Celebrating Ed Ruhe

Over the course of my postings, I’ve made frequent reference to the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum in Charlottesville, VA. The only museum in North America devoted entirely to Aboriginal art, and conveniently located only a four-hour drive from our home, the Kluge-Ruhe is a frequent destination for us. We travel there regularly to see the exhibitions and to hear the distinguished lectures. Over the years we’ve had the pleasure of meeting academics like Fred Myers, Howard Morphy, and Francoise Dussart and artists Fiona Foley, Alec Tipoti, and the Lockhart River Gang. 

Curator Margo Smith has fostered community support through these activities, through regular “tucker box tours” that combine lunch and gallery-going, and through weekend activities for children. She has also built a serious exhibition program in cooperation with museums and collectors around the world, and always showcasing the Museum’s own strengths in Western Desert acrylics and barks from Arnhem Land. Here, from the Museum’s website, is the story of the collection.

The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia came into being in 1997 through a gift by American businessman, John W. Kluge. Influenced by the Dreamings exhibition in New York, Mr. Kluge began collecting Aboriginal art in 1988. Over the next decade he compiled one of the finest private collections of Australian Aboriginal art in the world.

In 1993, Kluge purchased the collection and archives of the late Professor Edward L. Ruhe of Lawrence, Kansas. Ruhe began collecting Aboriginal art while visiting Australia as a Fulbright Scholar in 1965. He built a collection of the highest quality rivaling many museum collections in Australia and exhibited it widely in the United States between 1965 and 1977. Ruhe’s research on Aboriginal art resulted in the publication of several exhibition catalogues and articles. His archives comprise the core of the Kluge Ruhe Aboriginal Art Study Center.

On June 10 of this year, the Kluge-Ruhe sponsored ED FEST, a celebration of the life and collecting of Ed Ruhe. By all accounts, he was quite a character: a professor of English at the University of Kansas, specializing in 18th Century English Literature, he was warm-hearted, eccentric, opinionated, and beloved. Denise LaJetta, Associate Curator at the Kluge-Ruhe has captured some of the magic of ED FEST on a new website devoted to Ruhe and the celebration of him that the Museum, friends, former students, and family held earlier this summer. It’s a wonderful excursion: you can see the exhibition mounted in Ruhe’s honor, and in the process get a glimpse of the museum’s quarters in an old home on the University of Virginia campus. There’s a wonderful half-hour video to watch that records Ruhe’s trips to Arnhem Land in 1965 and 1972, narrated by Ruhe himself. The catalog of Ruhe’s library of books on Aboriginal art and culture and his collection of exhibition catalogs are available in PDF format as well. All in all, it’s a tremendous resource for research, a warm-hearted celebration, smashing entertainment, and by all means, the website of the season. Don’t miss it.

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