University of Canberra student Dempsey Ward and Emeritus Professor of Children’s Literature Dr Belle Alderman AM have a shared love for dog tales. Photo: Kerrie Brewer.

Celebrating the innocence and fun of canines in children’s literature, Dog Tales is the newest exhibition to grace the walls of the University of Canberra’s Mura Gadi Gallery.

Running until 23 June, Dog Tales features the works of celebrated, award-winning artists and story-tellers Alison Lester, Bob Graham, Andrew McLean, Ann James, Patricia Mullins and Bev Aisbet.

Beginning as a Work Integrated Learning (WIL) project under the supervision of Alex Stalker-Booth, the University’s art collection coordinator, four students used their own love for dogs to inspire the project and to set tails wagging.

Mostly enrolled in different majors, the team members – 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) – had never met prior to the project.

Drawn from the collections at the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL) at UC, Mr Ward said it took them several months to put the final exhibition together.

“Originally there was kind of an idea of puppies and dogs,” he said.

“I think once we got upstairs and we looked through all the stuff, we saw that dogs were spread through the main artists, like Bob Graham and Alison Lester.”

NCACL Director and Emeritus Professor of Children’s Literature Dr Belle Alderman AM and the Centre volunteers worked closely with the student team.

Dr Alderman said the NCACL has “thousands and thousands” of pieces of artwork that live in boxes and the exhibition was a great way to present them to the world.

“A picture book normally has about 20 double page spreads … we’ve got 70,000 children’s books and we have the artwork for thousands of those,” she said.

“Every artist has got dogs in their artwork and so we ended up selecting four that are really, really well known … so what we’ve got here is Australia’s best illustrators and some of their best books.”

Dividing the works accordingly, the students focused on the main themes of companionship, helping hand, adventure, and the creative process that underlies some of the country’s most beloved children’s books.

In addition to the artworks, Dog Tales also features a sofa and a basket of books to provide a space for visitors who want to soak in the craft of celebrating the canine.

Mr Ward said he enjoyed putting the exhibition together because the experience stirred memories of his own special connection to the stories.

“When my parent came to see the exhibition, my mum … it was memories for her. She remembered reading Queenie [by Jaqueline Wilson] to me when I was younger,” he said.

“I think that for adults, they can get the experience of when they were younger or reminiscing.”

As part of the exhibition, NCACL will also run special exhibition-linked programs for school groups upon request. During the program, the school groups will read the stories before visiting the exhibition to learn about the creative process of writing and illustrating a children’s book.

Dr Alderman said the children will be able to create their own stories.

“Who knows, we might be creating the next generation of children’s writers and illustrators,” she said.

Dog Tales continues at the Mura Gadi Gallery until 23 June; the exhibition is open Monday to Friday 10.30am-4.30pm.

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