Ada Bird Petyarre
Ada Bird Petyarre
Born: c 1930
Country: Atnangkere, Utopia, Northern Territory
Ada was born at Mulga Bore on Utopia, a pastoral lease in the Sandover area, around 230 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs and as a young woman worked as a domestic on the station.
Ada was the oldest of seven sisters. Like Ada, two, Kathleen and Gloria, also became celebrated artists represented in the National Gallery of Australia. The other four, Violet, Myrtle, Nancy and Jean, were also respected for their art.
Ada, her sisters and aunt, Emily Kngwarreye, began working with batik and other dying techniques (many on silk) in the late 1970s applying their experience of painting their bodies in ochre lines for Women’s Ceremonies (Awelye).
Ada was one of the founding members of the Utopia Batik Group which became an important industry for the Anmatyerre women when Utopia was returned to the traditional owners in 1978. A collection of 88 silk batiks was acquired by the Holmes a Court Collection in 1988 and was the subject of book Utopia; A Picture Story .
Ada and her sisters, especially Kathleen and Gloria, began painting in acrylics on canvas in 1988 through the CAAMA (Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association) ‘Summer Project”.
One year later, in 1989, the National Gallery of Australia acquired one of Ada’s major paintings which was followed by many public institutions and collectors continuing to collect her work from 1989 until today.
One of Ada’s favourite Dreamtime stories to paint was Arnkerrth, the Mountain Devil Lizard, which was believed to have created the desert by sand, grain by grain. This story was also important for body paintings for Women’s Ceremonies which is depicted by breasts in many of Ada’s work.
Ada’s paintings were bold and whilst most were in bright colours, especially her love of blue, she did also use more traditional ones.
Ada had a vibrant and opening friendly personality. It was always a pleasure to see her smiling face and joy when painting. She could brighten up anyone’s day!
Ada was a respected Anmatyerre traditional senior woman and remained at Mulga Bore for most of her life. She had two daughters, Hilda and June, both artists and four sons, Paddy, Colin, Stephen and Ronnie. Ada has over 30 grandchildren.
Ada died in 2009 after suffering a stroke.
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
State Gallery of NSW, Sydney
The Holmes a Court Collection, Perth
University of Queensland, Brisbane
The Kelton Foundation, Santa Monica, USA.