UK exhibition to find and return lost artworks drawn by the children of Stolen Generations of WA

Hand-drawn artwork produced by children of the Stolen Generations on a WA mission could still hang in homes and galleries across the UK.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains images of deceased persons.

A search is underway for hundreds of missing artworks created by children held at Carrolup Native Settlement near Katanning in the 1940s.

An exhibition curated by Curtin University of a selection of chalk and pastel landscapes will be on display in the UK this week in the hope of helping uncover works that may be in private collections.

Kathleen Toomath’s mother, Alma, was removed from her mother’s care to live in Carrolup in the late 1940s.

While there, Alma painted countless pieces, some of which were salvaged and returned to WA.

Kathleen Toomath (left) with Michelle Broun, curator of the John Curtin Gallery.(Provided: Curtin University)

Ms Tommath said she hoped the exhibition in England and Scotland could identify more lost pieces.

‘I would love to see more of my mum’s art unearthed… she did this when she was almost six,’ Ms Tommath said.

A painting of brown hills with a few trees, kangaroos near a waterhole, blue skies in the distance.
Down to Drink, one of Carrolup’s long-lost artworks coming home.(Provided: Parnell Dempster)

“If people wish to repatriate them, we are open to the process so that they understand the importance of these works for the Aboriginal community.

The Curtin University project will take the works to Manchester and Glasgow, where children’s drawings were previously displayed in the 1950s before being scattered across Europe and the United States.

A painting of Bella Kelly of the Stirling Ranges.
Renowned Aboriginal artist Bella Kelly’s work, Landscape (with mountains), is influenced by her time at the Carrolup Mission.(Supplied: City of Albany)

In 1949, Englishwoman Florence Rutter was in Australia to start Soroptimist Clubs – a voluntary human rights organization for women.

Mrs Rutter heard of the extraordinary designs and visited Carrolup, where she was given around 1,000 pictures to take back to London to display and sell, with the intention that the money would go to Carrolup.

They were later distributed around the world, many of which are still missing, but 120 paintings were discovered by chance in the warehouses of Colgate University in New York in 2004.

Spiritual legacy for Carrollup

Older native man, long gray beard, gray hair, wears gray sweater, blue jeans, stands in front of building, long grass
Ezzard Flower at the old Carrolup Mission near Katanning.(ABC Great Southern: Mark Bennett)

Carrolup is in the land of Goreng, and Elder Ezzard Flowers said the artwork has a spiritual legacy for those connected with Carrolup.

“If there should be one [artwork] made because of this exhibition which is going to tour Manchester and Glasgow, then it would be really empowering and strengthen the spiritual legacy of these artists.

Black and white photo of native children standing outside an old building with a white man and woman.
Residents of the Carrolup Mission gathered for a photo.(Provided: Dumbatung Aboriginal Corporation)

“We hope the outcome of this will not only be positive, but here is another story, another connection to something that is already resilient and strong.”

Works of art, a key link with the Stolen Generations

John Curtin gallery director Chris Malcolm said he urges people to check their attics, closets and homes for paintings resembling culturally significant chalk works.

“While hundreds of works of art created by Carrolup children in the 1940s were taken overseas, only some were collected and returned to Nyungar country,” Mr Malcolm said.

The exhibition will run at the Portico Library in Manchester from Friday to September, then spend two months at the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel.

Comments are closed.