Bessie Liddle

b. 1927

Bessie Liddle is an Australian artist, who paints in the style of Australian indigenous art. Her paintings mostly concentrate on transferring ceremonial body designs onto canvas. Many of her canvases depict the “Seven Sisters Dreaming” cycle from Pitjantjatjara lands.

Liddle was born Bessie Breaden near Alice Springs, Australia. Her family moved often from mission to mission and from station to station. Her mother, afraid that her children would be taken away by the authorities and put into a “Half-caste” home, took her daughter to the back country where she learned traditional stories.

Liddle remembers as a child her grandparents telling stories and drawing them in the sand. Her grandparents died before ‘dot painting’ started, but this is how she learned the stories that she painted. These included not only the “Seven Sisters Dreaming” series but also the “Gecko Dreaming” and “Kuniya Kutjara (Two Sisters) Dreaming” Series.

From the age of eight until she was nineteen, Liddle worked on Renners Rock station where her father was a stockman. She attended school at a Lutheran mission, studying in the Aranda and English languages, and remembered watching the watercolorist Albert Namatjira paint. In the mission school Liddle learned how to draw and how to paint in watercolors.

She married Arthur Liddle (1917-1997), son of a Scottish contractor and a part-indigenous mother. (He and his sister had been forcibly removed to the Bungalow Half-caste Home in Alice Springs in the 1920s.) Liddle and her husband had three children and lived at her husband’s station. During the 1960s the station was used as a tourist lunch stop. In addition to cooking, Liddle took up artifact production. With her husband, she taught cultural lore to both indigenous and non-indigenous Australians as a member of the teaching group “Kami arangka” (“following in the grandmother’s footsteps”).

In 1981, Liddle moved to Alice Springs and took a course in literacy at the Institute for Aboriginal Development. This is when she began to make her art. Together with four other women, Liddle established Jukurrpa Arts Inc. in 1986. This is a cooperative workshop, gallery, and sales outlet which now represents some 250 Australian indigenous women artists. She began painting in 1987 and has always stayed true to the Dreaming story and indigenous designs.

She first exhibited her work in 1988 at a gallery in Adelaide and held her first solo exhibition in 1994. This was followed by a second exhibition at Desart Gallery in Sydney in 1999.

Two of Liddle’s designs have been painted on locomotives, operated by the Great Southern Railway. The first design was her “Warmi NR 30” after a Warmi (snake) dot painting showing a snake and the footprints of a woman. The second design was that of the “Seven Sisters Dreaming,” 1997-1998.

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