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Pearl shell with a variety of Australian flora, fauna and figures including a winged female spirit, by Butcher Joe Nangan

2004.0081.0002

Pearl shell with a variety of Australian flora, fauna and figures including a winged female spirit, by Butcher Joe Nangan

Object information

Physical description

Pearl shell rubbed with ochre and engraved with a variety of Australian flora, fauna and figures. A winged female spirit form lies near the centre edge and 'JOE' has been engraved on the LHS of the shell. A long crack at the top of the shell has been fixed with some kind of glue. The outside edges have been trimmed and ground down.

Statement of significance

The Kimberley Pearl Shell Collection comprises six decorated pearl shells (Pinctada maxima) from the north western area of the Kimberleys, WA. They are decorated with incised pictorial designs and the incisions filled with ochre, most probably mixed with fat. Two of the shells were produced by 'Butcher' Joe Nangan, and a third is thought to be produced by him, two were produced by Basil 'Biggie' Albert and one by an unknown maker.

Pearl shell is prized by Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley and has been an object of trade that can be traced through trade routes across Australia. Pearl shell decorations are used for secular purposes by both men and women, worn on hair belts or around the neck. Although it is not sacred in itself, pearl shell is featured in ceremonial life. Five of these shells are presumed to have been made for the tourist consumption as they are not shaped for wear but remain in the original shape of the shell. The sixth shell is shaped and pierced ready for wearing. Today, only one or two pearl shell carvers remain, none of whom carves pictorially.

Object information

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