Some of the best story ideas come from our readers.
In this case, it was a note from Allan Katz of Clayton, who’d been delighted with a recent visit to the Toledo Museum of Art’s exhibit of Aboriginal Art from Australia.
“Linda and I have seen a number of such exhibits — including in Australia — and we can assure you this one is excellent,” he wrote.
We’ve followed up and he’s absolutely right — the stunning exhibit is definitely worth the two-and-a-half hour drive to Toledo.
The show is a winner both because of the amazing artwork that’s so beautifully displayed and because you’ll learn so much fascinating information about the Aboriginal people during your visit. You may have seen last year’s film, “The Sapphires,” based on the true story of four young Aboriginal sisters who form a musical group and traveled to Vietnam in 1968 during the war.
“Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art from the Hood Museum of Art” features 120 works of contemporary Indigenous art that have been donated to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
“We liked this exhibit so much we are going back before it closes,” says Katz. “Almost like being in Australia again — but just a bit closer to home!”
Some interesting background:
* Aboriginal people from Australian have the world’s oldest continuously surviving culture, dating back 50,000 years.
* The culture has a strong oral tradition but no written language.
* From 1909 until 1969 the Australian government advocated a policy of forced removal of Indigenous Australian children from their families to be raised in institutions or with white families. Those children are now known as the Stolen Generations.
* Aboriginal people were not counted in the census of population until 1967.
How the exhibit ended up in Toledo
The exhibit’s connection to Toledo is Brian Kennedy, the director of the Toledo Museum since 2010. Born in Dublin, Kennedy lived and worked in Australia as the director of the National Gallery of Australia from 1997-2004, and was director of the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth from 2005 to 2010.
“I’m probably the only museum director in America who knows all of these artists personally,” Kennedy told us, adding that there hasn’t been an exhibit of Aboriginal art in the Midwest since 1989. “This is an extraordinary opportunity to see great examples of a range of contemporary Aboriginal art-making from all over Australia.”
That’s exactly what excited Allan and Linda Katz.
“The beauty of the exhibit in Toledo is that it displays the range of Aboriginal art from across the country,” says Allan, who was most recently in Australia in March. “The art varies considerably from region to region and the exhibit captures that very well, with an excellent representation of work from each region by well known artists.”
In Australia, he says, the national galleries typically have only portions of their collections on display at a given time, so visitors don’t get a real sense of the range of art country-wide.
“The private galleries represent selected artists, often from a specific region, so it’s a more limited view compared to the range of work in Toledo,” he adds.
What you’ll see
The Toledo galleries are arranged geographically and represent a wide range of media and materials — acrylic paintings on canvas, earthen ochre painting on the bark of eucalyptus trees, photographs, sculptures.
What’s striking are the gorgeous colors, patterns and designs. You can appreciate the work for its beauty alone, but it becomes even more impressive when you begin to understand how it’s rooted in ancient traditions of song, dance, visual art and storytelling as well as the artists’ ties to their beloved land.
Kennedy says those connections are precisely what distinguishes Aboriginal art from other contemporary artwork.
According to the museum’s Family Guide, (be sure and pick up a copy) it’s the concept of the “Dreaming” that unites all of the artists who are represented in the exhibit.
“Dreamings are stories about the Ancestor beings who traveled across the earth to create the landscape — including rivers, mountains and deserts — and the plants and animals that live in them,” it relates.
About the Art
Aboriginal art dates back tens of thousands of years but the contemporary art on display in Toledo dates from the early 1970s.
One of the galleries features work by artists who live in the city and have studied formally at art schools, but most of the galleries are filled with art that’s been created by village artisans in rural communities who have learned their techniques from parents and grandparents.
The lines and shapes are quite dramatic — some artists use techniques like “dotting” to create wonderful patterns.
Be sure to allow time to watch the two videos — one captures a group of seated artists on the ground in a village as they create their work, the other gives background information about Australia and includes touching scenes from Feb. 13, 2008, when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an official apology to the Stolen Generations on behalf of the Australian government. There is now also a National Sorry Day on May 26.
When you’re ready for a lunch break, you needn’t leave the museum. The restaurant on the premises is lovely and overlooks pretty gardens. The museum gift shop is also worth a visit, it’s terrific and currently stocked with additional items from Australia.
This entire museum is quite special, and we’ll be returning soon to introduce you to the celebrated glass collection in the Glass Pavilion.
While you’re in Toledo, you may also want to consider a visit to The Toledo Zoo where there’s an Australian-themed exhibition. Wild Walkabout includes a walk-through wallaby exhibit as well as dingoes, death adders and more. There’s a huge saltwater crocodile in the Reptile House and a Great Barrier Reef exhibit in the Museum of Science.