Monday, June 23, 2014

Needlework with a Purpose: Vietnam Revisited

Needlework with a Purpose: Vietnam Revisited

Patricia L. Cummings

For those of us over 60, we have a clear remembrance of the Vietnam war because it was televised daily on television. In fact, it is the final war in which photos were allowed. My recollection of the war can be encapsulated in an essay about the incident at My Lai where an entire village of old people and children were slaughtered and violated. It was a shameful day for the United States and uncharacteristic of how warfare was usually carried out.

Portion of a war scene, the subject of a battle as the Hmong people fled to Laos at the end of the war
Photo coutesy of Jean Devereax

At the end of the war, many Vietnamese people, in particular the Hmong people, sought asylum in camps where they waited for months to be repatriated to the United States or Canada. Some of those people were sheltered by church groups. While waiting in these organized camps, there was little to occupy time. As a result women and men resorted to doing needlework.

This photo clearly shows a plane dropping a bomb .Does the red represent blood? We cannot be sure. Note the helicopter and the gun men differentiated by two different colors of their uniforms

Jean Devereax sent photos of a 33" x 34" framed wall quilt made by a Hmong person. These types of textiles are collectible now. Most men have turned to other activities and the strong emotion of fear has subsided.

The white airplanes stand out against the background of greenery, soldiers, and parachutes

Hmong needlework is in danger of dying out. The "young" people reject the old ways and do not have time to learn traditional skills that only grandmother or grandfather did. The work is very exacting and detailed.

Large canvases such as this one would take a lot of time to embroider in this manner. In the past, I have written a number of articles about the work of the Hmong, including a review of a display of Hmong work at the Rhode Island School of Design. One piece that pictures the war measured more then 8 feet!

The Hmong also make small items for sale such as pocketbooks. They seem to have an intuitive connection to the use of color. The scenes here are sad scenes. Newer Hmong work centers of happier days and motifs. We love Hmong work and hope that folk art tradition will not go away.

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