The search begins for Australian children’s artworks in the UK
A search is underway in the United Kingdom for hundreds of artworks created by children of the Stolen Generations in the south-west of Western Australia.
It comes as a selection of the treasured collection, created by Nyungar children forcibly taken from their families and detained at the Carrolup Native Settlement in the 1940s, are showcased in two new exhibitions in Manchester and Glasgow, presented as part of the UK/Australia Season 2021-22.
It is the first time this selection of artworks has returned to the UK in 70 years – after London Soroptimist Club Founding President Mrs Florence Rutter first met the artists and arranged exhibitions across London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow during the 1950s. Proceeds from the sale of the artworks were used to purchase more drawing materials for the children at Carrolup.
Mrs Rutter recognised the significance of the works after visiting Carrolup in 1949, where teachers Noel and Lily White had found a way into the hearts of the children through art. Many Carrolup artists became prolific artists, surprising the world with their ability to reveal a depth of understanding of their country – their Nyungar Boodja.
The children’s drawings set off on what turned out to be an incredible 65-year journey circumnavigating the world, including a 40-year hiatus in the US, where the works lay undiscovered in storage at Colgate University in New York.
Since 2013, John Curtin Gallery at Curtin University – under the guidance of the Carrolup Elders Reference Group – has been the custodian of The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Children’s Art.
John Curtin Gallery Director Mr Chris Malcolm said he was urging people to check their attics, cupboards and homes for paintings that resembled the culturally significant chalk works.
“While hundreds of artworks that were created by the children of Carrolup in the 1940s were taken overseas, only some have been recovered and returned home to Nyungar country,” Mr Malcolm said.
“We are hoping these two new exhibitions in Manchester and Glasgow will help uncover more of these precious artworks that made their way to the UK during the various exhibitions organised by Mrs Rutter in the 1950s.
“A critical part of our reconciliation process of addressing the wrongs of the past includes uncovering these priceless artworks as they could be the only physical connection a family has with their ancestors. The artworks form a basis from which we can deepen our knowledge and understanding of our past, and help us walk together towards a better future.”
The process of reconnecting Carrolup artworks with families is at the heart of Curtin University’s Carrolup Centre for Truth-telling, an ambitious project to create a permanent home for the collection in Australia and provide an opportunity for others to learn about this tragic period in Australian history.
Anyone who thinks they may have found a historic Carrolup children’s artwork can contact us via our website.