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History of the State Library of South Australia: Ernabella rugs

Details the Library's interesting history from 1834, its buildings, legislation, Board membership, staff and exhibitions.

Background to the Ernabella rugs project

Three vibrant rugs are exhibited on level 1 of the Spence Wing. They were designed by Pantjiti McKenzie from Ernabella Arts Inc of the Pukatja Community, and are an important part of the library's showcase of art and library treasures representing South Australia's social and cultural heritage.

Artist Pantijiti McKenzie with her batik design at the official opening of the Spence Wing in 2003

Ernabella is 440 kilometres southwest of Alice Springs and is one of the oldest permanent settlements on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Lands returned to the Indigenous people in 1981. In 1948 the Presbyterian mission at Ernabella had set up a craft room where the women, who already had an ancient tradition of hand spinning, adapted their technique to use the wool from the Ernabella sheep to produce fine woollen goods and rugs. In 1971 the Javanese wax-resist fabric decoration technique of batik was introduced and has become one of the signature Ernabella contemporary art forms, 'Anapalayaku walka' along with paintings on canvas, print-making, painted ceramics, and lately beanies!

The State Library has a longstanding relationship with Ernabella Arts Inc. The women of the Pukatja Community entrusted to the Library's archives a collection of crayon drawings created by children at the Ernabella Mission School during the 1940s and 1950s. The distinctive Ernabella style reaches back to the first drawing classes in the mission school.The Library has supported Ernabella Arts Inc in their efforts to preserve their community's heritage, through the donation of shelving and filing cabinets to house its own archives.

The State Library commissioned contemporary Ernabella artists, who continue to maintain their unbroken cultural links over thousands of years, to design the three rugs. Their placement, adjacent to a Treasures Wall will provide a wonderful resonance with the meaning and importance of the Library in the life of South Australia today. 

The Ernabella Rug Project is also a mentoring or training project, to enable the artists of Ernabella Arts Inc to improve a range of industry-related business skills and to aid the artists in gaining additional rug projects during the course of the commission. This initial phase of the project has been extremely successful. The rugs were hand-tufted by skilled artisans in the venerable carpet manufacturer Tai Ping Studios in China, whose Australian representative is Eric Korda Bros.

The State Library rug design commission was generously supported by the Myer Foundation, Perpetual Trustees, the State Library of South Australia Foundation, the Hon Diana Laidlaw and Ms Bronwyn Halliday.

The beautiful and unique Ernabella rugs

One of three Ernabella rugs in front of the Treasures Wall (above) and detail (below).