Two Feathers Coffins and Caskets

The indigenous in rites of passage
Two Feathers Coffins and Caskets

Welcome to Two Feathers Coffins and Caskets. Our goal is to provide our customers with a coffin or casket that reflects their ancestry and beliefs.Our products are handmade by Native craftsman utilizing birch, spruce, maple and pine, and lovingly decorated by a Native artist. Each casket or coffin is customizable to reflect your clan or band affiliation. Colours, artwork, paint, stain, upholstery material, shape and design can be custom made to suit an individual.

Aboriginal Links Page

A huge set of links with interesting project descriptions.

AMMSA’s Aboriginal Links Page – Your single source for links to Aboriginal sites and resources on the web!

One of the most comprehensive list of links on the web. If you start here, you may not need to go anywhere else! Currently off-line

Lenore Dembski

Lenore Dembski: Paperbark Woman

Lenore Dembski is a contemporary Aboriginal fashion designer influencing current trends. Her designs feature textiles designed and produced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and reflect her cultural heritage and contemporary focus.

For almost 30 years Lenore has been designing and manufacturing clothing. Lenore’s labels which feature men’s, women’s and children’s clothing suitable for resort, day and evening wear, include:

* Lenore Dembski Paperbark Woman (women’s wear)
* Oakman (men’s wear)
* Aunty Lenore (children’s wear).

The clothing she produces is made using fabric designed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. Lenore purchases fabrics from a pool of about twenty designers and organises the manufacture of garments. Lenore is also the owner of a retail outlet, Paperbark Woman.

Lenore Dembski also holds a number of other positions. She is the Manager, Staff Development and Training of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in Darwin and is a newly appointed member of the Australia Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Arts Board. The Board assists Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to “claim, control and enhance their cultural inheritance”. (McGauran, 2000: 2)

Paperbark Woman: the history so far
Lenore Dembski was born in Darwin, and with the exception of about four years in the early 1980s, has lived there all her life. Lenore has been married for 24 years to Andrew Dembski. Her family name is Calma.

Lenore Dembski says the Paperbark Woman name comes from her Aboriginal group, the Kungarakan people, who are known as Paperbark people. Oakman comes from her husband’s name. Dembski is Polish and means Oaktree. As well as designing and sewing the clothes herself, Lenore also sub-contracts the sewing to several local clothing manufacturers and individuals.

To many locals, Lenore Dembski is known for her public service work in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment and training area and her involvement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. However, she was actually a designer and maker before she even thought about a career in the public service. At high school she was intending to go into the clothing industry and had taken the entrance examination for a Sydney design school. When she was not accepted she arranged an apprenticeship with a local tailor. Her father however, convinced her to stay at school and complete Year 12. On completing school, he suggested she join the public service and sew later. After 25 years, the later came in the year 2000 when she opened her shop.

Sewing as a child
Lenore was taught to sew by her mother when she was about eight. To start with, she made dolls’ clothes and costumes for plays put on by her sisters and friends. She began sewing for herself and her brother and sisters by the time she was twelve and started designing, drafting and sewing clothes for other people by the time she was thirteen. Lenore learnt some formal skills in sewing when she did “Sewing” during first year at Darwin High School. Between 15 and 18, Lenore modelled in a number of fashion parades and worked on weekends and school holidays for Woolworths selling all forms of clothing, materials and haberdashery.

By her mid-teens, Lenore knew how to do knitting, crocheting, tatting, beadwork, tapestry, batik, tie dye, macrame, applique, patchwork and various other art and craft activities. She used an Elna SU sewing machine and a Contesser overlocker. She attended a number of short courses put on by Elna in applique and machine embroidery, men’s wear, swim wear, lingerie, and stretch materials. In Adelaide in 1982, Lenore did a twelve hour course to learn formal techniques in drafting.
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Lenore formally started her sewing business in 1979 when she moved to Adelaide. She manufactured children’s clothes, women’s sportswear, lingerie, and curtains for several outlets, designed bridal and after-five wear for individuals and costumes for concerts. On returning to Darwin in 1984, Lenore sewed on a casual basis for family and friends and did a small amount of children’s wear for several outlets.

In 1996, to coincide with the Aboriginal Development Unit’s project to help promote Aboriginal fabrics to designers and the general public, Lenore started to actively produce resort wear, and evening and glamour wear using Aboriginal fabrics.

Symbols, motifs and ownership: marketing and copyright issues

The Powerhouse museum has a bit of material looking at the issue of indigenous design

Symbols, motifs and ownership: marketing and copyright issues

Exploitation of creative work can be a problem for any artist. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders the problem is often more complex as the symbols and motifs used in their designs also hold cultural significance for a particular group. Exploitation of the design impacts not only on the artist but also on the group.

A positive example of the use of copyright law by an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander would be the use of Jimmy Pike’s artwork by Rowe Fabrics, Sydney for an interior fabric. This was Pike’s first licensing agreement in home furnishings.

Jimmy Pike,

…entered into a series of business arrangements with Culley and Wroth of Desert Designs. These would protect the integrity of his art (and separate the paintings and the production/marketing of limited edition prints) but enable additional income to be derived from the licensing of his designs and the strategic development of the Desert Designs company. (O’Ferrall, 1995: 3)

Not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had such positive experiences.
In 1994

… a case of theft of Aboriginal imagery occurred when a businessman …had carpets made in Vietnam with images stolen from Aboriginal paintings, and falsely labelled them to give authenticity. The artists took him to court and won. He was ordered to pay compensation but went bankrupt.
(The Koori Mail, 1998: 15) this became known as The carpet case.

Another significant case involving the infringement of the copyright of an Aboriginal artist has been resolved. The case, brought by the Sydney-based artist Bronwyn Bancroft with the assistance of the Aboriginal Arts Management Association, was listed for hearing in the Federal Court on December 12, 1991.

The clothing manufacturer Dolina Fashion Group Pty Ltd supplied Grace Bros stores with an ‘exclusive’ dress design for a major promotion through its network. It was alleged that Dolina’s stylists had requested an Aboriginal look from the Japanese fabric maker Sastani to present as the front line of their fashion range.

The fabric maker supplied a print in three colour ways, which, it was alleged, was a direct copy of an original artwork by Bancroft, Eternal Eclipse (1998), which had been reproduced in Jennifer Isaac’s book Aboriginality: Contemporary Aboriginal Paintings and Prints.

The clothing manufacturer and retailers claimed that they were innocent of the infringement and the fault lay with the fabric maker who printed the design. The case raised a number of interesting issues in copyright, especially in relation to Aboriginal art.

Copyright law, in its present form, functions best to protect the individual artist from the unauthorised use of his or her work. For artists to have their work pirated represents a theft of their intellectual property and a distortion of the intent of the artwork. Although, in Bancroft’s case, it may be difficult to prove who was directly responsible for appropriating the image, the design used by Dolina is a copy of Bancroft’s painting. The artist has suffered the shock and embarrassment of seeing her original artwork trivialised. Bancroft also has an established reputation as a fashion designer of original garments, at a different level of the fashion market from Dolina’s styles for major retail outlets. (Cochrane Simons, 1991)

The Label of Authenticity
Bronwyn Bancroft’s case is one of the cases that motivated the development of the Label of Authenticity. The National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Association (NIAAA)

…through funding from the Australia Council and ATSIC, are in the process of developing a national system of labelling that will distinguish art and cultural products from the fake products. As a certified trade mark the Label of Authenticity will be attached to a product or used in relation to a service originating from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. (NIAAA)

Why do we need a Label of Authenticity
For some time concern has been growing that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designs and symbols have been incorrectly used, most often without permission. Examples include artwork, tourist souvenirs and carpets, to name a few.

The primary responsibilities of the NIAAA as the national peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and cultural service include the continued and increased recognition and protection of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. NIAAA provides culturally appropriate advice, information, referrals and support services to indigenous artists and organisations. (NIAAA, 1999)

Label of Authenticity. Courtesy: National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Association (NIAAA)

NIAAA logo. Courtesy: National Indigenous Arts Advocacy Association (NIAAA)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fashion design

Paperbark woman: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fashion design

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers are today expressing their cultures in graphic design, jewellery, textiles and fashion. Their work sheds new light on traditional themes and motifs, revealing contrasts between the different regions of Australia. The energy and imagination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander design reveals a culture with a continuity that remains through the fickle changes of fashion.

Textile design techniques range from traditional fibre crafts to screen-printing, batik and hand-painting. The techniques reflect external influences such as training opportunities, travel and market forces.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers often reflect the Australian landscape in their work. The symbols and motifs they use vary from region to region and have great cultural significance. This raises issues of ownership, copyright and licensing agreements.

Clothing is perhaps one of the most immediate ways that a person can express how they feel about themselves and their culture, their political views and aspirations. Community-based enterprises have provided a network for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers whereby they can sell their designs and work together to solve production and distribution problems. Young workers can be employed in work schemes and many communities find this has far-reaching effects upon their self-image and financial status.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander design is popular for its fresh and dynamic graphic qualities, which contrast with mainstream fashion. The influence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander design on non-indigenous designers can be seen in the collections of a number of contemporary designers. How the textile design is acknowledged and how the designer is rewarded is of critical importance.

Indigenous Australian Design

(picture above – David Lancashire)

On Monday I was asked to be a ‘respondent’ ( my first time as a respondent!) at this event – Culture Shift:

Culture Shift: An Indigenous Future for Design

There’s a global shift in design towards greater collaboration. In Australia, designers have learnt greatly from working with Indigenous communities. But as with the new wave of Indigenous film directors, there is also an emerging generation of Aboriginal designers in fields such as architecture, fashion and interior design. Join a discussion about how our future will be shaped by Indigenous design.

INDIGO is an international platform that asks – What is Indigenous design? As an Icograda-led initiative of the IDA (International Design Alliance), INDIGO is a multi-disciplinary network of designers and stakeholders generating a community and presenting a series of projects to explore the meaning and interpretation of Indigenous design culture throughout the world.

During the State of Design this free public forum will bring together Indigenous and non-indigenous designers and commentators to look forward, examining how their architecture, product design, craft or art practice can step between cultures, drawing benefit from both, and generating a new proposition for Australian design language.

I saw some work that was spoken of as connecting to land, country and culture. The speakers spoke to motifs, colors, forms and process – all as distinct with a desire to produce something specific and precise. The specific and precise is my way of constructing a category of the ‘meaningful’ in design. Design is often utilitarian – of course – and here were designers and architects working to add an extra dimension – in the porcess hinting at the existence of an indigenous ‘way of design’. I am intrigued by this suggestion of the redesign of the design process itself.

My response was as usual all over the place and spoken very fast ( there was very little time and a lot to say ). I am at this very moment writing a piece on ‘design and the sacred’ and suddenly I was furiously rewriting the main points because the ‘sacred’ was being replaced by the ‘significant’ or the ‘uncanny’. Many people walked away that evening with the notion ‘ anything can be made sacred’ – which was me doing Durkheim. I also threw in a generous dose of the roots of design in India. I said that at that time in 1854 there were three parts to the “project” of design for indian crafts – one was a school ( a curriculum- lithography, pottery and so on), the other was the ‘institute’ of art in industry( to bring industry – read clients – and artists together) and the last was a journal (to influence opinion).

Four things are interesting here – as a construction of the elements of the theory of indigenous design:

Re Designers: There are two parts to this one indigenous designers doing design ( indigenous inspired – Alison – or just normal design) and the other is non-indigenous designers (David) doing indigenous inspired design.

Re works: The focus of this work is either for consumption by indigenous communities (troppo, merrima) or by all (Page jewellery, David).

Re Genre: Are we arriving at a specific class of artefacts, designs, experiences that classify themselves as indigenous? Is there a new design process, or is the artefact valuation (appreciation) different?

Re Context: I am inspired by David’s location in NT and the opportunity for immersion. Indigenous imbued-inspired artefacts in natural settings and in contrast in urban settings.

Which has started me off on thinking about INDIGO and a hypothetical project – indigenous australian design practice.

1. What is it: There are many practitioners who are pioneers in Australia and are making a mark. This jewellery is by Alison Page – who is striking out on her own in defining ‘aboriginality’ in design. Some very exciting stuff. Others are Troppo and David Lancashire. Then there is indigenous design in the Americas. (I went looking for some of this stuff – see following posts)

(images above – Alison Page, and work by Troppo Architects.)

Diamond Dreaming – Rare and beautiful jewellery, Sydney, Australia

Mondial Neuman Jewellers have collaborated with Indigenous Designer Alison Page to create an unique range of contemporary Aboriginal jewellery using natural coloured diamonds and precious metals. Diamond Dreaming is the first range of jewellery of its type in Australia.

2. Why is it this way: The project is an amplification and appropriateness, or a quest for the indigenous and a grounding of the design in context. So this is one way of describing the project of ‘doing the indigenous’

3. What else can it be: The main work is now happening in ‘industry’ as commercial projects, a lot of it is state funded projects – there is however very little from the universities. hat can be the location of an initiative.

4. What should it be: A three year project to build a multidimensional action research project. Some design, some research and some teaching – just three things.

(this is writing in progress)

Do you have a comment to offer? How would you answer – what else can be done?