Ernabella Arts by Carly Tarkari Dodd, Caitlin Eyre, Maya Hodge and Anne Nginyangka Thompson

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

This hard covered coffee table book tells the story of the ceramic studio, Ernabella Arts, which has for many years worked happily with the JamFactory in South Australia. The JamFactory is supported by the South Australian Government through the Department for Industry, Innovation and Science. It is a Dealer Member of the Indigenous Art Code, meaning that it is committed to fair and ethical trade with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, and transparency in the promotion and sale of artwork.

As a Dealer Member and signatory to the Code, the JamFactory must act fairly, honestly, professionally and in good conscience in all direct or indirect dealings with artists. It is assisted by the Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments. JamFactory is also assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.  Its partnership with Ernabella Arts has enjoyed a twenty-year relationship to date.

The foreword for this impressive book, is provided by Brian Parkes, Chief Executive Officer of JamFactory and is printed in both English and traditional Aboriginal language (Pitjantjatjara). Throughout the book the text is provided in the two languages.

The reader is informed that works from Ernabella Arts can be found in almost every public collection in Australia, with several of the artists being ‘acclaimed figures in the field of contemporary Australian Ceramics today’ (7). Grandchildren of some of the earliest artists are now actively involved in the centre. Working with ceramics provides peace and calm for the artists as they concentrate on their designs and stories.

The publication of this book coincides with the Art Gallery of South Australia’s 2023 Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art. Produced at the same time was a set of oral history recordings undertaken by Hilary Furlong who was manager of Ernabella Arts from 2001 – 2007.

An essay on First Peoples Ceramics: a short yarn on clay traditions, storytelling and mirroring country, provided by Maya Hodge, precedes the reflections and memories of eleven artists who have worked at Ernabella Arts over the years. This information is accompanied by full page beautiful pictures of outback South Australia, especially around the Musgrave Ranges and the township of Pukata which was previously known as Ernabella.

The next fifty pages highlight a selection of works from the exhibition for the South Australian Festival in October 2023.

A History Timeline of this area of South Australia from the 19th Century to 2023 reveals the influences on and development of this art industry. In the 1870s, one of the first Europeans to pass through this area said he had never seen a more delightful and fanciful region (108).

During the 1930s the area became home to the Ernabella sheep station and homestead. Later that decade a mission was set up there by the Presbyterian Church where a women’s craft room became established in 1948. At first textile items were produced, then paintings were added to their wares. Ernabella Arts became a separate entity in 1975 making it the longest indigenous arts and crafts organisation in Australia.

Ceramics were introduced in the late 1990s and in 2011 an effort was undertaken to increase the participation of men in this medium. Through workshops, residencies in Australia and overseas, and touring exhibitions the range and styles of the work produced have flourished so that today artists exhibit not just in Australia but also Europe in places like Belgium and Germany.

The people responsible for producing this book have strong indigenous connections and have taken on roles of responsibility in various fields.  Carly Tarkari Dodd has become the First Nations Engagement Coordinator and Assistant Curator at JamFactory and has written for several magazines. Caitlin Eyre is an arts writer, curator and Exhibitions Manager at JamFactory and leads a small team in the development of exhibitions focused on contemporary Australian craft and design, while Maya Hodge is an emerging writer and curator, based on the land of the Kulin Nation. Her writing and poetry have been published.

Interviews for the book were conducted by Anne Nginyangka Thompson, a qualified translator who in 2023 was elected the Chair of Ernabella Arts. She has skills in ceramics and other mediums and jewellery design. She was ably assisted in her translations by Dr. Sam Osborne.

This is a unique book, beautifully presented which highlights the skills of artists from the red centre of Australia. It is not just a picture book. It is also a history book and provides insight into First Nation’s skills and storytelling.

Ernabella Arts


by Carly Tarkari Dodd, Caitlin Eyre, Maya Hodge, Anne Nginyangka Thompson

Wakefield Press


$59.95; 130pp

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