of the Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup artwork, which provides insight into the lives and experiences of children who are now known as the Stolen Generations of Australia. .

The process of reconnecting Carrolup artwork with families is at the heart of Curtin University’s Carrolup Center for Truth-telling, an ambitious project to create a permanent home for the collection in Australia and offer others the opportunity to learn more about this tragic period in Australian history. .

Anyone around the world who thinks they have found one of the Carrolup children’s artworks can contact us through our website.

Presented by John Curtin Gallery as part of the 2021-2022 season in the UK and Australia and supported by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Culture Industries and BHP with advice from the nation’s Goreng Elder Nyungar, M. Ezzard Flowers, ‘Tracing the art of a Stolen Generation: the child artists of Carrolup’ is curated by Ms Broun and Assistant Curator Dr Helen Idle.

For more information on children’s artwork and the Carrolup Center for Truth-telling, go here.

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