Native Hermannsburg artwork is placed in an American closet for 50 years before being sold to the South Australian Museum

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In 1966, the political landscape was very different when Lucy Frederickson, a well-traveled former country girl from the United States, arrived in Alice Springs for a world adventure in the middle of life.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are cautioned that the following article may contain images of deceased individuals.

The Northern Territory was 12 years of self-government and controlled by the Commonwealth, Harold Holt was Prime Minister, and Aboriginal Australians in the NT were only allowed to buy alcohol legally for two years.

It was also the year that Vincent Lingiari drove the Gurindji people out of the Wave Hill station to protest wages and working conditions.

Ms. Frederickson has always had a keen sense of adventure and has traveled the world with her husband, Oscar Fredrickson Senior, who worked for the United States Department of State.

Oscar Fredrickson Junior said his mother left San Francisco in 1965 and traveled across Asia, then ended up in Sydney where he assumed his mother had heard good things about border life in the city from Alice Springs, in the hinterland.

“She met nice people and got a job.”

Lucy Fredrickson and Gabriel Namatjira outside the Alice Springs Hotel in 1966.(Provided: Oscar Fredrickson)

Draw beers in Alice Springs

Ms. Frederickson worked behind the bar at the Alice Springs Hotel where she befriended artists from Hermannsburg, the birthplace of Albert Namatjira and a former Lutheran mission, 130 kilometers from Alice Springs .

A black and white photo of a woman and a man in a 1960s pub
Lucy Fredrickson with one of her clients in 1966 at the Alice Springs Hotel.(Provided: Oscar Fredrickson Junior)

Upon her return to the United States two years later, she carried a treasure trove of watercolors painted by the descendants of Albert Namatjira.

The collection has been primarily stored in the back bedroom of his Long Beach residence for half a century.

When Ms. Fredrickson died at the age of 87 in 1998, the family had to decide what to do with the collection.

It wasn’t until March 2020, just before the world closed before the global pandemic, that Mr. Fredrickson traveled to Australia, hoping to spark interest in the coins.

Despite the lack of interest shown by the art galleries, the 67 paintings were put up for auction in Sydney.

According to a representative for Theodore Bruce Auctioneers and appraisers, it was a hotly contested auction with all the pieces at $ 34,500.

From the closet to the museum

Seventeen pieces were purchased by the South Australian Museum.

The head of humanities, John Carty, declared that “they were not only resolute masterpieces as you see now with Namatjira and his descendants”.

“Some were experimental oil works, very beautiful drawings by Gabriel Namatjira and Athanasius Titus Renkaranka,” he said.

A pencil drawing of a man riding a horse
A sketch of Enos Namitjira.(Provided: South Australian Museum)

The two artists were contemporaries of Albert Namatjira and in the case of Gabriel, a direct descendant of the famous watercolor artist.

A landscape by Enos Namatjira, the eldest son of Albert Namatjira, was part of Ms. Fredrickson’s collection and was sold to the museum during the recent auction.

A historic photo showing two Aboriginal men standing near an old truck
Enos and Albert Namatjira. The pair often traveled together.(Provided: South Australian Museum)

“We have looked at our archives, and we are looking at the relationship we have with Enos in our archives, and we have found that we have his first drawings,” said Professor Carty.

“In 1934, he made a sketchbook of some drawings in Hermannsburg, so we have these drawings which are really magnificent of a 14 year old Enos traveling with his father, watching Albert (Namatjira) working on his images.”

Selling art “for grog”

However, for Hubert Pareroultja, a senior artist at Iltja Ntjarra Many Hands Art Center, there was a darker side of artist images at the Alice Springs hotel.

He suspects that the artists in the collection, including his older brother, Helmut Pareroultja, have moved to the city to gain access to alcohol.

Aboriginal artists in hats and glasses with watercolors in a gallery
Hubert Pareroultja remembers certain artists of the 1960s.(ABC Alice Springs: Emma Haskin)

It is a source of sadness for him.

“When they sold paintings, they sometimes sold it for grog, because they were all drinkers,” said Mr. Pareroultja.

A black and white photo of a smiling woman behind a bar in Alice Springs with two male drinkers
Lucy Fredrickson enjoyed working behind the bar at the Alice Springs Hotel in 1966.(Provided: Oscar Fredrickson jnr)

As for Mr. Fredrickson’s reaction to learning the fate of the 17 pieces from his late mother’s collection?

“I couldn’t be happier that they ended up in a museum,” he said.

“I was pleasantly surprised that they ended up going to a museum because I think if it’s in a museum, it gives everyone an opportunity to see them.”

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