Artwork created by Aboriginal children in residential schools is being returned to Australia from Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.
The 119 drawings and paintings had been part of the university art collection since 1966. They are to be returned to Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, after an agreement was reached between the two universities.
The art was created by Noongar children between 1945 and 1951 at the Carrolup Native School and Settlement — children who were part of what Australia terms the "Stolen Generation". From 1910 to the early 1970s, as many as 100,000 mostly mixed-race Aboriginal children were taken from their families under government programs meant to assimilate them and housed in government camps.
Art by children from Carrolup, including native imagery, kangaroos and Australian landscapes, was considered so remarkable it toured Europe in 1950.
Herbert A. Mayer, a businessman and Colgate graduate, donated the collection to his alma mater in 1966. He had purchased the works from Florence Rutter, a benefactor to the Carrolup School.
In 2004, a visiting scholar from Australia immediately recognized the work of children from Carrolup. Additional drawings were discovered, and the artwork attracted international news coverage in 2005 when it was exhibited in Colgate's Picker Art Gallery.
On Wednesday, a painting by Reynold Hart called Hunting was presented to Curtin University at a ceremony ahead of the future transfer of the full collection.
Curtin and Colgate Universities have built a relationship over the last eight years, with American students studying Aboriginal culture on exchange programs with the Australian university. In 2006 Colgate lent the artwork for the Perth International Arts Festival and the issue of repatriation was raised.
"We had to develop a relationship with an institution that would preserve the work forever," said Ellen Percy Kraly, a demographer and professor of geography at Colgate.
"The work has so much meaning in country that it deserves to be within the hearts, souls, and eyes of the people," she added.
Curtin has the highest enrollment of Noongar students among Australian universities and plans to exhibit the works locally.