‘La Per’ women artists have been working with and earning an income from shellwork for generations. Esme Timbery recalls families taking shell-collecting trips to the local beaches throughout their traditional lands, catching the ferry across the bay to Kamay (Cronulla) and spending the day harvesting shells. Strong family connections along the south coast of NSW, including the sister community in Wreck Bay, also provided another important source of material. An immense knowledge of the coastline, the seasons and environmental conditions is required to harvest specific shells and this knowledge of country has been passed on through this important tradition.
Timbery learnt shellwork as a young girl from her mother, grandmother and aunts by first sorting the shells by type, size and colour. A cardboard base is used to sculpt the subjects and this is then covered with material before being ‘shelled’ and in some cases topped with glitter - a modern take on shell grit. The shell designs and patterns are inherited. Many La Per artists have worked with iconic images like the Sydney Harbour Bridge and, in doing so, re-craft Australia’s image and history and provide a richer understanding of the Sydney landscape.
These works by Esme Timbery are currently on display in the Yiribana Gallery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art on lower level 3 of the Art Gallery of NSW.