Australian Design Centre plays a critical role in celebrating the work of Australian artists who embrace the highest degree of skill and who continually explore material, process and ideas to advance contemporary craft and design practice.

Object Space is a window gallery located in the window of the Australian Design Centre HQ on William Street in Darlinghurst. The exhibition space has direct street frontage, is accessible to view 24 hours a day and is lit for viewing at night.

2 August - 3 October 2018

Esme Timbery: Shellwork

On display in Object Space are two works from Bidjigal artist and elder Esme Timbery.  The iconic artworks, Untitled 'Sydney Opera House' and Untitled 'Harbour Bridge'; that celebrate the important shellwork tradition of the La Perouse community and Timbery's contemporary practice. We thank the Sydney Opera House Trust for lending us these works from their collection.

Untitled ‘Sydney Opera House’ (2002). Polystyrene, wood, PVA glue, glitter, fabric, shell.
Untitled ‘Harbour Bridge’ (2002). Polystyrene, wood, PVA glue, glitter, fabric, shell.
Artworks on loan from the collection of the Sydney Opera House Trust.

About Esme Timbery 
Esme Timbery is a shellworker who was born in 1931 in Port Kembla and lives and works in La Perouse NSW. Timbery began collecting and sorting shells according to size and colour at La Perouse in 1936 at the age of five (three years before the attributed date of a shellworked harbour bridge [artist unknown] in the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection. The Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932). In these formative years Timbery learnt from her mother, grandmother and aunts the names of shells and the times of the year she was most likely to find them. Shells used then and still are “starries, buttonies, couries, conks, and pennywinkles”. Twenty six years earlier, in 1910, Timbery’s great grandmother, “Queen” Emma Timbery’s shellworked objects were displayed in England in an exhibition of Australian manufactures and according to the Australian Aborigines Advocate her work 'was almost fought for’ and 'large purchases were made by the Hon Mrs Schonberg Byng’.

In 1997 Timbery began exhibiting her shellworks away from the gaze of the tourist trade by entering them in contemporary art exhibitions, starting with her first exhibition, 'Djalarinji – Something that Belongs to Us’ curated by Tess Allas at the Manly Regional Gallery and Museum. Artist Judy Watson consulted with Timbery in 2000 about shellworking, using her knowledge and incorporating the shells that Timbery works with into her public art installation at the arrivals precinct of the Sydney International Airport. In 2002 the Sydney Opera House commissioned Timbery to create a shellworked Sydney Harbour Bridge, a Sydney Opera House and a Centrepoint Tower for its annual Message Sticks program and in 2003 Timbery again participated in the Message Sticks program, this time in a satellite exhibition, 'Messages from the Fringe’, held at the Birrung Gallery in Leichhardt.

In 2004 Timbery’s work was included in a touring exhibition titled 'Terra Alterius: Land of Another’ staged by the Ivan Dougherty Gallery at the College of Fine Arts in Paddington. Early in 2005, 95 years after Queen Emma’s London exhibition and 68 years after she began collecting shells, Timbery submitted two blue shellworked Sydney Harbour Bridges into the first Parliament of NSW Indigenous Art Prize. Timbery went on to win this inaugural prize in August 2005, with the judges describing her work in the accompanying catalogue as “celebrating a contemporary icon of NSW in the traditional shellwork style associated with the La Perouse community that figures so prominently in our Indigenous history”. In late 2006 the Commonwealth Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA) used the Blue Shellworked Harbour Bridge, 2005 image for a 2007 Aboriginal arts calendar aimed at promoting the Indigenous department within FaCSIA.

Bio credit:

This project was curated by ADC’s First Nations Creative Producer Dennis Golding. The First Nations Creative Producer role is supported by Create NSW.

Image (top): Esme Timbery, Untitled ‘Sydney Opera House’ (detail), 2002.  Photo: Australian Design Centre
Image (bottom): Esme Timbery, Untitled ‘Harbour Bridge’ (2002). Photo: Courtesy of Sydney Opera House Trust.

Esme Timbery Sydney Harbour Bridge