Tag Archives: Thancoupie

Thanakupi – Indigenous Australian ceramic artist



” 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.”

Aboriginal Ceramic Story Pot 1982 Thanakupi

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 “.


Thancroupie ceramic Story Pot

 Peetharee Story – Dugong and Emu – Thanakupi,  1980

Hand built earthenware, slip and oxide decoration, incised designs.


The importance of clay as a traditional material

As Thanakupi 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.

The men and women would get wet clay from the creeks, wrap and bake it and put them away in the smokehouses. It was dug out from places all over the ground because it was used for sacred dancing and was important for symbolic uses. The stamping of the earth during traditional dance performances was employed to attract attention from the spirits in the earth. Kaolin white clay was used everywhere including for different ceremonies, like childbirth. The rich maroon red in bauxite also signifies men’s initiation business as it was used for body paint, going back to before time. Oxides and clay slips have a deep link to these ancient body paint designs and the connection to “country”

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 spherical pot

Thanakupi’s spherical clay 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 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.”


Ceramic-panel Gloria Fletcher ( Thanakupi )

‘Arough the Emu and Kurigan The Brolga’ – ceramic tiled panel by Thancoupie


Guiree, the flying fox, hand-built stoneware fired

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 pot by Thanakupi

Mosquito corroboreeceramic story pot by Thanakupi



Thanakupi ceramic bottle, Australian art

Thanakupi Vase

Eran (River) -outdoor ceramic sculpture - Thanakupi

 Eran (River) -outdoor ceramic sculpture – Thanakupi
 NGA ( National Gallery of Australia )  Entrance Sculpture



Ceramic spherical story pot sculpture - Thanakupi

Thanakupi  – Ceramic spherical story pot sculpture

Large Stoneware Bowl - Thanakupi

Large Stoneware Bowl – Thanakupi


Ceramic Totem Pole by Thanakupi

Totem Pole – Thanakupi

The Crab by Thanakupi

Stoneware pot titled ‘The Crab” – Thanakupi




Thanakupi_Man-in-canoe ceramic story panel

‘Man in Canoe’ – Thanakupi



Thanakupi_Man-in-canoe clay sphere

‘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 Ceramic Mural - Thanakupi

Kangaroo Mural  – Thanakupi

Glazed stoneware tiles with slip and oxide decoration on incised design.



Love magic pot, 'Prethem", (Long neck turtle) - Thanakupi

Love magic pot, ‘Prethem”, (Long neck turtle) – Thanakupi

Handbuilt stoneware, carved, oxide decoration, reduction/ gas fired with ash glaze.



Australian ceramics - Thancoupie pots

Thanakupi Pots, stoneware, hand built, carved, oxide decoration, gas fired, reduced, with an ash glaze.




Stoneware Story Vase – Thanakupi



Thanakupi ceramic bottles - Australian indigenous art

‘The Crocodile and the Blue Tongue Lizard’; Two by Two

Glazed ceramic bottles by Thanakupi

Thanakupi at studioThanakupi  at studio

Cruise Terminal sculpture by Thanakupi

Thanakupi sculpture – Cairns Cruise Liner Terminal



Thanakupi ceramic storypots

Thanakupi exhibition



bush tucker Thanakupi

Gathering bush tucker

Kambel the crocodile and Pa’u the blue tongue lizard

Kambel the crocodile and Pa’u the blue tongue lizard exchanging teeth.



The legends of Albatross Bay ( Weipa Story)

Legends of Albatross Bay ( Weipa Story)

Mysterious Mountains Thanakupi

Mysterious Mountains – Thanakupi

Cairns Airport

Thanakupi stoneware story vessel

 Thanakupi story vessel – Stoneware, slip and oxide decoration on incised design.

1981-thanakupi ceramic vessel

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.

Thancoupie pot

Story vessel – Thanakupi


Guiree – The Flying Foxes – Spherical Raku clay stoneware pot, manganese and iron decoration – Thanakupi


Spherical story pot by Thanaakupi

Spherical turtle story pot – Thanakupi




Didgeridoo music and Australian indigenous art :