” Clay at Weipa was sacred. We only used it for ceremony and each colour had a meaning. Red, black, yellow and white. The men used to keep the clay in a special storehouse and we kids were not allowed to touch it. We used it only for decoration, of our bodies and special spears and woomerahs, not to make things. The idea of having my hands in clay was somehow strange but exciting – it was only much later I realised that clay would be my art, and also my legends.”
Ceramic Story Pot 1982
Thanakupi ( Gloria Fletcher ) 1937 – 2011
Thanakupi belonged to the Thanaquith people and was born in 1937 at the mission town of Napranum ( Weipa ) in the remote far north Queensland. Her strong Thanaquith background ensured a childhood rich in traditional customs and she often returned to Napranum to explore her ancestral past with the intention of capturing its history and traditions with her ceramic art and sculptural designs. As part of her upbringing, her female elders taught her traditional stories and symbols that they drew in the sand. It was these symbols and stories that Thanakupi later modified for her work in textiles and clay. These were interpreted in unique visual symbols and totemic depictions which became an ongoing theme throughout her illustrious career. She basically merged her communities tribal stories into visual narratives using the vehicle of her stoneware creations and she even referred to her work as ” story pots “.
Peetharee Story – Dugong and Emu – Thanakupi, 1980
Hand built earthenware, slip and oxide decoration, incised designs.
As she had been influenced by the use of clay in a sacred ceremonial context, she initially had qualms about using it for other artistic purposes when she began Fine Arts at the East Sydney Technical College in 1971. Thanakupi at this time was one of the first generation of Aboriginal artists to pursue art studies in an academic environment.
She eventually returned to Queensland where she set up a studio at Trinity Beach in Cairns, where she continued her commitment to the preservation of her distinct cultural heritage.
Drawing inspiration from her background, and its deep connection to the land and nature , her ceramic and sculptural works embodied what she sometimes described as ” creator beings ” . These were usually characterised by spherical and egg shaped forms, with close associations to her coastal homeland with reference to sea- and free-form shapes such as sea creatures, native animals, plants and tendrils. The culturally significant forms on which these stories unfolded included the Yam, Emu Egg and Mullet Fish.
Thanakupi’s spherical pots explore the theme of the meaning of life through the use of the circle.
The design on this pot depicts the Nguul (Mosquito) Corroboree.
Like Noah’s Ark, the animals attended the ceremony two by two and this pot depicts several pairs of animals.
( Art Gallery of New South Wales )
As an artist, she held solo and group exhibitions in Australia and internationally, and contributed to several significant public artworks. Her ceramics are included in all major Australian art galleries and many private collections.
She created public art murals that can be seen in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, as well as those executed when she was an artist-in-residence in Edmonton, Canada and Colorado, United States.
Her professional career spanned more than 30 years and Thanakupi is seen as one of Australia’s foremost Aboriginal ceramicists. She can truly be regarded as a pioneer for Indigenous artists and Australian ceramicists along with her recognition as a distinguished ambassador, linguist, cultural educator and community elder.
When asked what positive outcomes she hoped to see within her lifetime relating to the arts and culture of Cape York she said “Everyone is art. Everybody has it. I hope it helps to develop change and I hope that people see it before it is too late and nothing happens. It can help make you a better person because it makes you believe in yourself and that’s what makes you strong.”
‘Arough the Emu and Kurigan The Brolga’ – ceramic tiled panel by Thancoupie
Left : ‘Guiree, the flying fox’, hand-built stoneware fired at 1240 degrees (oxides and clays)
Right: ‘Thawaal the black and white eagle fights with Cheth the red and white eagle’, hand-built stoneware
Mosquito corroboree – ceramic story pot by Thanakupi
Eran (River) -outdoor ceramic sculpture – Thanakupi
NGA ( National Gallery of Australia ) Entrance Sculpture
Thanakupi – Ceramic spherical story pot sculpture
Large Stoneware Bowl – Thanakupi
Totem Pole – Thanakupi
Stoneware pot titled ‘The Crab” – Thanakupi
‘Man in Canoe’ – Thanakupi
‘Man in Canoe’ – Thanakupi
Chivarri the man paddles in his bark canoe along Hey River looking for the mother and son. She sees him coming round the island and she runs quickly. The mother has been gathering food, shellfish, together with her child. As she ran away her string bag broke, or tore, and some of the shells fell out as she ran along.
Kangaroo Mural – Thanakupi
Glazed stoneware tiles with slip and oxide decoration on incised design.
Love magic pot, ‘Prethem”, (Long neck turtle) – Thanakupi
Handbuilt stoneware, carved, oxide decoration, reduction/ gas fired with ash glaze.
Thanakupi Pots, stoneware, hand built, carved, oxide decoration, gas fired, reduced, with an ash glaze.
Stoneware Story Vase – Thanakupi
The Crocodile and the Blue Tongue Lizard; Two by Two
Thanakupi sculpture – Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal
Gathering bush tucker
Kambel the crocodile and Pa’u the blue tongue lizard exchanging teeth.
Legends of Albatross Bay ( Weipa Story)
Mysterious Mountains – Thanakupi
Thanakupi story vessel – Stoneware, slip and oxide decoration on incised design.
Thanakupi – Glazed ceramic bowl,- 1979
‘Knoolu mosquito corroboree’ – Thanakupi
The mosquito corroboree. The mosquitoes are dancing, singing ‘mmmm, mmmm’. All the animals answered the mosquito people calling them. They travelled to the corroboree ground and danced two by two, dancing all day and all night and all day and all night.
Story vessel – Thanakupi
Guiree – The Flying Foxes – Spherical Raku clay stoneware pot, manganese and iron decoration – Thanakupi
Spherical turtle story pot – Thanakupi
Didgeridoo music and Australian indigenous art :
Yigi Yigi perfomed by David Husdon from his CD Didgeridoo Spirit. I have used aborginal art to accompany this track, with Pictures of David. However at the end of the track I have used pictures of the Australian bush that suits the birds calls so well (and because I am of that age where Rolf was on TV (can ya tell what it is yet?)