When out-of-town guests arrive, it's a good time to visit some of Charlottesville's finest free attractions-like the Pavilion Gardens with the serpentine walls on the grounds of the University of Virginia. Or, the Saunders-Monticello Trail that stretches two miles and includes boardwalks that take you into the canopy of trees. Or, the top of Brown's Mountain that gives you a 360-degree breathtaking view that includes the Blue Ridge Mountains and looks down on historic Monticello. Or, the stimulating trail around Ragged Mountain Reservoir that is inspirational in any season.
The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum is another such site that I only recently discovered because of out-of-town company. The museum itself is located on Pantops Mountain. I am told that Thomas Jefferson originally bought this property for his daughters to build their homes so that he could watch (through his telescope at Monticello) his grandchildren play. Although his plan never materialized, the property is beautiful and I like the image my mind creates of Jefferson peering through his telescope to see his grandchildren frolic in the far distance.
John Kluge, who began collecting Aboriginal art in 1988, generously donated this collection to UVA in 1997. It is considered the largest Aboriginal art display outside Australia. In fact, there are so many pieces, they are not all displayed at one time but rotate through the museum about every three months. There is a published schedule of when the exhibitions change and sometimes these shows are not from the Kluge collection but from Aboriginal artists displaying their creations to sell.
Australian Aboriginal art is considered to be the oldest living art tradition in the world, with paintings in rock caves dating back 20,000 years. These nomadic hunters and gathers, with no written language, also painted on tree bark and their bodies and created ground sculpture for ceremonies. I found the art delightfully intriguing on the day of my visit-particularly the painted bark pieces.
The Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. A free, guided tour is available every Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Groups can schedule special tours and children's programs can be arranged. According to Curator, Dr. Margo Smith, "A wide range of programs are offered-almost all of which are free. They include lectures by Aboriginal artists, curators and scholars, demonstrations and workshops featuring Aboriginal crafts such as boomerang throwing and didjeridu playing, concerts and performances by Aboriginal musicians and dancers, and children's art programs held with each exhibit focusing on styles and techniques employed by Aboriginal artists." You can register online for a newsletter that keeps you informed of all upcoming events.
Another great thing about the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Museum is how easy it is to find. You don't have to drive into the city at all and it is less than five minutes from Interstate 64. From I-64, simply exit at Shadwell and travel on 250 West (towards Charlottesville). Go ½ mile to the 3rd entrance to Peter Jefferson Place, on the left. Follow the driveway to the white house at the top of the hill. (Don't miss the sculpture of a boy reading a book and fishing, near the pond on your way up the hill.) Signs direct you from the Interstate until you get to the museum. When you see the circular driveway, park and enter. It can be a bit confusing because from the outside, it looks like a house, not a museum and there is no sign to tell you this is the right place. Parking is easy and the facility is ADA accessible.
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