Skip to content
12 March 2018 / leggypeggy

Fabergé eggs are showstoppers

Lilies of the Valley Imperial egg (1898), Fabergé Museum

Lilies of the Valley Imperial egg (1898), the surprise at the top are small portraits of the Tsar and the two eldest children

The world owes Viktor Vekselberg a great big thank you! Oh, you’ve never heard of him? Neither had I, but in 2004 this Ukrainian–Russian billionaire businessman had the wisdom, foresight and money to buy a collection of Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs from the Forbes publishing family in New York.

As a result, he is the single largest owner of Fabergé eggs in the world, owning 15 of them (nine Imperial, two Kelch, and four other Fabergé eggs).

Vekselberg paid just over $100 million to buy the nine Imperial eggs. He says he bought them because they are important to Russian history and culture, and he believed them to be the best jewellery art in the world.

Duchess of Marlborough (1902), Fabergé Museum

Duchess of Marlborough (1902), not an Imperial egg

He also bought 180 other Faberge pieces (more about those in another post).

By 2013 and through his Link of Times foundation, Vekselberg had the eggs and other items on public display in the Fabergé Museum, which is housed in the Shuvaloy Palace, one of the most beautiful palaces in St Petersburg, Russia.

Mind you, renovations on the palace took six or seven years.

Blue Room, Fabergé Museum

The Blue Room houses the Fabergé eggs

Blue Room, Fabergé Museum

The Blue Room actually has some blue

So what makes these eggs so special?
Nothing prepared me for the spectacle of just how stunning these eggs are. Vekselberg is right when he describes them as the best jewellery art in the world.

The story of the eggs began in 1885, when Tsar Alexander III decided to give his wife, the Empress Maria Fedorovna, an Easter egg. Peter Carl Fabergé was commissioned to make this first work, known as the Hen Egg (apologies for not getting a pic of this one). It’s an enamelled egg that opens to reveal a golden yolk. This opens to reveal a golden hen that also opens. The last ‘surprise’ is a tiny replica of the imperial crown plus a ruby pendant. These last two pieces have been lost.

Cockerel Imperial egg (1900), Fabergé Museum

Cockerel Imperial egg (1900),

Maria was so captivated by the gift that Alexander appointed Fabergé  ‘goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Crown’ and commissioned an egg for the next year. After that, it appears Fabergé had complete freedom to design all future Imperial Easter eggs. The only requirements were that each contain a surprise, and that each be unique.

The eggs have their own room—the Blue Room—in the museum, and each egg has its own glass case.

Coronation Egg (1897), Fabergé Museum

Coronation Imperial egg (1897), the ‘surprise’ is an exact replica of the coronation carriage

Order of St George (1916), Fabergé Museum

Order of St George Imperial egg (1916), the simplest of all the Imperial eggs

Some of the most significant Imperial eggs are the Coronation Egg (1897) made to mark the coronation of Nicholas II and Alexandra Fyodorovna, and Order of St George (1916) made during World War I. A replica carriage was the ‘surprise’ in the coronation egg. The Order of St George egg didn’t contain a surprise (war-time austerity), and was not designed by Fabergé, but followed the family’s instructions. I’ve read conflicting information about this egg. I’ll trust what’s posted in the museum—this is the last Imperial egg ever made and Nicholas II gave it to his mother, Empress Maria Fyodorovna.

Chanticleer Kelch egg (1904) Fabergé Museum

Chanticleer Kelch egg (1904), one of 12 eggs made for Siberian gold mine industrialist, Alexander Ferdinandovich Kelch. These were gifts for his wife, Barbara

One of the most elaborate eggs is Lilies of the Valley (1898). Tsar Nicholas II gave this Art Nouveau egg to his wife, the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna. Lilies of the valley were her favourite flower. The egg is made of gold, diamonds, rubies, pearls, glass, guilloche enamel, casting, stamping, engraving, gilding and watercolor.

The museum has five or six more rooms filled with other Fabergé treasures, and I’ll cover the in a separate post. The eggs deserve to be showcased alone.

I’ve added a caption (title and date made) to each egg pic (you may have to roll over the pics to see the words).

By the way, 57 of the 65 known Fabergé eggs still exist, and 43 of the 50 Imperial eggs survive.

Renaissance Imperial egg (1894), Fabergé Museum

Renaissance Imperial egg (1894)

Some tips about visiting museums
Arrive early and buy tickets in advance if you can. We got to the Fabergé Museum 20–30 minutes before opening time. We hadn’t bought tickets ahead of time (we weren’t sure we’d be able to go), but I think it is an online option. We were near the front of the queue and we whisked in quickly.

Start in the second room. Poor John has a tactic that works very well. Whenever we enter a museum, we head straight for the second room. Everyone else stops in the first room so it’s packed. If that’s where you start, you’ll jostle along with the ‘herd’ for the rest of the visit. Meanwhile, the second room is deserted.

Amazingly, the eggs were in the second room. We were practically the only people there for at least 20 minutes. We then stayed ahead of the crowd and, before leaving, we doubled back to see the treasures in room one. By then room two was packed and it would have been hard to get close to the eggs.

Two questions
Do you have tips for visiting museums, galleries and the like? If yes, please share. And do you have a favourite egg?

Bay Tree Imperial egg (1911), Fabergé Museum

Bay Tree Imperial egg (1911), also known as the Orange Tree Imperial egg

3 March 2018 / leggypeggy

Tartu tourist office helps us find a great lunch

Püssirohukelder or the Gunpowder Cellar

The vast Püssirohukelder—or the Gunpowder Cellar—has a ceiling 11 metres high

Tartu in Estonia was a great reminder of why it pays to drop in to the local tourist office when you arrive in a new town. Last year, Poor John and I did a self-drive tours around Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, and we often visited tourist offices to find out about the top places to stay, see and eat.

For example, staff in tourist offices in Finland suggested that we visit a weird sculpture garden hidden near a highway rest stop, and try a vety—a unique sandwich served in Lappeenranta. What rewarding stops they were.

We only had a couple of hours in Tartu, so went straight to the tourist office. The woman there told us about a few places to visit around the town square and, more importantly, she told us where to have lunch.

Tartu’s lovely main square is surrounded by tempting restaurants and we’d have probably settled for one of them, until the tourist woman suggested the Püssirohukelder or the Gunpowder Cellar. It was just up the hill and beyond where we might have walked.

Püssirohukelder or the Gunpowder Cellar

Entrance to the Gunpowder Cellar

The restaurant is in one of Tartu’s most historic buildings.

In the late 1700s and in an effort to fortify the city, Catherine II of Russia ordered the construction of a gunpowder cellar. Work began on the site of an earlier fort which still had existing thick brick walls. The cellar was completed in 1778, and gunpowder was stored there until 1809.

Over later years, it was used to store beer, university carriages, fire-fighting equipment, kitchen equipment,  building materials and vegetables. At one stage, the University of Tartu used it for research projects.

It’s been a restaurant almost continuously since 1982.

As you might imagine, the place is huge. In fact, it is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest pub ceiling in the world, at 11 metres (36 feet).

One of their signature dishes is cream of salmon soup in a bread bowl, and that’s exactly what we ordered. Poor John said he’d drive on to our next destination, so I had a beer too. Both were excellent and the service was great.

Before heading out of town, we visited some of the sights, including the Town Hall and the bronze pig in front of the Tartu Market.

The sculpture, by Mati Karmin, was unveiled on St Anthony’s Day, 17 January, in 2008. Old Estonians believed that Midwinter arrived on St. Anthony’s Day. It was also the day they accounted for all household provisions. People ate pig’s head or ears on that day. Luckily we never saw either on a menu in Estonia.

Pig sculpture in Tartu, Estonia

Mati Karmin’s bronze pig sculpture in Tartu

Tartu Town Hall, Estonia

Out the front of the Town Hall , you can only just see the fountain called The Kissing Students. I forgot to get a closer shot

25 February 2018 / leggypeggy

Meet Spook—the intrepid traveller

Spook the cat

Spook’s half–half chin and outlined eyes were her best features

People who follow this blog know I have dogs (I’ve had lots of dogs), but many of you would not know that I’ve also been owned by cats. There was Baby (who adored my dad), Red and Black (identical twin kittens named after the colour of their collars), Spook and lastly Quincy (the only cat I’ve had in Australia, and a very grumpy one at that).

This post is about Spook.

I came to be owned by Spook quite by chance.

At the time, I was working for a daily newspaper in central Nebraska. One October day in 1970, I was assigned to get a picture of the apple harvest. Too easy. I hopped in the car and drove to one of the local orchards where a horde of kittens vied for my attention.

But one kept crawling up the leg of my jeans—geez cats’ claws allow them to go almost anywhere.

cat and owner

Spook tries to endear herself to a young Poor John

As I was about to leave, the farmer pointed at my ‘fan club’ and said, ‘She seems to be keen on you. You can have her if you want her. I won’t be vaccinating any of them’. Distemper is a death sentence for animals, so I bundled her in the car and took her home.

One look at her and you might figure out how she got her name of Spook—black cat with golden eyes outlined in gold fur. But she could easily have been called Devil. I fostered a poodle about the same time and Spook terrorised that poor dog. She would lie in wait as Astro—yeah that was his name—walked down the corridor, and jump out and hiss at him.

Luckily I never had to have Astro treated for a heart attack, but I did give him to a deaf friend, who appreciated the fact that he barked whenever the phone rang or someone knocked at the door.

But I digress.

This is about Spook.

I married Poor John in Jordan, and then had to return to the US for four months to finish a teaching contract. I told him that I’d be returning with the dog (Bella), but I didn’t mention the cat. Surely it would be easy to find a new home for a cat.

But no it wasn’t at all easy, so and Bella AND Spook came with me to Jordan. That is another story.

Today I’m telling about when the two critters returned to the USA after their stint in the Middle East to stay with, Jane, one of my sisters.

From here, I’ll let the 1982 articles in the Omaha-World Herald tell the story.

Dog and cat wait for dinner

In Burma, Bella and Spook wait patiently for the kitchen door to open and dinner to be served

World traveler missing in Omaha
by Jeff Jordan (Tuesday, 29 June, 1982)
‘A young Omaha woman, close to tears, called The World-Herald last week. She had lost her cat.

‘Now, lost cats are all too commonplace. But not this one. The pet’s name is Spook, and for nine years, she’s been a world traveler. Her owner is Jane Austin, a nurse at the University Hospital, and she was beside herself when she called.

‘Strictly speaking, Spook belongs to Miss Austin’s sister, Peggy Bright, the wife of an Australian diplomat. The couple went through Omaha a month ago, on their way from the Middle East to a new post in Canberra, Australia.

‘Spook and her lifelong playmate, Bella, an Alsatian dog, could not be taken along because of the 12-month quarantine the Australian government requires of incoming animals, a quarantine that must be served in London, England. So, as she has on other occasions, Miss Austin volunteered to keep Spook and Bella until the Brights are moved to a country more hospitable to pets.

‘Actually, the animals are Nebraskans, born when Peggy Bright was single and a reporter for the Kearney Hub. Miss Austin took them the first time in 1976 when her sister went to Cairo, Egypt, on a Rhodes [actually it was a Rotary] scholarship where she met her future husband. They were later married in Amman, Jordan, [actually we were married in Ajlun, Jordan, but that’s another story], just after Mrs Bright came back to finish out a teaching contract at Kearney State College [now University of Nebraska at Kearney].

‘In 1980 she returned to her husband, taking Spook and Bella on the first of their travels. Until last month, the Brights and their pets were rotating their diplomatic assignments among the capitals of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

‘They were in Beirut last summer when Miss Austin visited them for five weeks.

‘Now, only a month after the Brights have gone off to Australia, Miss Austin is facing the possibility that she’ll have to tell them that she’s lost Spook.

‘It happened last Wednesday, she said. While she was away from her newly purchased house at 48th and Bancroft Streets, some neighborhood youngsters were shooting firecrackers. Spook, she later learned, decided to seek safety and jumped into the open car of a woman visiting Miss Austin’s next door neighbor.

‘Not realizing Spook was inside, she drove home to 40th and Grover Streets and locked the car for the night. When she opened the door Thursday morning, Spook took off.


Bella was so beautiful. She was on the small side and I always thought of her as a Belgian shepherd

‘Miss Austin and her mother have been searching for her, with no results. They’ve placed ads in The World Herald, announcements on the radio stations and have searched countless times—her mother in the daytime and Miss Austin at night when she gets home from the hospital.

‘“I bet I’ve spent seven hours every day, walking that neighborhood, looking and calling for her,” she said. “My mother walked it for hours, clinking a spoon against a can of cat food because she’ll come to that should.

‘I just moved her a month ago and I don’t think Spook can find her way home. I didn’t let her out much…I was trying to be so careful

‘Spook should not be hard to identify, thought she departed without collar and tags. She’s a medium-sized black cat, splattered with tan flecks, calico fashion. One side of her chin is black, the other tan, and she has tan rings around her eyes. ‘She looks like a little raccoon,” Miss Austin said.

Meanwhile, every afternoon at 4, Miss Austin goes to the Humane Society “to see if she’s there or if they’ve found her body,” then she and Bella walk the neighborhood near 40th and Grover Streets. “The dog’s just sick that she’s gone. They’ve been everywhere together since they were babies.”

newspaper articles

Spook hits the headlines. She would have been pleased

Reunion makes cat’s 4th Purr-fect
by Jeff Jordan (Thursday, 9 July 1982)Spook, the world traveller

‘The cat is back!

‘Spook, the world traveller, was reunited with her owner on the Fourth of July, thanks to a World-Herald want ad and a young woman with a fondness for animals.

‘Spook, spooked by some firecrackers June 23, is back with Omaha nurse Jane Austin and her lifelong chum, an Alsatian dog named Bella.

‘Both can thank Kathy Newman of 4009 Spring St., a pet owner who regularly puts cat food out in her backyard and thus kept Spook from starving during her 10-day absence from home.

[Then three paragraphs of recap, which you don’t need.]

‘Mrs Newman explained in a telephone interview that the backyard hors d’oeuvres are not for her cat, Napkin, but for the squirrels, mourning doves and cardinals that live in her yard, along with occasional visiting cats.

‘“My dear little cat is street stupid and only goes out on a leash.” Mrs. Newman said, “but she sit and talks to them through the window and they talk back.”

Along about June 25, she noticed Spook was becoming one of the backyard regulars.

‘“I had seen them (Miss Austin and her mother) in the neighborhood one day, calling for Spook, and Sunday, July 4th, I finally made the connection (to the want ad). I said, ‘Spook, you stay where you are. I have to call your Mommy’.”

‘The grand reunion occurred a few minutes later. Spook purred all the way home, Miss Austin said.

‘Bella, the dog, also ecstatic, kissed the cat on the face. “She really missed her,” Miss Austin said.

‘There also followed a quick phone call to Australia to tell Miss Austin’s sister that the cat had been found—and by a woman who refused any suggestion of reward.

‘Mrs. Newman’s love of pets goes way back, she said, and included numerous cats, dogs, a racing pigeon (No. 219) and Squeaky, a disoriented bat her father brought home one snowy day when she was a girl.

There are plenty of other shorter stories about Spook. She had adventures galore ahead. I shipped both animals to Burma in 1984 to be with us while we were on posting there. That’s where Spook stole everyone’s heart, learned to play bridge and had a role in a play. She lived until she was 21.

Cat playing cards

Spook and Loretta study their bridge hand. Trust me, this was not posed

19 February 2018 / leggypeggy

Exploring the magnificent Moscow Metro

Mosaic at Novoslobodskaya station, Moscow

One of the geometric stained-glass panels in Novoslobodskaya, the second last station we visited

Towards the end of our stay in Russia’s capital, Poor John and I spent a couple of hours exploring the beauty of the famous Moscow Metro, which is also known as the People’s Palace.

First opened in 1935, during the Stalin era, the metro has 12 lines covering 349 kilometres and stopping at a staggering 207 stations. Some of these stations are absolutely breathtaking. Seriously, they are works of art in their own right.

Before we set out, Poor John spent time online to identify some of the best stations to visit. We had a long list and knew we couldn’t visit them all, but we figured out a zigzagging route that would let us see quite a few. And we did all that for about $1 each because once you enter the metro system, you can keep travelling at no extra charge until you exit. Because we stayed underground, I don’t have any pictures from the station entrances or turnstiles. Next time.

Hall at Arbatskaya station, Moscow

The busy hall at Arbatskaya station

We started with the Arbatskaya station on line 3. It opened in 1953 and was designed by Leonid Polyakov, Valentin Pelevin and Yury Zenkevich. It was meant to double as a station and a bomb shelter, so it is large and deep. The platform is 250 metres long. The walls are decorated with glazed ceramic tiles and ceramic flower bouquets. The chandeliers are bronze.

Park Pobedy station, Moscow

Officials walk through the hall at Park Pobedy station

Mural in Park Pobedy, Moscow

A mural at one end of a hall in Park Pobedy

Next stop was Park Pobedy also on line 3. This newer station, opened in 2003, has two underground halls and was designed by N. Shurygina and N. Shumakov. I’ve read that the descent from ground-level to the southern hall has four escalators 126 meters long (the longest in Moscow). The hall decoration is dedicated to victories in the Patriotic Wars of 1812 and 1941–45. The hall pylons are faced with white and red marble.

We only saw the southern hall and I was delighted to take pictures of military/police without having my camera confiscated. Times have changed.

Minskaya station, Moscow

The modern Minskaya station where we arrived by mistake

It was too late by the time I realised we had boarded the wrong train, so we got a surprise stop at the Minskaya station that had opened only six months earlier. I can’t find more info about it, but the decoration is modern, digital and train-related.

Hall in Kievskaya station, Moscow

The art filled hall in Kievskaya station

Mural in Kievskaya station, Moscow

A mural depicting the feast in Kiev

Luckily it wasn’t hard to get back on track and we soon arrived at Kievskaya on line 5. This station opened in 1953. Its design was decided through an open competition held in Ukraine. The winners were E.I. Katonin, V.K. Skugarev and G.E. Golubev. Not surprisingly, the frescos on the pylons depict events from Ukraine’s history.

It was built under the personal supervision of General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev. It is believed that the elegant decor was a way for Khrushchev to pay tribute to his Ukrainian homeland. The panel on the hall’s end wall shows the feast in Kiev that honoured the 300th anniversary of the reunification of Ukraine with Russia.

Triumphal arch at Oktyabrskaya station

The triumphal arch at Oktyabrskaya station

Platform at Oktyabrskaya station, Moscow

The platform at Oktyabrskaya station

Our next stop was Oktyabrskaya on line 5. Opened in 1950, it was designed by Leonid Polyakov, who helped design Arbatskaya, the first station we visited. The pylons have ventilation grilles that are flanked by anodized aluminum torches that give the hall a golden glow. At one end there is a miniature triumphal arch with a metallic gate that walls off a blue lit room, symbolising peace. 

Platform at Paveletskaya station

Hammers and sickles adorn Paveletskaya station

Still on line 5, we visited Paveletskaya station which opened in 1943. Designed by S.V. Lyashchenko and E.S. Demchenko. Hammers and sickles dominate the decoration. The hall is lit by bronze chandeliers. A mosaic panel represents friendship and unity between the working class and the collective farm peasantry. The station has some beautiful staircases.

Sculpture at Ploschad Revolyutsii station, Moscow

One of 76 sculptures at Ploschad Revolyutsii station

Then we were back to line 3 to see Ploschad Revolyutsii, one of the metro’s most famous stations. It’s named after Revolution Square, under which it is located. Designed by Alexey Dushkin and opened in 1938, the station is known for it’s statues. Each arch is flanked by a pair of bronze sculptures by Matvey Manizer. These pieces depict the people of the Soviet Union, including soldiers, farmers, athletes, writers, aviators, industrial workers and schoolchildren. There are 76 sculptures in the station.

Mayakovskaya station, Moscow

The vast hall and platform at Mayakovskaya station

Ceiling mosaic at Mayakovskaya station, Moscow

One of the ceiling mosaics

Dushkin also designed Mayakovskaya, which opened in 1938 and is situated on line 2. The station name as well as the design is a reference to futurism and its prominent Russian exponent, poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. Considered to be one of the most beautiful in the system, Mayakovskaya is a fine example of pre-World War II Stalinist architecture and one of the most famous metro stations in the world. It is most well known for its 34 ceiling mosaics depicting ’24 Hours in the Land of the Soviets’. I only got a pic of one. During World War II, the station was used as a command post for Moscow’s anti-aircraft regiment.

Hope I’m not wearing you out. We only have two stations to go.

Mosaic at Novoslobodskaya station, Moscow

Musician mosaic

Mosaic Peace Throughout the World, Novoslobodskaya station

‘Peace Throughout the World’ mosaic by Korin

It’s obvious that Dushkin was a popular architect for the metro. He and Alexander Strelkov designed the beautiful Novoslobodskaya station on line 5. Dushkin had long wished to decorate a metro station with stained glass. As a result, this station is best known for its 32 stained-glass panels, which were designed by the famous Soviet artist, Pavel Korin. The panels were made in Latvia because Russia did not have a tradition of working with stained glass or any masters of the craft. Six of the stained-glass panels depict people from different professions including a musician, an agronomist and, of course, an architect. The remaining panels have intricate geometric patterns and stars. The station opened in 1952.

Komsomolskaya station, Moscow

More officials at the Komsomolskaya station

And at long last we arrived at the stunning Komsomolskaya on line 5. It’s considered a Gateway to Moscow and is one of the busiest station in the whole system because it is under three railway terminals. Alexey Shchusev was the lead architect, but after his death, the work was finished by Viktor Kokorin, A. Zabolotnaya, V. Varvarin and O. Velikoretsky and the artist, Korin, who created the eight ceiling mosaics. In 1951, both Korin and Shchusev (posthumously) were awarded the Stalin Prize for their work on the station, which opened the following year. Six years later, the station was awarded the Grand Prix title of Expo ’58 in Brussels.

I so wish we’d had time to explore more stations. If you want to look at more, here’s a link to a 2011 list of an architect’s favourite stations. Do you have a favourite station or a favourite artwork?

An interesting bit of history
In the 1930s, Soviet workers did the labor and art work for the early metro stations, but the main engineering designs, routes and construction plans were handled by specialists recruited from the London Underground, the oldest metro system in the world.

Ceiling at Komsomolskaya station, Moscow

Magnificent ceiling at Komsomolskaya station

9 February 2018 / leggypeggy

Tracking the Seven Sisters


1. Minyipuru (Seven Sisters) 2007


2. The Seven Sisters 2003–04 by Tjanpi Desert Weavers. Their pursuer is on the right


3. Seven Sisters Songline 1994 by Josephine Mick

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters is one of the most remarkable and moving exhibitions ever shown at the National Museum of Australia.

As the exhibit says ‘At first glance, the Seven Sisters songline is the story of an ancestral shape-shifter and the women he pursues. It is also a tale of survival, resilience and endurance arising from the endless drama of flight and pursuit, and the ability of women to overcome the threats and dangers that face them.’

Clearly, the #MeToo phenomenon has been around for centuries, and the Seven Sisters were among the first ‘victims’.

Minyipuru Pangkalpa by Nancy Nyanjilpayi Chapman, 2015

4. Minyipuru Pangkalpa 2015 by Nancy Nyanjilpayi Chapman

Or were they? This exhibit makes the point that the sisters usually managed to stay one step ahead of their pursuer.

Now, first off, you need to know that much of Aboriginal history is based on Dreamtime stories that have been handed down through the centuries. The stories explain landmarks, water features, plants, the sky, people, personalities and so much more.

I can’t pretend to know much about any of this, so instead of trying to rewrite explanations about this exhibit, I will often use the words posted with the displays.

So here goes.

5. Yarrakalpa (Hunting Ground) 2013 by eight artists

5. Yarrakalpa (Hunting Ground) 2013 by eight artists

A multimedia clip of the artists working on Yarrakalpa

A multimedia clip of the artists working on this piece, Yarrakalpa

A sketch explaining the various elements of Yarrakalpa

A sketch explaining the various elements of Yarrakalpa

Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters is a journey along the Ancestral routes of the sisters as they flee across deserts, pursued relentlessly by a sorcerer. This is an epic tale of tragedy and comedy, obsession and trickery, obsession and loss, solidarity and sorrow—a universal drama played out in the night sky by Orion and the Pleiades, and a terrestrial creation story in which the land has a starring role.

‘The Seven Sisters story is a saga of mythological dimensions and meanings. It is of a kind with Greek legends of gods transforming themselves into swans and bulls and showers of gold in order to seduce the women they desire. But the Australian desert story has a more ribald, raunchy element.

‘In retelling the Seven Sisters story here, the museum becomes the three deserts of the Martu, the Ngaanyatjarra and the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjnatjara peoples, the paintings become portals to place, and the films and audio pieces replicate the inma, or the song and dance that embody the story.

Baskets by Martumili artists

Baskets by Martumili artists Ngamaru Bidu, Kanu Nancy Taylor and Mantararr Rosie Williams, 2013

Piti (bowls) Australian Aboriginal art

Piti (bowls) made by Margaret Dagg, Tospy Tjulyata and Nyurpaya Kaika Burton between 1997 and 2003

In 2017, Inawinytji Williamson wrote about the display and the Tjukurpa behind it. If you’re interested click through to more detail about what Tjukurpa means. Williamson said, ’The Seven Sisters Tjukurpa—our Dreaming creation law—is very important to us, we hold it strongly and teach it to the generations that come after us.

‘This Tjukurpa travels through many people’s country: the Martu, Ngaanyatjarra, Pithjantjatjara and Yankunytjnatjara lands. This really big Tjukurpa belongs to many people in the north, east, south, west and centre. Many people tell this story in different languages.

Wati Nyiru by Judy Trigger in 2013

Wati Nyiru by Judy Trigger in 2013. Judy shows Wati Nyiru camouflaging himself as a tree (on the left) while he spies on the sisters.

‘We have brought the song, story and paintings full of Tjukurpa—the creation spirit of the Seven Sisters—to put in our Canberra exhibition. We want to show this major creation story here so many other people can look, learn and increase their understanding. And it’s for teaching all our children, our granddaughters and grandsons—to keep the culture strong. That is why we are making this exhibition so everyone can see and understand that our Tjukurpa law stands strong today.’

Today there are about 500 different Aboriginal peoples spread across Australia, each with their own language and territory and usually made up of a large number of separate clans.

The Seven Sisters cross virtually all these clans. In the west, the sisters are collectively called Minyipuru and their male pursuer is Yurla. As they travel eastward, the sisters are known as Kungkarrangkalpa (also Kungkarangkalpa), and the lovestruck man (sorcerer) is Wati Nyiru.

As the display explains ‘the sisters are not simply victims in their own story. At times flustered and flighty, they can be as tricky and clever as the sorcerer who transforms into multiple guises to trick the sisters he attempts to possess.

‘When the sorcerer’s lust overcomes his reason, and a part of him cuts loose in the form or kuniya the carpet snake, the sisters capture and wrestle it out of their country, flinging it away and watching it flicker and gleam with the colours of the rainbow, while the shape-shifter chases it over the western horizon. 

Kungkarangkalpa Atila 2014 by Tjunkaya Tapaya

Kungkarangkalpa Atila 2014 by Tjunkaya Tapaya, Ernabella Arts centre. The Songlines are in yellow

‘The Seven Sisters story is more than a moral narrative of actions and their consequences. It reflects a world in which necessity drives behaviour, power is negotiable and flexible, and resilience is the quality that ensures survival.’

The artworks accompanying Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters have been produced by artists from across Australia. Some pieces have been created by as many as eight artists working together.

The exhibition is loaded with special elements. Three items that helped to bring the artworks to life were an overhead video (visitors lie on beds to view), a collection of life-sized sisters hung from the ceiling and a re-creation of an Aboriginal art centre.

Aboriginal art studio re-creation

Aboriginal-owned art centres (this isn’t a real one) are dotted across the Central and Western deserts of the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia.

Songlines were recognised as Indigenous law and given legal authority in the Australian Federal Court during the Ngaanyatjarra people’s successful claim, in 2005, to more than 180,000 square kilometres of land. 

Below are captions for the photographs that are numbered. This blog theme plays havoc with long captions and I really wanted to include the artists’ names and other detail.

By the way, Songlines is on show until 25 February. There is a symposium about the exhibit on 23 February.

P.S. Do you have a favourite artwork? I have too many.

Kungkarangkalpa 2014

6. Kungkarangkalpa 2015 by five sisters, all from the Tjala Arts centre


1. Minyipuru is a collaborative work by three sisters—Muni Rita Simpson, Mantararr Rosie Williams and Jugarda Dulcie Gibbs. They show the seven sisters ‘following’ survival lines to travel across from waterhole to waterhole. Many of these waterholes are now wells on the Canning Stock Route, which is shown as the thick red line through the middle of the painting.

2. Six women weavers—Kanytjupayi Benson, Ivy Laidlaw Hopkins, Nalda Searles, Jean Inyalanka Burke, Thisbe Purich and Elaine Warnatjura Lane—worked on this life-sized version of The Seven Sisters. Their pursuer sits off to the right. This is the first artwork you see on entering the exhibition.

Kungkarrangkalpa 2014 by Angilyiya Tjapiti Mitchell

Kungkarrangkalpa 2014 by Angilyiya Tjapiti Mitchell. This shows the sisters at Minyma Ngampi. The blue circles are holes they dug and the carpet snake, kuniya, is in the middle.

3. In the Seven Sisters Songline, Josephine Mick shows the sisters paths of travel from the west near Roebourne to the east north of Sydney. The larger black circles represent major cities and the lands of the Kamilaroi and the Bundjalung peoples. The work is now incomplete because a separate piece, of Tasmania, went missing following an international exhibition.

4. In Minyipuru Pangkalpa, Nancy Nyanjilpayi Chapman shows the seven sisters teasing Yurla, their pursuer. The peach oval in the middle is the sisters camping. Other groups of seven shapes represent the sisters dancing, sleeping, sitting and painting themselves.

'The Wobblies' by residents from Wanarn Aged Care Facility

‘The Wobblies’ by residents from Wanarn Aged Care Facility. These works were produced when aged-care nurses gave residents paints and cardboard.

5. Yarrakalpa is encyclopaedic, containing a knowledge of plants and animals, of seasons and fire, of permanent and temporary water sources. It also describes the landscape. The Martumili artists are Kumpaya Girgirba, Yikartu Bumba, Kanu Nancy Taylor, Ngamaru Bidu, Yuwali Janice Nixon, Reena Rogers, Themla Judson and Ngalangka Nola Taylor.

6. Kungkarangkalpa was painted by artists from the Tjala Arts centre. Tjungkara Ken, the youngest of five sisters, dreamt they would paint on a round canvas. This is the result. The other sisters are Yaritji Young, Maringka Tunkin, Freda Brady and Sandra Ken. The painting tracks across 600 kilometres of the Northern Territory and South Australia, and conveys knowledge of bush medicines, bush food and water sources.

Yinunmara 1997 by Tjapartji Kanytjuri Bates

Yinunmara 1997 by Tjapartji Kanytjuri Bates. I have to finish off with this one. Based on the caption posted at the museum, Poor John noticed the painting was hung upside down. He reported it.


27 January 2018 / leggypeggy

A wonderful look at Aboriginal art

The Aboriginal Memorial

The Aboriginal Memorial

Close-up of a hollow-log coffin

Close-up of a hollow-log coffin

Yesterday, 26 January, was Australia Day. It commemorates the day the First Fleet sailed into Port Jackson in 1788, and marks the beginning of British settlement.

Not surprisingly, it is considered Invasion Day by the indigenous people whose lives were permanently and, often cruelly, changed by the arrival of these 11 ships and their cargo of about 1400 people, more than half of them transported convicts.

In recent years, there’s been growing controversy as to whether 26 January is a suitable date to celebrate an occasion that adversely affected so many.

A variety of dates have been mentioned as a possible alternative, but I doubt there will be widespread change any time soon. Some communities have decided to celebrate other days.

Hollow log ceremonial coffins

Poor John and nephew, Tom, explore the ‘field’ of hollow-log coffins

In support of our indigenous population, Triple J, a popular national radio station, has changed the day they release their annual Hottest 100 album. The tracks, chosen by public vote, used to be aired on the 26th, but this year Triple J is playing the winning 100 tracks on the 27th. In fact, I’m listening to the countdown now. It’s on song 40, True Lovers by Holy Holy.

So I thought I’d mark today (the 27th) by sharing some of the amazing Indigenous artworks in our National Gallery. Almost 10 years ago, the building was renovated to create a new entrance and to significantly increase display space, particularly for the collection of Australian Indigenous art. It is said to be the largest such collection in the world.

Let’s start with the first exhibit (shown at the top) you see when you enter by the not-so-new entrance on the ground floor—The Aboriginal Memorial, an installation of 200 hollow log ceremonial coffins from Central Arnhem Land. The work was created for the gallery to mark the Bicentenary of Australia, which marked 200 years of European settlement—hence 200 hollow log coffins.

The work was conceived by two Aboriginal people and created by 43 Aboriginal artists. It was commissioned by the gallery and initially shown at the Biennale of Sydney in 1988. It was then moved to Canberra for permanent display.

An explanation card at the gallery says ‘The Aboriginal Memorial marks an important time in the history of Australian society. While it is intended as a war memorial, it is also a historical statement, a testimony to the resilience of the Aboriginal people and culture in the face of great odds, and a legacy for future generations of Australians.’ Another card lists all the participating artists.

Mt Hermannsburg by Elton Wirri

Mt Hermannsburg by Elton Wirri

Then it’s time to head upstairs to see the varied collections.

One of the first items is the fish trap. The gallery also commissioned this 12-metre-long piece. It’s a contemporary representation of a fish trap from the Maningrida Aboriginal community.

Then come the pieces from early Western Desert (1971–74). These cover textiles, paintings and ceramics.

Fish Trap

Fish Trap fabricated by Urban Art Projects, Queensland

Seven sisters by Ken Tjungkara

Seven sisters by Ken Tjungkara

A small gallery is devoted almost entirely to works by Albert Namatjira and his fellow artists from Hermannsburg. Namatjira’s  landscapes highlighted the rugged geological features of the land in the background, and the distinctive Australian flora in the foreground with very old, stately and majestic white gum trees surrounded by twisted scrub.

His colours were similar to the ochres that his ancestors had used to depict the same landscape, but his style was appreciated by Europeans because it met the aesthetics of western art.

Then it’s on to a couple of other rooms with an array of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander works. As I look back through the gallery pics I took during 2017, I find that some of my favourite pieces were photographed in earlier years and are on a different computer, so I’ll do another post on them. Maybe next year on 27 January.

In the meantime, I hope you like these images. I have lots more to share. I’ll finish off today with two images that reflect how our Aboriginal citizens have been treated. As you can see, they were featured in countless ashtrays.

Close up of Ash on Me

Close up of Ash on Me

Ash on Me by Tony Albert

Ash on Me by Tony Albert



22 January 2018 / leggypeggy

Sculpture in the snow and a magnificent church

Sculpture by Ásmundur Sveinsson

I missed getting the name of this Sveinsson sculpture but two friends have helped out. Siggi in Iceland and Sy in New York say this is called Tröllkonan or The Troll Woman

Washing the floor by Ásmundur Sveinsson

Washing the floor by Ásmundur Sveinsson

Siggi, one of our wonderful hosts in Iceland, surprised us when he suggested that we visit a couple of Reykjavik’s outdoor sculpture gardens. It was cold, grey, windy, icy and had been snowing, but what the heck. Let’s go!

I’m so glad we did.

The first garden introduced us to the work of Ásmundur Sveinsson, a pioneer of Icelandic sculpture. I was surprised to learn that his early work was fiercely opposed and criticised. That early work is large, chunky and captivating, especially covered in snow.

Poor John and I wandered around the entire garden, and never minded the fact that we had to wade through ankle-deep snow. The garden wraps around Ásmundarsafn, the distinctive home and studio that Sveinsson designed with a Mediterranean theme.

As a young man, Sveinsson studied at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, mostly under the guidance of sculptor, Carl Milles. In the late 1920s, he lived in Paris for three years and travelled around Italy and Greece.

In Ásmundur Sveinsson's annexe

In Ásmundur Sveinsson’s annexe

Religions by Ásmundur Sveinsson

Religions by Ásmundur Sveinsson

Sveinsson returned to Iceland in 1929 and began producing a series of abstracted figurative works. His themes were often men and women at work. During the 1940s, his work moved away from the human and animal forms that had been his mainstay, and he began producing work that was much lighter and almost entirely abstract.

Throughout his life, Sveinsson believed that art was relevant to the people and belonged to the masses. Not surprisingly, he has been called Iceland’s ‘folk poet’ of visual art, and many of his works are displayed in Reykjavík’s public places.

Studio of Ásmundur Sveinsson

A small part of Sveinsson’s studio

Sveinsson died in 1982 (aged 89), and bequeathed all his work and his home/studio to the City of Reykjavík. Please scroll down to the comments. One of my faithful followers, efge63, has posted a short video about Sveinsson and his work and studio. 

After visiting Ásmundarsafn, we had a bonus stop at Reykjavík’s famous Lutheran church—Hallgrímskirkja—and one of the city’s most important landmarks.

Interior of Hallgrímskirkja church

A choir performs in front of the magnificent pipe organ in Reykjavik’s massive Lutheran church

Iceland's Hallgrímskirkja church, exterior

The tower at Hallgrímskirkja is 74.5 metres

At 74.5 metres (244 ft) high, it is the largest church in Iceland and one of the tallest structures in the country. The church is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman, Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–74), author of the Passion Hymns.

Guðjón Samúelsson, who was inspired by the shapes created when lava cools into basalt rock, designed the church in 1937. Construction lasted from 1945 to 1986, with the tower completed long before the rest of the building.

Another impressive part of the church is its pipe organ, designed and constructed by the German organ builder, Johannes Klais of Bonn. The organ stands 15 metres tall and weighs 25 tons. I was interested to see that there was a organ appeal going. They want money to get the organ’s 5275 pipes cleaned. 

A choir was performing when we arrived, so we had a quick look before moving on to the Einar Jónsson Museum, another distinctive building that also served as the sculptor’s home and studio.

Christmas (Jol) by Einar Jónsson

Christmas (Jol) by Einar Jónsson

The sun had set and the museum had closed by the time we arrived, but we were still able to admire a few of Jónsson’s pieces in the garden.

Jónsson was another sculpture pioneer in Iceland. In fact, he was many years ahead of Sveinsson. He lived abroad for more than 20 years before returning to his home country.

Unlike most other sculptors, Jónsson worked almost entirely in plaster. This had to do partly with the lack of good modeling clay in Iceland, but it allowed Jónsson to work on his individual sculptures for years. He sometimes spent more than a decade on a particular piece.

Heimir by Einar Jónsson

He had a hand in the design of his home, gallery and studio, which is where the museum is now located. His penthouse apartment there is considered to have one of the best views of Reykjavík.

Jónsson donated the premises and his work to the Einar Jónsson Museum in Reykjavík, which opened in 1923.

Einar Jónsson Museum, Reykjavik

Wish we could have visited the penthouse at the Einar Jónsson Museum. See the Hallgrímskirkja church tower at the right

Having seen some of the various sculptures—just a small representation—do you have a favourite?

Note on naming
I was interested to read that the Icelandic names of Sveinsson and Jónsson are patronymic, meaning they are not family names. What I read said that both should be referred to by their ‘first names’ of Ásmundur and Einar.

Icelanders don’t always follow that. Both museums/gardens had plaques that used the ‘apparent’ surnames of Sveinsson and Jónsson, when mentioning either man for the second time. There’s an example below.

Plaque about Ásmundur Sveinsson

A bit of evidence