The participants of the Hmong Elder Center never thought of their crafts as art. The cross-stitched flower cloth called Paj Ntaub and the freshly woven bamboo items in the process known as hiab poj tawb where always just a way of life. Despite this belief, the elder’s hands moves elegantly through the seams of the flower cloth and their hand glides between bamboo stalk weaving them into one complete piece. Unknowingly to them, they are creating an object that takes the knowledge of an expert and a skilled craftsman. With their immigration into the United States of America because of a war torn history and the lower practical need for these items, these crafts have seen a steep decline.
For this reason, Hmong Museum with the Minnesota Museum of American Art and with Hlee Lee-Kron, owner of the Other Media Group, came together under the banner of Partner in Actions to bring art to under-served populations to display their artwork in a museum setting. With the help of Illean Her, Chief Executive Officer of Hmong Elder Center, the Hmong elders were able to make their craftsmanship more accessible to the public.
I could tell that the elders were excited to start on their artwork. Some did not even want to wait for the program to start. They wanted to bring materials home and complete them right away. It was even better to be able to see willingness to talk about their personal projects. They answered all my questions and even told me to go and learn the art myself. They were very adamant and encouraged anyone who wished to learn the art process to visit them.
Talking with the elders about their work, I learned that some artworks are not hung on walls, or displayed in a museum. They can come from the simplest of items, the hand-sewn embroidery of a shirt, and the woven pattern of a basket. Even though these are seen as everyday items each tell a story. Whether these stories are about the creator or the historical journey the items took to get to where they are, they are all works of art that stands for more than what they were created for.