Document 6461487


Document 6461487
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Sunday October 14, 2012
Threads of Laos tradition
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Rich tapestry: Carol Cassidy experiments to create original
designs using ancient weaving methods.
An exhibition of woven works highlights one woman’s efforts to
preserve Laos’ unique weaving traditions.
CAROL Cassidy’s works are more than just textiles; woven among the
vibrant silk are the threads of her passion for the craft, her efforts to
preserve traditions, and her determination to empower struggling
Hailing from the United States, Cassidy has been based in Laos for the
last 23 years, where she established her own textile business to
preserve and nurture the tradition of hand-weaving silk. Lao Textiles has
helped to not only to introduce traditional Loatian weavings to a global
market, but also provided scores of women with a means of livelihood –
and perhaps even more importantly, empowerment.
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Motifs in Laotian textiles tell a story, reflect dreams and reveal the weavers’ beliefs.
Cassidy’s complex yet simple creations focus on colour, details and design.
The first American to own a business in the country, she was granted
permission by the government to set up her company in 1990. After
spending years building a relationship with rural silk farmers, she now
wholly relies on them for her supply of domestic silk.
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Cassidy calls Laos “a weaver’s paradise”. “It has both a rich history in
design and weaving techniques, and weaving is a national treasure
here,” she says.
Over the years, her works have become renowned for incorporating and
reinterpreting traditional Laotian colours, images, symbols and myths
with a contemporary aesthetic, as well as using ancient local weaving
techniques with a markedly artistic touch.
“We work with ancient and complex weaving techniques that include
brocade, tapestry and ikat. I also experiment with new and original
combinations; my goal is to create original designs with ancient methods.
A recognised Guggenheim Studio Artist, Cassidy’s works have been
shown at various prestigious exhibitions around the world, including the
Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and the Museum of Craft
and Folk Art, San Francisco, in the United States. Her textiles will also be
featured in a group exhibition, Out Of Southeast Asia: Art That Sustains ,
at the Textile Museum in Washington DC next April.
Her weavings, currently on show at Glorious Weaves at Shalini
Ganendra Fine Art gallery in Petaling Jaya, are a gorgeous example of
her ability to fuse the traditional and the modern.
“I love discovering hidden meanings in the animist pieces of historic Lao
textiles,” Cassidy says. “I also love exploring their motifs and the way
they tell a story, reflect dreams and reveal the weavers’ beliefs. I try to
honour their work by revisiting their story and telling it again in a different
She goes on to explain that some of her pieces begin with an exact
replica of rare, historic Lao fabrics, which she then re-stylises, interprets
and modifies, while other designs are purely contemporary yet inspired
by nature and her surroundings in Laos.
converted by
“My passion for weaving over the past 40 years has given me
experiences that are unique. I have intense focus on colour, details and
design. My work often employs a complex construction but has a
“Over two decades in Laos has seen my designs evolve. Most
importantly, our senior Lao designers embrace this creative spirit as well.
Even from the beginning of her career, Cassidy’s craft seems inextricably
linked to rural communities and their development. Having studied
weaving in Norway and Finland, she then completed degrees in fine arts,
political science and women studies at the University of Michigan.
She then worked for eight years as a textile/fibre consultant for
development programmes that improved the lives of indigenous women
in southern Africa. On a CARE project, she trained women in Lesotho to
produce hand-spun mohair yarn for export, and later, on a rural
development project for the United Nations, she helped set up
sustainable cottage industries for women in rural Lesotho, Botswana and
It was her work with the UN that initially brought her to Vientiane, Laos,
where she worked as an advisor on a weaving project. The rest, is
weaving history.
Cassidy’s efforts in the field of Laotian weaving extend beyond simply
raising the craft’s profile; indeed, she contributed towards reviving the
country’s weaving industry as a whole, at a time when it was facing near
For this, Lao Textiles was given the Product Excellence Award by Unesco
in 2001, and the first Preservation of Craft award from Aid to Artisans in
She continues to advise the UN and other development agencies on
income-generating activities for rural women, and shares her model of
success with weavers, artisans and audiences throughout the world.
Cassidy’s work has also made a tremendous impact on the lives of the
Laotian female weavers she employs.
“I have worked with a generation of Lao women weavers who have
enjoyed a lifetime of professional employment and all the benefits that
come with it – better education for their children, better health, and
improved life conditions,” she says, adding that she feels privileged to
witness the transformation she sees in the community.
“In our 23 years in business in Laos, we have mostly the same staff, and
we’ve watched our young weavers of 19 or 20 get married, have
children, build houses and become middle-aged with family.”
Cassidy is convinced that textile traditions in Asia play a vital role in
national identity as well as community building. Having advised weavers
converted by
in Assam in northeast India, Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, Vietnam and Myanmar,
among other countries, she has been working closely for the last several
years with a group of weavers in Cambodia who are landmine survivors.
“There is a great need and urgency in South-East Asia to focus on
preserving textile traditions and other traditional crafts. Textiles are at the
heart of many cultures here. I hope that my voice and experience can
help play a role in raising awareness,” she says.
> Glorious Weaves is on at Shalini Ganendra Fine Art @ Gallery
Residence (8, Lorong 16/7B, Petaling Jaya) until Nov 10. Viewing from
11am to 7pm, Tuesday to Saturday. For more information, call 03-7960
4740, or go to
15,190 Embroidery Designs
Instant access to 15,000 Designs. Get them all at
Introductory Price:
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Huge Selection of Drapery and Upholstry Fabric.
Wholesale Prices!
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