Objects from a Pint-Sized Pioneer

13th February 2019

At only five foot tall and barely seven stone, Senta Taft-Hendry was an unlikely candidate for visiting the tribes of Papua New Guinea and dealing in the rarefied world of Tribal Art, and yet she went on to become one of Australia’s leading dealers in the subject.

Items sourced by the former flight attendant feature in the Tribal Art sale at Woolley and Wallis on 20th February, as part of the Bob Wise Collection; Mr Wise having acquired them direct from Taft-Hendry in the second half of the 20th century.

A remarkable explorer and self-promoter, Senta pioneered the collection of all kinds of artefacts from this little-known territory, seeking out tribal art in its remotest inhabited areas. Choosing her acquisitions to reflect what she considered the key characteristics of the tribes who produced them, she brought back pieces that were at the same time both very personal to her and ethnologically significant.

Taft-Hendry emigrated from Germany to Australia with her family at the age of 14, then left home at 19 to work as an air hostess, which opened her eyes to a world of travel and adventure and started her love of collecting tribal artefacts. She later held her own pilot’s licence and was still flying well into her 80s. Her diminutive size gave her an advantage over her rival male collectors, as she was small enough to cadge lifts on small aircraft, being listed on the flight manifesto as an item of cargo rather than an official passenger. It was during intrepid journeys like this that she brought back many of the items later sold in her gallery in Woollahra during the 1960s, to collectors such as Bob Wise. The Wise Collection, much of it assembled half a century ago, is not only a valuable collation of potent tribal art as originally acquired by Senta Taft-Hendry, but also stands as an enduring testimony to a remarkable woman’s bold spirit and tireless energy.

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