Anthropologist John Stanton first learns about the Carrolup children’s art in 1976 when he sees two Revel Cooper landscapes framing Ronald and Catherine Berndt’s study door at the University of Western Australia. He reads Child Artists of the Australian Bush by Mary Durack Miller and Florence Rutter, and learns more about the Carrolup artists, and Noongar people and their culture, from highly respected Elder Ken Colbung. He is enthralled by the Carrolup Story.
John helps Pat Nunn, a social worker at the Marribank Family Centre, set up an exhibition of contemporary Noongar art at the Town Hall in Katanning in 1985. They subsequently meet with members of Aboriginal communities from around the South West, who want to do something to enhance awareness of the Carrolup Story.
Generous funding from the Australian Bicentennial Authority supports a collaboration between the Marribank Family Centre and the Berndt Museum of Anthropology, of which John is Director.
The Carrolup Project has four goals: to document the story of the child artists of Carrolup; to create a Cultural Centre in the Old Girls’ Dormitory comprising an exhibition about the child artists and a photographic archive; for the Berndt Museum to develop a national travelling exhibition and accompanying monograph; and the production of a documentary film for television and schools.
The Berndt Museum’s exhibition, Nyungar Landscapes. Aboriginal artists of the South-West: the heritage of Carrolup, Western Australia, travels nationally for eight years, becoming Australia’s longest-travelling exhibition at the time.
John learns of the missing Florence Rutter Collection when he meets Florence’s daughter Margaret Edenburg in late 1986. Margaret shows him Florence’s letter describing how she had sold her collection of Carrolup artworks to American broadcaster Herbert Mayer.
Realising that Florence’s collection has gone to the United States, John starts to try and locate it. He writes to 28 institutions in New York State to ask whether they have any knowledge of the Carrolup collection. He receives no positive response.
Every time he flies out of New York, John experiences a strong feeling that the art is somewhere north of the circling plane. However, the artworks remain ‘lost’.
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