Artifacts, Bark Paintings and Fiber Art from Aboriginal Australia and Oceania.

Below is a progressive catalogue of artifacts and tribal art acquired during the last twenty years in eastern Australia. The Oceanic artifacts would typically have been brought back to Australia by soldiers, government officials and missionaries returning from postings in New Guinea and the Oceanic region.
Some of the oldest and rarest ethnographic artefacts have passed down generationally as heirloom curiosites, often owing their survival to the expansive but precarious open storage area on the 'ground' floor of the traditional high-set 'Queenslander' - a wooden house on un-enclosed high 'stilt' stumps.

Supplementary pop-up detail images are available by clicking on the main page image. Further specific images are available on request ..

Please continue to scroll down ......


Right at the bottom of the page there is now a link to one of my Twitter accounts ... There are several avenues via that website and its applications for comment or questions aubout the tribal art photographed there.

paul lewis   11 May, 2011

 Papuan Gope Board or Hohao with Ancestor face and serpent
Papuan Gulf Gope or Ancestor Board  
Carved wood, natural ochres
Gulf of Papua, Papua New Guinea
Length: 68cm.

A superb Gope, deeply carved, with a dramatically raised forehead and nose element. Many of the graphic elements relate to those of some of the oldest recorded pieces from the Papuan Gulf.

More images
Oro Province Tapa Cloth Ecorce Battue
24 Artist unknown  
Carved hardwood, natural ochres
Hunstein Mountains, Upper Sepik River, Papua New Guinea
Dimensions: 72cm. in length

A fine example, deeply carved to give great depth of form and clear visual separation for the respective mask elements.
This piece was collected in the 1970's from this very inaccessible location by Ed Boylan, and retained in his collection until recently.

More images
Carved and ochre painted female initiation figut
Sepik River Female Ceremonial Carved Figure  
Hardwood, ochres
Washkuk Hills, Sepik River, Papua New Guinea
Length: 76cm.

A very sensitively carved figure with the traditional elongated arms, raised bosom, and fore-shortened lower legs combining to form a strong and harmonious, yet perhaps somewhat poignant, demeanour. Clearly projected sexuality befits the initiation rites for which it was made.

More images
Aboriginal tribal rainforest shield painted with ochres north Queensland
Artist unknown
Hardwood, natural ochres
Rainforest region, Far North Queensland
Height: 62 cm.

A fine and substantial piece carved from very dense wood: in excellent condition and with relatively stable ochres.
Though not huge, this piece seems to fit more naturally with the ancient and often huge archetypal shields than with the early/mid 20th century production of what were basically miniatures, and not very substantial at all, either in size or feel..

$ 3,400
Woven Abelam yam mask with head-dress
Natural fibres and ochres
Lower Sepik River, Papua New Guinea
Dimensions: Greatest length approx. 30cm.

A fine tightly-woven example with old compacted layers of ochre in very stable condition. A quite old and very appealing mask.

More images
carved Abelam power figure of compressed form
04 Artist unknown C.1960's
Hardwood, natural ochres
Middle Sepik River, Papua New Guinea
Height: 80 cm.

This outstanding figure is carved in an exceptionally rare 'compressed' format giving it great power and authority, if not menace. It is a superb piece of concentrated sculpture, with age-worn remnants of earlier applications of ochres, and signs of multiple layers in other areas.
The piece was field collected by Ed Boylan and retained in his personal collection until recently.

More images
Mimika Canoe Paddle from Atuka village
Carved hard-wood
South-West coast of Papua New Guinea
Length: 195 cm.

A marvellous well-used canoe paddle reputably collected in the 1930's by Catholic missionaries. Although almost two metres in length, it appears to have been shortened at the handle end, possibly for transportation.
The original attached label reads: "490-105 Mimika Paddle Atika village M12".

More images
AU$ 440
Sawos or Iatmul Orator's Chair or Carver's Stool showing Incised Ancestor Figure's Face with Sepik Scrolling
Prestige Sepik Back-rest seat, old collection  
Carved wood
Sepik River, Papua New Guinea
Height: 44cm. Diameter of seat: 28cm.

An archaic and fascinating sculpture-the seat section and legs forming the body of the face depicted on the vertical section.
Further research is in progress in relation to this piece and its provenance, including the old collection number 'A122' stapled to the base ..
Quick inspection reveals great age, much use, and quintessential Sepik artistic expression ..

1April, 2010. I have just come across a related stool in terms of construction, at least, in Anthony JP Meyer's Oceanic Art, Vol.1, (p.278). The example cited there was collected further down the Sepik by Peter Hallinan, from the Wosera people, and it's back carries a relief (rather than incised) carving of the ancestor figure; nevertheless I would imagine that the the general principles of his description would apply to the present example.
The author states that seats of the type he illustrates belong exclusively to Big Men, with power, wealth, and direct links back to important ancestors. They would be elders in the village council, and 'the voice of reason' ... (Could there be a tentative link here with the general concept of the Orator's chair ..?)

More images
$ ... Please enquire
Old trade-painted Oceanic ceremonial dance paddles possible from New Britain PNG showing Ricketts blue
Pair of Oceanic Dance Paddles  
Wood, trade paint, Ricketts Blue
New Britain (?), Papua New Guinea
Length (largest): 45cm.

Vibrant modern art from Oceania - though actually with considerable age, as evidenced by the use of Ricketts Blue to colour one of the bands on the larger paddle. The rest of the vivid (oil-based) trade paints used have mellowed and matted with age to produce a wonderful saturated harmony.
Considerable care has gone into the shaping and fashioning of the paddles, with carved relief and bevelling evident on the blades, which are quite fine in section.
Regarding the origin of the paddles I am uncertain but do remember seeing a somewhat similar example attributed to New Britain (or New Ireland?). (Likewise I recall seeing very similar exuberant trade painting on shields from New Britain - and also, for that matter, on Malangan from New Ireland ..).
Rare and beautiful items, with a Rickett's pedigree!

More images
Please enquire ..
Massim Kula canoe prow from the Trobriand Islands with imprint of wave-splitter ornament
23 Artist Unknown  
Carved wood, natural pigments, resin caulk
Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea
Dimensions: 71cm x 66cm.

A large and ancient example from a sea-going outrigger canoe. Trobriand Islands canoes were central to the Kula trading system, and their splashboards embodied the principal ritual art of the canoe. They were nevertheless functional in origin, standing above and to the rear of the actual prow of the canoe, and locating the raised gunwales which extended back to the stern. (The channels which held these side-boards are visible in the image of the rear of the board).
Impressively carved and incised splashboards such as this example elevated the status of the crew, and were often re-painted between voyages (not necessarily meticulously, it appears .. ). This board apparently out-lasted the canoe which it formed part of: in places the deep channels have the very degraded wood of the remains of gunwales still pinched in position. This could be easily and cleanly extracted with the fingers, but I have left it there for the ethnographic record ..
The slightly assymetric bi-lobed form and swirling incisions are beautifully redolent of the oceanic realm; this is one of the rare examples to further gild the lily with a superb openwork figure between the upper lobes.

More images
$ Please enquire ..
Catfish Totem  Wululu Bark Painting
02 Artist: Jimmy Wululu (Djilwirri Country), 1936-2006  
Eucalyptus stringybark, natural earth pigments
Millingimbi, Crocodile Island Group, Central Arnhemland, Northern Territory, Australia
Dimensions: 59cm. x 41cm.

A rare very early work by this major Yolngu painter. Wululu is represeted in major national and international collections, and later in his life worked alongside other prominent artists such as David Malangi.
His works were featured in ground-breaking exhibitions such as Dreamings (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago), and Magiciens de la Terre, (Paris, 1989).
One of the arttist's major personal totems was the eel-tailed catfish, here represented ..

Kangaroo Totem Bark Painting
03 Artist: Oscar Gawunga   Mailli / Gunwinggu Tribe  
Eucalyptus bark, natural earth pigments
Upper Liverpool River, Western Escarpment, Arnhemland, Northern Territory, Australia
Dimensions: 71cm. x 49cm.

Though superficially strongly pictorial, almost naturalistic, this bark painting is also a serious totemic expression using traditional tribal iconography. Of particular interest is the juxtaposition of traditional Arnhemland cross-hatching with the specifically Western Escarpment (Oenpelli) X-Ray style.
Glued to the reverse is an original typed and hand-written label giving artist details and referencing the subject matter. Also in ink on the bark itself in upper case is the word 'OSCAR', and a catalogue number '23P'

$Please enquire ..
Aboriginal batik central desert
14 Nora Kamara  
Synthetic dyes, pure silk
Atneltyeye camp, Utopia, south-eastern Northern Territory
Dimensions 163cm. x 91cm.

Hand-drawn silk batik was the first non-traditional art-form introduced at Utopia, pre-dating even the seminal works on canvas by artists (now international names) such as Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Ada Bird Petyarre. The unencumbered and free-form designs in turn grew out of the ancient traditions of body-painting.
This length of silk has hems at each end of approximately 0.5cm. width. and original bolt selvedges on the sides. The original attached label from Utopia Station lists the artist's name, date of the work, size, and a catalogue number '13'. (all hand-written).
Exhibitions of Utopia batik works have been held in Australia and also internationally, and works are held in Australian Museums. They are very rare on the secondary market. This is a superb example.
Please note: Museum and gallery references to the artist may be the later spelling:'Kemarre'. Also the camp where the work was created was at that time called 'Goofey Bore Camp'

Boyun Bark Painting
25 Artist: Boyun  
Eucalyptus bark, natural earth pigments
Eastern Arnhemland, Northern Territory, Australia
Dimensions: 88cm. x 42cm.

An excellent bark by this 'listed' Arnhemland artist. Very flat, especially considering its large size, and in very good stable condition with only slight pigment loss.
The artist's name is hand-written in ink on the reverse, together with the date: 1976

$ Please enquire ..
carved Abelam Notu plaque with ancestor figure
22 Artist unknown 1960's
Softwood, natural ochres
Middle Sepik River, Papua New Guinea
Height: 120 cm.

An excellent and large piece with the central ancestor face in good high relief, and a wealth of surrounding zoomorphic reference, visually supported by generous cut-outs.
Old pieces of this type are carved very thin, and a breakage has resulted in a section being re-attached. This has been done sympathetically in the manner of a native repair, with the dressing off to the front being done with beeswax. Cleats fashioned to the slighty curved profile of the piece have also been attacherd at the back so that it is now stable and stronger than before breakage, with the multiple curves of the profile being 'locked in'

Aboriginal tribal rainforest basket woven by Wilma Walker at Mossman Gorge north Queensland
03 Wilma Walker 1929 -
Kakan - BASKET, c. 1980's
Black palm (Normanbya normanbyi) bark fibre and lawyer cane
Mossman Gorge, Far North Queensland
Height: 42 cm.

Wilma Walker is a tribal elder and a teacher in her community, and is one of the few remaining weavers to still use the fibre of the black palm, which is now an endangered species. This particular format of basket is called Balji, and it was woven in the early 1980's at the Gorge Mission in the Mossman Gorge - the rainforest region where Wilma Walker was born.

These baskets had various food-carrying uses (or, if large enough, baby-carrying ..), including, like their close relative the iconic bi-cornual basket (Jawun), being tethered with contents of certain pounded kernals in a running stream in order to leach out poisons.

This is an exquisite example of the type, beautifully woven, and with a lobed shaping to its circular form.

$ Please enquire ..