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Global search uncovers historic Stolen Generations child drawing

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An international search for works created by Australian First Nations children of the Stolen Generations has unearthed a historic piece drawn by a 13-year-old Noongar boy more than 70 years ago.

On hearing Curtin University’s public calls to locate hundreds of precious works created by the children at Western Australia’s Carrolup Native Settlement after they were forcibly removed from their families in the 1940s, Manjimup-based retired neonatal paediatrician Dr Patrick (Paddy) Pemberton recognised a piece in his own home that his father had purchased from the London-based Foyles Art Gallery in 1951.

Remarkably, the John Curtin Gallery has a photo in their archives of the artist Ross Jones, at age 13, holding the same stunning pastel drawing. This artwork was included with hundreds of others on a tour to the UK in the early 1950s, where it was purchased by Dr Pemberton’s father.

In recent months, a selection of the treasured collection created by the children of Carrolup in the 1940s has been on display in Manchester at The Portico Library and Glasgow at the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel presented in partnership with The Hunterian, amid calls for households to be on the lookout for any of the children’s works.

John Curtin Gallery’s Carrolup Manager Kathleen Toomath, whose late mother Alma was the last-known surviving Carrolup artist, said she was blown away to find another artwork created by a Carrolup child artist.

“It’s truly wonderful to have located another missing artwork. What makes this discovery so remarkable is the fact that we already had a photo of the talented child artist with the very artwork that has now been found,” Ms Toomath said.

“These artworks offer a window into a deeply traumatic time in the lives of children of the Stolen Generations. It’s an absolute honour to see the work of these bright and perceptive child artists.”

John Curtin Gallery’s Australian First Nations Art Curator Michelle Broun said Ross Jones’ work was purchased by Dr Pemberton’s father at the Foyles Art Gallery exhibition presented by London Soroptimist Club Founding President Mrs Florence Rutter in 1951.

“Mrs Florence Rutter met the child artists at Carrolup in 1949. With their teacher Mr Noel White, she arranged exhibitions in Edinburgh, Glasgow and other cities in the UK during the 1950s. Proceeds from the sale of the artworks were used to purchase more drawing materials for the children,” Ms Broun said.

“The exhibition where Dr Pemberton’s father bought Ross Jones’ work was opened by Dr Margaret Lowenfeld, a pioneering child psychotherapist who had an interest in how children survive traumatic experiences.

“Our search for more of these precious works created by the children of Carrolup continues so we would love to hear from anyone who recognises a similar artwork that includes their signature use of chalk or pastel on paper and scenes of the Australian landscape including kangaroos.”

Carrolup Elders Reference Group Chair Tony Hansen said the children’s artworks held a special place in the country’s reconciliation journey.

“These artworks show how young Aboriginal children – forcibly separated from their families, isolated, segregated, traumatised and living in an unknown place – still found beauty and connection to Country through their art,” Mr Hansen said.

“They offer an enduring reminder that while racism seeks to destroy all that is good about a people, it never can.”

John Curtin Gallery staff have been able to notify some members of Ross Jones’ family of the discovery. Staff are very keen to hear from other relatives and invite them to view the artwork, which is on loan to the Gallery until January 31, 2023.

After visiting Carrolup in 1949, Mrs Rutter recognised the significance of the works that were being created under the guidance of teachers Noel and Lily White.

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 United States of America, where the works lay undiscovered in storage at Colgate University in New York.

Since 2013, John Curtin Gallery at Australia’s Curtin University – in partnership with Noongar Elders – has cared for The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artwork.

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 the Gallery via this link.

Presented by the John Curtin Gallery as part of the UK/Australia Season 2021-22 and supported by the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries and BHP with guidance from Goreng Elder of the Nyungar Nation Mr Ezzard Flowers, ‘Tracing the art of a Stolen Generation: the child artists of Carrolup’ was curated by Ms Broun and Adjunct Curator Dr Helen Idle for its tour to Manchester and Glasgow from July to November this year.

For more information about the children’s artworks and the Carrolup Centre for Truth-telling, visit here.

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