Basil “Biggie” Albert, Broome, pair of engraved West Australian Aboriginal pearlshells, animals, c.1980
Rare pair of finely engraved pearl shells,
signed ‘B. Albert’, one dated ’80’
One with well drawn kangaroos in various life-like poses around a central tree, the shell’s central muscle-scar incorporated into the design as blurred leaves on the tree, with two flying and one roosting bird;
the second with a similar tree, dominated by a large dark snake with pale spots arcing around the rim, a smaller striped snake beneath, a symmetric flock of flying birds to the very rim and a small ‘daisy’ flower lower left.
Basil ‘Biggie’ Albert was a Broom local who engraved pealshells for sale to visitors, 1970’s-80’s. He also engraved boar-tree nuts with similar motifs. These shell examples reveal him to be a very competent draftsman, with excellent anatomically correct depictions of kangaroos, but still with the required traditional feel.
Traditionally, these carved pearlshells were carved with patterns to represent water, called riji or jakuli, and became valuable items traded far inland. They were an important part of a boy’s initiation ceremony. With the designs shown here, there is a continuation of the concept of special items to be traded, rich with symbolism of the natural world of Western Australia.
From the personal collection of Ursula Mary Joan Mckinlay, WA 1980
District Nurse in Irwin, Dongara, Cue, Mingenew. etc.
She spent time in Western Australia in the indigenous communities 1950’s-80’s. These were presented to her on her departure, 1980.
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