‘Check your attics’: A global search is on to find Stolen Generations’ missing children’s artwork

An international search underway in the UK for hundreds of missing works of art created by the children of Stolen Generations in South West Western Australia.

The research comes as a selection of artwork by Nyungar children abducted from their families and held at Carrolup Native Settlement in the 1940s are on display in exhibitions in Manchester and Glasgow as part of the UK season/ Australian 2021-22.

This is the first time this selection of artwork has returned to the UK in 70 years.

The Nyungar children of the Carrolup Native Settlement in the 1940s created art that revealed a deep understanding of Nyungar Boodja country.

The works were then transported around the world for over 65 years, including a 40-year storage hiatus at Colgate University in New York.

Carrolup children’s work exhibited in London in 1951. Photo provided.

Today, efforts are being made to have all works of art collected and returned to Nyungar country.

Currently, the John Curtin Gallery at Curtin University is the custodian of the Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Children’s Art, under the direction of the Carrolup Elders Reference Group.

John Curtin Gallery Carrolup director Kathleen Toomath, whose mother Alma was one of the child artists, said returning any culturally significant artifact to the original people is a true act of reconciliation.

“Personally, any repatriation of culturally significant arts or artifacts from First Nations to the original peoples is an important step in respect and could be conceived as a true act of reconciliation,” she said.

“In terms of specific Carrolup artwork coming home, even one that is signed or identified with an artist would mean so much to our people.

“For work from the Queen’s own collection to come home to us, that would be huge and that’s what I would really like to see happen because if she did I think a lot more people would also follow.”

John Curtin gallery director Chris Malcolm urges people to check their attics, closets and homes for paintings that might resemble the lost chalk works.

Healing mission helps Marribank survivors find the heart in the dark shadow of the fig tree

“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.

“We hope that these two new exhibitions in Manchester and Glasgow will help to discover more of these precious works of art which made their way to the UK during the various exhibitions organized by Mrs (Florence) Rutter in the 1950s.

“An essential part of our reconciliation process to address past wrongs includes the discovery of these priceless works of art, as they may be the only physical connection a family has with their ancestors.

Ms Toomath said these paintings had a profound impact on the style of art in this region.

“This style lives on among artists descended from the region,” she said.

I hope people will see and understand that the artistic creation of the Carrolup children was an expression of a connection with their country, our boodja being our mother, for many the only mother they ever knew.

Anyone who thinks they have found a work by the Carrolup children is encouraged to contact the John Curtin Gallery.