FEELING FOR PATTERN
50 years of Tiwi pottery
Opens 17 March 2018
2018 marks the 50 year anniversary of the establishment of a pottery studio at Bagot Reserve in Darwin to provide technical training for Aboriginal people who wished to become artist-potters. The Bagot Pottery was a ceramic and clay processing unit founded by the Northern Territory Welfare Department and the Department of Industrial Arts at the University of New South Wales.
In 1969, six Aboriginal men from Milingimbi, Port Keats (Wadeye) and Bathurst Island began their traineeships at Bagot Pottery. According to Ivan McMeekin, who alongside English potter Michael Cardew was employed to run the pottery, all of the trainees learnt the ‘practical potting skills quickly’ and brought ‘sensitivity and well developed feeling for pattern to their work’.
Two Tiwi men, Eddie Puruntatameri and John Bosco Tipiloura showed particular promise and upon their return to Bathurst Island in 1972 they established Tiwi Pottery. Over a decade later in 1984 Pirlangimpi Pottery, was established on Melville Island. This display highlights the evolution, style and direction of Tiwi pottery over 50 years.
 Ivan McMeekin, ‘The Introduction of Pottery to the Aborigines of the Northern Territory’, in Pottery in Australia, 8 (2), Spring 1969, p. 23
Image: Cyril James Kerinauia and Sylvester Victor Robert Fernando, Hunting party (detail) 1999. ©the artists c/o Tiwi Design Aboriginal Corporation
Cyril James Kerinauia and Sylvester Victor Robert Fernando Hunting party 1999 Earthenware with polychrome underglazes 30mm (H) x 640mm (W) x 160mm (D) Shell Development Australia Aboriginal Art Acquisition Fund 1999. MAGNT Collection. ABETH 3480 ©the artists c/o Tiwi Design Aboriginal Corporation
Cyril James Kerinauia
Sylvester Victor Robert Fernando
Hunting party 1999
Earthenware with polychrome underglazes
MAGNT Collection. ABETH 3480
Prior to European contact, Tiwi people depended upon their hunting and gathering skills to survive. Today, with access to food in shops, the Tiwi normally hunt their favourite foods whenever they have time, often on the weekends and during school holidays. Vehicles are an essential part of the modern hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and this aspect of Tiwi life is beautifully illustrated in Kerinauia’s artwork, with decorations by Sylvester Fernando. This sculpture, hand-built with slabs and coils of clay, is very different to the wheel-thrown pots, plates, and other functional items normally made at Tiwi Pottery.
This piece was awarded the Wandjuk Marika Memorial Three-Dimensional Award at the 16th Telstra National
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 1999.
Earthenware with polychrome underglaze stain with glaze.
MAGNT Collection. ABETH 3120
Maree Puruntatameri was born in Central Australia, where she lived until meeting Eddie Puruntatameri while he was undertaking his ceramics traineeship in Darwin. She relocated to the Tiwi Islands in the early 1970s, where she continues to reside. In the 1990s, Maree was well known for her paintings on canvas and prints. The innovative techniques being adopted by the Pirlangimpi Pottery attracted the interest of a number of female artists who were drawn to decorate pots manufactured by their male relatives.
Maree's practice bares the influence of her Central Australian heritage and her strong familial links to the Tiwi Islands. This decorated bowl, possibly thrown by husband Eddie, reveals a fascinating amalgamation of her cultural and geographic influences.
Maree PURUNTATAMERI b. Yamba, Northern Territory 1952 Tiwi language Bowl 1993 White earthenware with polychrome underglaze stain with glazes Purchased 1994. MAGNT Collection. ABETH 3120
Mug c. 1969
Stoneware with glaze
MAGNT Collection. ABETH 3877
This stoneware mug features the incised designs of a turtle, a male figure and a Pukumani pole. Pukumani ceremonies are amongst the most important and best known of all Tiwi ceremonies and are held at the conclusion of a sustained period of mourning. Pukumani poles are erected as a part of these ceremonies.
Only a small number of items from the early period of Bagot Pottery have been decorated with Tiwi designs such as these. The stamps on the base of this item suggest it may have been thrown by Michael Cardew, who was training Puruntatameri at this time. Puruntatameri may have been given the task of decorating this mug to explore the possibilities of Tiwi designs as decorative elements on potted forms.
Eddie PURUNTATAMERI b. Nguiu, Bathurst Island, Northern Territory 1948; d. 1995 Tiwi language Mug c. 1969 Stoneware with glaze Gift of Janice Haynes through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2004. MAGNT Collection. ABETH 3877