Past News at Kluge-Ruhe

Kluge-Ruhe undertakes preservation of bark paintings • Wednesday October 21, 2009

The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia will undertake a major project to preserve bark paintings in the collection. The project, which involves cleaning and re-housing approximately 530 bark paintings, was supported by University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III through the allocation of University discretionary funds.

The Kluge-Ruhe Collection is considered to be the most important collection of Australian Aboriginal art outside Australia. One third of the Kluge-Ruhe collection consists of bark paintings from northern Australia. Dating from the early 1940s to 2007, bark paintings in the Kluge-Ruhe Collection are historically and culturally significant. Demonstrating regional stylistic and thematic differences, bark paintings typically illustrate ancestral stories associated with the creation era know as The Dreaming. They are closely tied to art traditions such as rock art, body paint and ground sculpture.

Bark paintings are constructed from organic materials that are naturally unstable. The substrate consists of a sheet of bark from the Eucalyptus tetradonta (stringybark) tree. The paints are derived from pigments such as red and yellow ochres, pipe clay and charcoal mixed with natural and synthetic paint binders. During this project, Kluge-Ruhe staff will carefully examine and document each painting. Paintings will be surface cleaned if needed and re-housed in stackable storage customized for each work. The trays will enable staff to move, store and access bark paintings without handling them. This project will preserve the art, improve the appearance of the paintings, and make them more accessible to Kluge-Ruhe staff and researchers.