The James Gleeson oral history collection

James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists

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Body mask [timpsonk]
Sculpture, cane, mud
137.0 h x 53.0 w cm

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Ruth McNicoll

11 February 1980

Ruth McNicoll: Yes, it was sad really because they could have got some good things. And the Mendi mask here I got from a young fellow who came in carrying it under his arm. I didn't know. I hadn't had one like that at all. I remember sitting that on the floor and looking at it from every angle and thinking ‘What is this that I've bought from him'.

James Gleeson: Yes.

Ruth McNicoll: Is it good of its kind or, you know. It was fascinating to me. I sold that to the Australian National Gallery. Douglas Newton says it's the best one in the world.

James Gleeson: Good heavens.

Ruth McNicoll: It's the best one in the world.

James Gleeson: Isn't that extraordinary.

Ruth McNicoll: Amazing, yes.

James Gleeson: Well, you must have a natural eye for things like that.

Ruth McNicoll: Well, I don't know. I'm rather fascinated by the exotic, I think. I put on an exhibition called Exotic Art at one stage in the Argus Gallery and borrowed things from people, from everywhere.

James Gleeson: It seems, Ruth, that your eye led you before your academic knowledge developed.

Ruth McNicoll: Oh yes, it did.

James Gleeson: You just had this instinctive taste for–

Ruth McNicoll: No sort of commercial knowhow really at all. How I kept on the right side of the ledger, I don't know. I did. I didn't make a fortune, but you know, it was interesting.

James Gleeson: Did you find it difficult to build up that reservoir of knowledge you know?

Ruth McNicoll: I think it just sort of filtered through.

James Gleeson: I see.

Ruth McNicoll: You know, by bit by bit. Yes. Because you had the things, you tried to find out something about them.

James Gleeson: It's a great way of learning, isn't it, with the objects there?

Ruth McNicoll: It is, yes, yes.

James Gleeson: I'm surprised that no collectors developed a taste for it and built up private collections.

Ruth McNicoll: Well, I think that the collectors, such as they are or were, were able to go up to New Guinea themselves.

James Gleeson: Oh, yes.

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