One of the newest honorary members of the Order of Australia is the University of Virginia’s Margo Smith, director and curator of the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection.
Being appointed to the Order of Australia is the highest honor the Australian government bestows upon individuals who have contributed outstanding service in their field. Such appointments are usually conferred only to Australian citizens, making Smith’s honor both rare and highly esteemed.
Smith is being recognized “for significant service to Australia by promoting Australian indigenous art and culture in the United States of America,” the citation reads.
The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection, located on Pantops Mountain and opened to the public in 1999, is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to the exhibition of Australian Aboriginal art.
“This is a tremendous honor,” Smith said, “and, of course, reflects the efforts of many other people, foremost the indigenous artists who have so generously shared their art and culture with us, the staff at Kluge-Ruhe and all of our colleagues internationally who have worked with us for many years.”
Smith, a Staunton native, holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of William & Mary and a master’s and Ph.D. in anthropology from U.Va. She conducted fieldwork in central Australia from 1991 to 1993 and became involved with the Kluge-Ruhe Collection in 1995, when it was the private collection of the late businessman and philanthropist John W. Kluge.
After helping to facilitate the transfer of the collection to U.Va., Smith and Howard Morphy co-edited the museum’s catalogue, “Art From the Land: Dialogues with the Kluge-Ruhe Collection of Australian Aboriginal Art,” published by the University to accompany the museum’s opening.
Since 2003, Smith has taught undergraduate courses on Aboriginal art and culture in the anthropology and art history departments. She has curated more than 60 exhibitions at the Kluge-Ruhe Collection, some of which have traveled in the U.S. and abroad.
In 2006 she served as consulting curator on the exhibition “Dreaming Their Way: Australian Aboriginal Women Painters” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. She currently serves on the curatorial team for an upcoming exhibition at the Musées de la Civilisation in Quebec City, Canada.
“I am thrilled to learn that Margo has been recognized and honored for her significant work in promoting the work of aboriginal artists and their culture here in the United States and for her leadership and vision as the director of the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection,” Vice Provost for the Arts Jody Kielbasa said. “The Kluge-Ruhe has thrived under her direction and we look forward to its future growth and expansion.”
For the past 16 years, Smith has shepherded the Kluge-Ruhe Collection into its current thriving state. Going beyond the traditional role of a museum director or curator, she has advocated for indigenous Australian people and has worked vigorously to promote Aboriginal art and culture in the U.S.
The museum’s mission is “to advance knowledge and understanding of Australia’s indigenous people and their art and culture worldwide,” its website says. Along with its extensive collection, the museum promotes living artists, international scholars and arts professionals through residencies, activities with students and public events, providing a wide range of learning experiences to the University community and the public.
The appointment to the Order of Australia begins with a nomination from a community member to the General Division of the Order. Once submitted, the Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat at Government House in Canberra conducts further research on nominees; the nominations are also reviewed by the Council for the Order of Australia, which makes recommendations directly to the Governor-General.
Smith will receive a gold-plated silver medal, which is hung from the royal blue ribbon of the Order. The Australian ambassador to the U.S. will host a formal ceremony in Washington at a future date.