November 20 2010 to 27 February 2011
Gathered Up presented a suite of three exhibitions that originate from private collections. These include artworks bequeathed to the Australian Museum from the collection of avid anthropologist and collector Charles Melbourne Ward, Aboriginal artworks from the private collection of art enthusiast Ms. Robin Gurr, and a body of Sonia Farley works gifted to Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest the late artist’s nephew Mr. David Farley.
Gathered Up – The Ward Collection Eight
These paintings were amongst over 10,000 objects bequeathed to The Australian Museum by the estate of Charles Melbourne (Mel) Ward in 1976. Mel Ward, who in his latter years was an honorary zoologist at The Australian Museum, operated The Gallery of Natural History and Native Art in the grounds of Medlow Bath’s famous Hydro Majestic Hotel from 1943 till 1963, after which he ran Pyala Museum at Echo Point in Katoomba till his death in 1966. Seven of the paintings are in fact, copies of ‘scenic tableau’ photographs of Gumbainggir and Bundjalung people from the Clarence River district of northern NSW, which were taken between 1870 and 1875 by German born photographer, John William Lindt. From 1869 to 1876, Lindt photographed both Aboriginal and European people in his popular Grafton studios. The eighth painting is a copy of a watercolour drawing of an Aboriginal woman of the Coorong area of coastal South Australia, done by naturalist and artist, George French Angas in 1844.
Very little is known about the origin or purpose of the Ward Collection Eight – photographs of Ward’s Gallery of Natural History and Native Art reveal many displays – a chart titled, ‘Heights and Physical Characteristics of Racial Types’, early Aboriginal ‘tribal’ maps, bark paintings, shields, spears, hand painted silhouettes and portraits of Aboriginal people and even a free standing, life size, cut-out painting of a ‘Mornington Man’ (which also appears to have been copied from a photograph) and an extensive library of rare Australiana books. Perhaps the paintings were copied from one of these books for use as ‘display’? And what of the people in the photos and their likeness’ journey from sepia to oil paint…from subject of a staged photo to subject of a museum display? Zona Wilkinson, Penrith Regional Gallery’s Curator of Aboriginal Programs, feels that ‘edited’ material like this can be both helpful and misleading to those searching for family information. Gumbainggir man and talented Penrith based artist, Chris Edwards was delighted when he saw the Ward Collection Eight, they were oil paintings of his people and a source of inspiration.
The terrible losses of life, dislocation and generational trauma that Aboriginal people have endured at the hands of Europeans and the notable absence of any large body of paintings depicting NSW Aboriginal people, transforms The Ward Collection Eight from odd copies of ethnographic material and examples of a museum style now outmoded to precious records– the oil paint gracefully detailing the countenance and dress of ‘loved ones’ for the interest of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people today.
We are most grateful to The Australian Museum for their generous loan of the Ward Collection Eight and also to Grafton Gallery for their loan of the Lindt print.
Gathered Up – The Gurr Collection
Gathered Up – The Gurr Collection showcases a stellar array of Aboriginal artworks from the private collection of art enthusiast Robin Gurr. The works present a range of Aboriginal art practices from remote communities who, as custodians of their traditional land, use a variety of mediums to document their stories of tribe, clan, language and country.
A range of Aboriginal countries are represented by artworks collected from remote areas such as the Western Desert, the Great Sandy Desert and the Tiwi Islands. The selection of Aboriginal works from the Gurr collection forges links across the landscape which, in a somewhat arbitrary manner, situates artwork next to artwork and story next to story. In doing so, the collection not only unites exquisite artworks but also draws together distant places, individuals and communities.
Exhibitions with an Aboriginal focus acknowledge the importance of Aboriginal culture as expressed in the Gallery’s education policy. In addition to being informative for our general visitor population, Aboriginal studies are a key focus across all stages of learning in our NSW schools, through the Human Society in its Environment and Visual Arts syllabus areas and high school stages 4-6 in Aboriginal Studies. As stated by the Department of Education and Training, incorporating Aboriginal art, artefacts and perspectives is of great value because it ‘assists students to develop values and understandings about artworks in a social and cultural context.
The ability to offer access to original Aboriginal artworks of quality positions the exhibition, Gathered Up, as an exhibition of weight and relevance to the infants, primary and high school sector – encompassing early stage one in kindergarten to stage six in senior high school. The ability for the education program to facilitate the study of Aboriginal artwork is a strategic and rich way for the Gallery’s exhibition program to play a significant role in the development of understanding and respect for Aboriginal art, culture and community.
Consequently, the presentation of Gathered Up, endorses the seriousness of the Gallery’s commitment to continue ‘developing and maintaining the Gallery as a research and educational facility’. A commitment that is premised on the intention of Margo Lewers that ‘Penrith, the region and the public at large have a facility (and Collection) enabling the experience and study of visual arts.’ In doing so, the Gallery is, therefore, able to reflect on and enrich the interest displayed by Gerald and Margo Lewers in Indigenous art from Australia.
Gathered Up – The Gurr Collection presents a wonderful opportunity to track a journey across traditional land regions and experience the exquisite diversity of Aboriginal stories. Artists include: Lily Karadada, Tjampawa Katie Kawiny, Rover Thomas, Susan Wanji Wanji and Donny Woolagoodja.