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Dog Tales: UC exhibition celebrates canine companions in children’s literature

Suzanne Lazaroo

17 May 2021: Everyone’s best friend is the endearing subject of Dog Tales, a new exhibition of original artworks from children’s books at the University of Canberra’s Mura Gadi Gallery.

Drawn from the collections at the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL), it showcases the works of celebrated, award-winning artists Alison Lester, Bob Graham, Andrew McLean, Ann James, Patricia Mullins and Bev Aisbet.

Running from 10 May to 23 June 2021, Dog Tales was developed as a Work Integrated Learning (WIL) project under the supervision of Alex Stalker-Booth, the University’s Art Collection Coordinator.

“Dogs have been our close companions ever since we all curled up beside a campfire way back in the mists of time – so it was an easy theme to decide on!” Mr Stalker-Booth said.

“The four-month project took the team through the same processes they would have to follow to stage an exhibition in any museum or gallery – from design to execution. There is so much value in WIL projects, because some things can only be learned through practical experience.

“This project has given the students an inkling of what staging an exhibition entails, so they know if it’s something they might want to do in the future. Plus, it’s practical experience to add to their portfolios before they have even graduated.”

The project dream team comprised students from different majors – Dempsey Ward, studying a double Bachelor of Communications and Media (Marketing Communication)/Bachelor of Business (Marketing); Anna Xia and Holly Wu, both doing the Bachelor of Design course; and Steve Pang, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication Design).

While they had never met prior to the project, the group worked well together to conceptualise and set up an exhibition they could be proud of.

“Working with people from other disciplines was a great way to understand different perspectives on the project,” Mr Ward said.

“The project was both exciting and challenging – it required a hefty amount of work, effective time management, and strong internal and external communication to pull it off.

“For all of us, this was the first time working on an exhibition. We got hands-on experience with the artworks, and were able to see what people like Alex do on a daily basis – and just how much work it really is!”

NCACL Director and Emeritus Professor of Children’s Literature Dr Belle Alderman AM and the Centre volunteers worked closely with the student team – and Dr Alderman said that she was immensely proud of and for them.

“I think they have done a really good job, and learned a lot as well,” she said.

“It’s so valuable for students to get a chance to do professional work as part of their study – and they did everything from deciding on which creators and artworks to feature, to researching them and coming up with information plaques, designing and arranging the display cabinets, sourcing and putting together profiles of the creators on video, and so much more.”

Dr Alderman added that some of the artworks on display had potentially never been seen by the public before, as NCACL Volunteer Art Curator Max Brown framed a dozen artworks which had never been exhibited.

For the students, the project period actually finished a week before the actual exhibition set-up – but they made the unanimous decision to come back in a voluntary capacity to set it up.

“We were extremely proud of how our exhibition planning went, and carrying out the actual set-up was a great way to understand the processes underlying exhibitions,” Dempsey said.

“We loved working with Alex and Belle, and the NCACL team, who were really gracious about lending us artworks from their collection and extending help wherever they could.”

The project team divided the works according to various themes, including companionship and adventure. In addition to the artworks, Dog Tales also features initial sketches and works-in-progress to tell the story of the creative processes underlying some of the country’s most beloved children’s books.

In the centre of the exhibition space, a sofa and a basket of books provide a space for visitors who want to soak in the craft of celebrating the canine.

As part of the exhibition, NCACL will be running special exhibition-linked programs for school groups upon request – so Mr Pang applied his artistic talents to create an original illustration which attendees can use for storytelling.

All these elements have come together to create an exhibition with a sense of story, heart and meaning.

“The team have done a great job,” Mr Stalker-Booth said. “The exhibition has a sense of narrative, of the telling of a story – and a sense of empathy, as so many of us have an ever-growing relationship with our pets.”

Dog Tales will be on at the Mura Gadi Gallery until 23 June; the exhibition is open to visitors from 10.30am to 4.30pm, Mondays to Fridays. For special education sessions for children’s groups, contact