Stone axe-head

Joan Elizabeth Clark1946 - 1950

Museums Victoria

Museums Victoria
Carlton, Australia

Anthropologist and biologist, Donald Thomson engaged five talented women artists to prepare scientific illustrations for his publications. The women produced extraordinarily fine copies of the ethnographic objects that Thomson collected on Cape York Peninsula in Queensland in the 1920s and early 1930s, Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory in the 1930s and early 1940s, and in the Great Sandy and Western Deserts of central Australia in the late 1950s and 1960s. Hundreds of line drawings illustrating the rich cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians were done to Thomson's very demanding specifications and exact proportions (usually 1:1) with every minute detail correct. They were intended to illustrate Thomson's publications, however a good deal still remain unpublished. This work shows the superb technical expertise of Joan Elizabeth Clark, who had trained as a mechanical draftsman before being engaged to work as a secretary and technical assistant to Donald Thomson in the Anthropology Department at the University of Melbourne from 1946 to 1952. Clark prepared illustrations of objects from Cape York and Arnhem Land and maps from these regions. Illustrations could take her many days to complete, and as researcher and artist Moira F. Playne has noted, she carefully measured the objects and drew them to scale using callipers, first in pencil and then enhanced with pen. The works are closely observed, precise, dextrous, and wonderfully aesthetic in their execution. Donald Thomson described Clark's work as 'seldom equalled and never surpassed' and the other artists who would follow in his employ were in awe of her work. They recalled Clark's pen and ink drawings adorning the work space in the building in Tin Alley that the university had given over to Donald Thomson and his vast collections. This drawing is of a stone axe-head held between two pieces of wood and bound with fibre and resin. The axe was collected from Njilipidji, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

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  • Title: Stone axe-head
  • Creator: Joan Elizabeth Clark
  • Date Created: 1946 - 1950
  • Physical Dimensions: w203 x h281 mm
  • Type: Object
  • Rights: Artist Joan Elizabeth Clark. The Donald Thomson Collection. On loan to Museum Victoria from the University of Melbourne.
  • Medium: Ink on card
  • Subject: natural history illustrations, Aboriginal peoples (Australians), Anthropology, tools
  • Artist Information: Joan E Clark was a mechanical draftswoman by training, but also studied art with Ivor Hele (who is best known for his work as a war artist for the Australian War Memorial). Joan Clark worked in the Anthropology Department at the University of Melbourne with Donald F Thomson between 1946 and 1952, making many pen-and-ink drawings for the anthropologist. She illustrated the material culture of the Aboriginal people of Arnhem Land and Cape York Peninsula, as well as preparing some maps of the same areas for publication. Her outstanding artistic talent impressed Thomson greatly, and he was instrumental in helping Clark to gain a British Council grant to further her art studies in London. She left Australia in 1952.
  • Artist: Joan Elizabeth Clark