Drawing the Exhibition – Encounters at the National Museum of Australia

I made my second visit to the Encounters exhibition this weekend past (click here for my previous post). Post knee surgery I was able to take advantage of the Museum’s free electric scooters to get around, rather than relying on my crutches for the duration. This also meant that I had a seat wherever I needed one to draw the various artefacts on display.

The day before I went to the Museum I heard a panel discussion about the exhibition on Radio National (click the link to hear the podcast). Towards the end of the discussion Richard West (Founding Director and Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Indian and President and CEO of the Autry National Centre of the American West) discussed his interest in Cheyenne shields. The nub of his observation was that these shields – and probably those of other first nations people – were both intensely personal objects but also representative of their community. This reminded me of a shield in the exhibition that had a hand stenciled on the reverse side. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that this is almost certainly the hand print of the owner/maker. You can read more about this shield here.

Reverse of a shield with hand stencil, probably from the Shoalhaven region of New South Wales. Exhibited at the 1862 International Exhibition, London. My sketch graphite and white chalk

Reverse of a shield with hand stencil, probably from the Shoalhaven region of New South Wales. Exhibited at the 1862 International Exhibition, London. My sketch graphite and white chalk

I got quite waylaid by some other shields on show, stopping to draw two more. This one is a most elegant design. A slender 16 cms in width and just under a metre long, it is decorated with a series of carved grooves. The grooves change from the vertical to the diagonal, around the middle of the shield and then revert back to the vertical on the bottom section of the shield. As you might be able to make out from my scrawled notes I couldn’t decide whether the optical effect of the face of this shield was enhanced by the use of one or two coloured ochres or not. When I checked the notes it says that pigment was used but doesn’t go into further detail.

A shield collected from the hinterland near Derby in Western Australia, in late 1884. My sketch graphite on grey tone paper and coloured pencil

A shield collected from the hinterland near Derby in Western Australia, in late 1884. My sketch graphite on grey tone paper and coloured pencil

The other carved shield that caught my attention was covered in bands of diagonal grooves, which really made a dazzling optical effect. In my sketch I used  white chalk and graphite to highlight the way the light reflected off the carved grooves, but as far as I could tell there was no pigment on the face of this shield. The light reflections reminded me of the ‘dazzle’ camouflage patterns that were used to distract and obscure ships in WWI.

Wooden shield with pattern of grooves, collected from South eastern Australia (which covers quite a bit of land!) and acquired by the British Museum in 1921. My sketch graphite and white chalk on grey-toned paper

Wooden shield with pattern of grooves, collected from South eastern Australia (which covers quite a bit of land!) and acquired by the British Museum in 1921. My sketch graphite and white chalk on grey-toned paper

My final sketch of the morning was quite different. It is a marriage ornament owned by a woman which was collected from Mer (Murray Island, in the Torres Strait) by Alfred Cort Haddon in 1888-89. On a series of hand-spun string a series of objects including shells and a variety of other ornaments have been strung. It wasn’t explained whether these were purely ornamental or whether some had a practical purpose. In his catalogue of Haddon’s collections, David Moore (1984:72) noted that the pendants ‘Would have formed part of marriage ornaments worn by bride’. Haddon noted that the number and variety of the pendants was dependent on the wealth of the bride’s parents. ‘They were worn for one or two months before the wedding feast. The older married women also wore many of these objects on special occasions, but never during widowhood’.

Women's marriage ornaments, Mer, late 1880's. My sketch graphite, white chalk and coloured pencil on grey-toned paper

Women’s marriage ornaments, Mer, late 1880’s. My sketch graphite, white chalk and coloured pencil on grey-toned paper

I think that such an item has a similar symbolic function to the chatelaines, worn by wealthy European women.

 

 

Drawing the Exhibition – Myth + Magic 2

The 16th of September was Papua New Guinea’s Independence Day, so what better way to celebrate than return to the Myth + Magic exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. This time I also managed to drag some friends along, as well as my partner, so we all set about sketching.

My first target was the Orator’s Stool from the East Sepik. I started with the face and enjoyed working with the deep shadows cast by the dramatic lighting.

Orator's Stool, East Sepik, PNG, study in graphite pencil with watercolour added later, 16 September 2015

Orator’s Stool, East Sepik, PNG, NGA 2008.173, mid 20th cent. prior to 1953, study in graphite pencil with watercolour added later, 16 September 2015

It was only after I’d finished this first drawing and went to record the details of the work, that I found the carvings of the crocodile and bird on the reverse of the stool.

I still had some 20 minutes before our meet-up time so I went and did a ‘quick’ study of this ancestor plaque.

Ancestor Plaque, East Sepik Province, Keram River, early 20th cent. prior to 1920, Museum Victoria X104676, graphite, with added watercolour, 16 September 2015

Ancestor Plaque, East Sepik Province, Keram River, early 20th cent. prior to 1920, Museum Victoria X104676, graphite, with added watercolour, 16 September 2015

This work has a very strong presence. It is made of fibre, largely for the backing and is covered with thick grey mud. It is decorated with lots of embedded pig tusks and shells. The image wears a headband of cassowary feathers. I haven’t captured much of its ‘presence’ so I will try to return and focus on this piece again.

After the drama of the exhibition space it was somewhat of a relief to retreat to the airy lightness of the Members Lounge for lunch. Afterwards, our friends decided that they wanted to look at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait galleries so we headed off there for a final sketch. I sat out near the entrance to draw the giant, 12 metres long, fish trap, that hangs above the gallery foyer.

Mandjabu (Fish Trap), 2010, created with assistance from George Ganyjbala, fabricated in aluminium and paint by Urban Arts Projects, Acc2010.667, graphite with added watercolour, 16 September 2015

Mandjabu (Fish Trap), 2010, created with assistance from George Ganyjbala, fabricated in aluminium and paint by Urban Arts Projects, Acc2010.667, graphite with added watercolour, 16 September 2015

I didn’t realise that I was being observed, but this photo gives you an idea of the scale of the work.

The loneliness of the long-distance sketcher, 16 September 2015, National Gallery of Australia

The loneliness of the long-distance sketcher, 16 September 2015, National Gallery of Australia

Down by the riverside

Time to post the remaining watercolours and drawings of our houseboat trip. Some of these works were made when we tied up for the afternoon.

Across from our home mooring, scrubby trees, saplings and reeds, watercolour, 14 April 2015

Across from our home mooring, scrubby trees, saplings and reeds, watercolour, 14 April 2015

In the evenings and the early mornings, the light on the cliffs was truly magic.

Colour study of the river cliffs, watercolour and graphite, 15 April 2015

Colour study of the river cliffs, watercolour and graphite, 15 April 2015

As the boat cruised along the river I sat out the front and tried to capture some of the passing scenery.16Apr2015 14Apr2015

Images of the river in passing, graphite and watercolour, 14-16 April 2015

Images of the river in passing, graphite and watercolour, 14-16 April 2015

Slow days on the river

Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus, watercolour and graphite pencil, 14 April 2015

Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus), watercolour and graphite pencil, 14 April 2015

Part of the birthday celebrations, just past, included four days on a house boat on the lower portion of the Murray River, part of the largest river system in the country.
There was lots to draw including a wide range of bird life. The most obvious were the pelicans (Pelecanus conspicillatus), calmly paddling along the river and getting a very good feed, it seemed, at every turn. I made a variety of sketches during our trip trying to capture some of the variety of the bird’s actions I observed.

Pelicans, water soluble graphite, 15 April 2015

Pelicans, water soluble graphite, 15 April 2015

Welcome Swallows (Hirundo neoxena) flew around the boat continuously capturing insects disturbed by our passing and cheekily roosting on the rails of the boat. We also saw lots of Australian Darters (Anhinga melanogaster) sitting, drying their wings, on convenient branches on the river margins. The darters lived up to their name with their necks twisting and swiveling to see what was happening in their vicinity.

A pelican, some welcome swallows and some darters, graphite and watercolour, 14 & 15 April 2015

A pelican, some welcome swallows and some darters, graphite and watercolour, 14 & 15 April 2015

Next post I’ll share with you some of the river scenery.