Thancoupie (1937-2011)

Thancoupie at work on ceramic piece in Jennifer Isaacs backyard, Sydney.
Photo: Jennifer Isaacs.

As a young girl at Weipa in Far North Queensland, Thancoupie knew that clay was sacred. "The men used to keep the clay in a special storehouse and we kids were not allowed to touch it."

But having painted with artists including Dick Roughsey (Goobalathaldin), with whom she held her first exhibition of paintings at Cairns in 1968, she became determined to work with the entrancing elements of clay.

In 1970, she thought of a painting course at East Sydney Technical College, but quickly switched to ceramics, graduating three years later to become the first Aboriginal solo ceramic artist.


Now acknowledged as one of Australia's leading ceramicists, Thancoupie uses clay to express herself and her intricate relationship with her land and its creatures, as well as with the elements of earth, fire and water. Soon she began to use her art to tell the old people's stories from Weipa, where she had grown up, and she began publicly using her totemic name of Thancoupie (meaning "wattle flower"). Essentially a ceramic sculptor, she creates forms and surface images which are symbolic: egg shapes are fertility symbols, spheres are the earth and the cycle of life.

In the last two decades, she has produced chalk-like surfaces with dark linear drawings of animals, fish and other figures who created the land around Weipa, Aurukun and the coastal areas of Cape York. She also depicts the plants and seafoods, with some recent forms suggesting yams and seed-pods.


Thancoupie has held 16 solo exhibitions and many combined exhibitions throughout Australia and overseas and she is represented in all major collections.

In 1986 she was appointed Australia's Cultural Commissioner to the Biennale of Sao Paulo and she has had solo exhibitions which toured through South America and to Houston, USA. In 2001 she was honoured with a retrospective exhibition at the Brisbane City Gallery.


She has also designed fabrics, murals and terrazzo works for public institutions.

Thancoupie founded the Weipa Festival and the Holiday Program for children in her tribal lands of Bouchat. She was a primary Thanaquith elder and a mentor for young North Queensland artists. In 1998 she was appointed a Doctor of Griffith University for her services to Aboriginal Arts. She is regarded as North Queensland's leading contemporary artist and has inspired a recognisable regional style of indigenous art. She received an AO in 2003.

More work by Thancoupie.

For information, inquiries in regard to ceramics, and to contact Thancoupie's agent, Jennifer Isaacs.

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"... as one of Australia's leading ceramicists, Thancoupie uses clay to express herself and her intricate relationship with her land and its creatures..."

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