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Thanacoupie
, 1981

by Juno Gemes

gelatin silver photograph, selenium toned (sheet: 60.8 x 51.0 cm, image: 44.2 x 30.3 cm)

Thanacoupie AO (1937–2011), ceramic artist, community worker, elder, and spokesperson, grew up as Gloria Fletcher in North Queensland. There, she came into contact with painters including Dick Roughsey, with whom she held her first exhibition of paintings in 1968. In 1970 she visited East Sydney Technical College and became enchanted with ceramics, enrolling in a three year certificate course and becoming the first Aboriginal solo ceramic artist. At this time she reclaimed her totemic name, which means wattle flower (it was spelled Thancoupie until 1987, when she decided it would be better spelled Thanacoupie). For thirty years she was the foremost Aboriginal potter and ceramic sculptor, expressing her relationship with the land, living things and the elements through a medium that was used only for ceremonial purposes and decoration in her native community. The spherical sculpture on the grass near the front entrance of the adjacent National Gallery of Australia is by Thanacoupie. She held sixteen solo exhibitions and numerous group shows throughout Australia and abroad, and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Queensland in 1998.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2004
Accession number: 2004.47