Rare early Aboriginal art piece purchased from Kalamunda returned to Australia


The rare sculpture by Tiwi artist Ripijingimpi Puruntatmeri. Picture: Supplied
The rare sculpture by Tiwi artist Ripijingimpi Puruntatmeri. Picture: Supplied

A PERTH collector of early Aboriginal art has repatriated a rare sculpture bought from a Kalamunda gallery more than three decades ago.

Richard Aldridge, from Shelley, said the sculpture depicted a legendary figure created by Tiwi artist Ripijingimpi Puruntatmeri.

The tribal art dealer recently returned the artwork to Australia from California.

“The nationally-significant sculpture left Australia after being purchased by an American tourist in 1981 from Bortignon’s gallery,” Mr Aldridge said.

The original owner held on to the $120 receipt for the sculpture, which Mr Aldridge said was now worth up to $10,000 to a collector.

He unearthed the piece after being contacted through his website by a man who inherited about 40 pieces of Aboriginal art from his late mother.

The sculpture, which is made from an ironwood native to the Tiwi Islands, stood out in the collection of mostly ‘touristy’ artefacts.

“This particular piece was about 15 to 20 years older than the other items,” Mr Aldridge said.

“I recognised the work of the artist, in particular the making of the eyes. The artist was one of a small group of pioneering sculptors from the Tiwi Islands.”

The rare piece was sold to a major collector soon after it arrived in Australia.

Mr Aldridge said as he was raised in Mundaring, he was fascinated to discover the local story behind the sculpture.

He said Kalamunda Gallery of Man was owned by Alex Bortignon and in the 1980s considered to be one of the finest galleries of tribal art in Australia.

“Just like the television series Antiques Roadshow, people may have something of value in their shed or attic,” he said.

“I would be interested in hearing from anyone who made purchases from this Kalamunda gallery in the 1980s.”

Mr Aldridge began his art collection about 16 years ago and can be contacted on 9354 3575.

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