William Ricketts: life and works

William Ricketts (1898–1993) was an Australian potter and sculptor of the arts and crafts movement.

Born in Richmond, Victoria, in 1898, William established permanently in Mount Dandenong, Victoria, in 1934. Although not trained as a potter and never technically superior (his works, large and small, frequently exhibit cracking), the skill of his vision of a broadminded Australia that embraces Aboriginal spirituality and devotion for the plants was his general proclamation throughout his artworks.

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His major works supplement the “Dromana” in the Seawinds Garden, Arthurs Seat, Victoria, and “Gun Brute” at the William Ricketts Sanctuary, Mount Dandenong, Victoria. Many smaller works are in the gathering of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Photographic records of his sculptures, particularly those from the sanctuaries of Pitchi Richi and Mount Dandenong, which have been vandalised, are held in the history of Australia’s libraries. Ricketts, never rich, supported himself through commissioned sales of his art and made pieces as gifts. These signed original little pieces are increasingly sought after for private collections.

From 1949 to 1960 he made frequent trips into Central Australia to live considering Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte Aboriginal Australians, whose traditions and culture inspired his sculpture. He was not an Aboriginal by blood but considered himself adopted by the Pitjantjatjara nation. He left many of his central Australian works at Pitchi Richi near Alice Springs – a bird sanctuary accustom his friend Leo Corbet – as he considered the landscape integral to these sculptures.

From 1912 to 1920 Ricketts developed skills in playing violin, crafting jewellery, and clay modelling. In 1934 he started his major artistic work, creating the sculpture park now named William Ricketts Sanctuary. He worked upon this project until his death in 1993. In the 1970s, he spent two years in India, mostly at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram spiritual middle in Puducherry, developing spiritual similarity with Indian people and knowledge of their philosophy.

To many, including academics such as Marcia Langton, Bruno David and Mitchell Rolls, Ricketts is considered a controversial figure in imitation of his beliefs and his sculptures steeped in racism, exploitation and primitivism. Ricketts is viewed to have a white saviour rarefied and is quoted as believing he had been ‘called to the defence of the aborigines and the continent’ and that ‘my creator worked through the Australian aborigine to get hold of me’. Ricketts compares his own personal distress higher than the mood to the suffering of the Aboriginal People. His trips to central Australia were viewed as controversial and filled in the impression of misunderstanding and tensions later than Ricketts having incorrect preconceived notions of the roles of the Anangu people.

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A supplementary controversy is all the sculptures in the Dandenong ranges sanctuary are based in real aborigines from central Australia. One business is displacement and treating a particular charity of central Australian Aboriginal people as representative of all aboriginal people, with no independent integrity afforded to specific people and culture. Further there’s the business of how this park and these sculptures should be viewed by members of the aboriginal groups who they are members of and local aboriginal groups who’s country the sculptures sit on, in accordance with received law and culture.



Ricketts’ major work is in the sculpture park that he named Potter’s sanctuary, but which is now known as William Ricketts Sanctuary. In the 1960s the Government of Victoria bought the Sanctuary from Ricketts, and made it a public park. Ricketts lived there until his death in 1993.

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