Born in Warburton, Western Australia in 1963, Deborah spent her early years in this area, travelling around with her mother, Betty West, and father, from whom she learnt about her Ngaanyatjarra culture, heritage and language. Deborah later went to school in the community, where she learnt her second language, English.
With her formal education completed, Deborah remained in Warburton, working with the local employment program. She later married, raised two beautiful children; passing on to them the knowledge her parents taught her.
Deborah began weaving in 2016 after attending a skills development workshop in Warburton with her mother, who is a well-respected Tjanpi artist and canvas painter. Deborah’s first sculpture was a papa (camp dog), made from wool, raffia and minarri grass. Deborah was so keen to learn more, she attended a second skills development workshop a month later where she made a ninu (bilby) and tinka (goanna).
Tjanpi (meaning ‘dry grass’) evolved from a series of basket weaving workshops held on remote communities in the Western Desert by the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunyjatjara Womens’ Council in 1995. Building on traditions of using fibre for medicinal, ceremonial and daily purposes, women took easily to making coiled baskets. These new-found skills were shared with relations on neighbouring communities and weaving quickly spread.
Today there are over 400 women across 28 communities making baskets and sculptures out of grass and working with fibre in this way is firmly embedded in Western and Central Desert culture. While out collecting desert grasses for their fibre art women visit sacred sites and traditional homelands, hunt and gather food for their families and teach their children about country.
Tjanpi Desert Weavers is Aboriginal owned and is directed by an Aboriginal executive. It is an arts business but also a social enterprise that provides numerous social and cultural benefits and services to weavers and their families. Tjanpi’s philosophy is to keep culture strong, maintain links with country and provide meaningful employment to the keepers and teachers of the desert weaving business.