Person to Person: Communicating Identity
Through Wisconsin Folk Objects
Some artists are motivated to earn income by producing objects to sell to the general public. Though sometimes considered less authentic, commercially produced folk objects promote folk traditions among a broad audience and inspire new makers.
Hmong women used the flowercloth as a way to preserve their language when the Chinese began a campaign to extinguish the Hmong tongue. It became a form of documentation and more importantly, a way to preserve Hmong cultural identity. "Pa ndau " combines geometric cutting, reverse appliqué, embroidered embellishment, and applied borders. Traditionally, "pa ndau " embellished everyday clothing, wedding dresses, baby carriers, and burial items. However, when Hmong women make "pa ndau " to sell, they fashion them into decorative items such as these wall hangings.
In the 1960s, the Thai government and aid organizations began to promote the traditional arts of the Hmong in refugee camps by encouraging the manufacture of ethnic crafts for the tourist trade. This provided Hmong workers with an opportunity to learn a marketable skill they could use after their impending emigration. Traditionally the textiles are for family use, but Hmong artists began to see the benefit of marketing their work. Commercialization led to changes in forms, functions, and colors. Today, Hmong textiles are available throughout Wisconsin at art fairs and festivals.
Xia Lee created the brightly colored needlework flowercloth featured here before her emigration to the United States in 1981. Lee, who eventually settled in Madison , had learned needlework from her mother at the age of eight. At the center is an elephant's foot pattern, a traditional Hmong design motif, surrounded by a border of triangles. The triangles represent teeth, fish scales, or a fence and symbolize a protective barrier to retain good spirits and ward off evil forces. The cloth's bright colors are representative of traditional Hmong textiles.
Brought from Thailand by an unknown refugee, the 1980 blue and white flowercloth featured here displays appliqué, reverse appliqué, counted cross-stitch, and embroidery. The soft, neutral colors, a departure from the bright palette traditionally used by Hmong, are intended to appeal commercially to Western tastes. The outer border is marked by a crosshatched motif called "mouse tracks." Tracks are considered the spirit imprint of the person or animal that has passed by.
Hmong Needlework Flowercloth (Pa Ndau), ca. 1979
Created by Xia Lee.
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1996.118.1
Hmong Needlework Flowercloth (Pa Ndau), 1980-1995
Wisconsin Historical Museum object # 1996.118.5
Rosemaling in Wisconsin
Per Lysne Working on a Plate
Stoughton, Wisconsin. Source: Harriet Romnes, Wisconsin Folk Museum Collection
Rosemaling, the Norwegian folk tradition of painting colorful floral decorations on everyday items, gained popularity in the United States through the efforts of Per Lysne of Stoughton, Wisconsin. Son of a tradesman rosemaler, Lysne came to Wisconsin from Norway in 1907. He developed a thriving rosemaling enterprise and instructed the art to a select few. His signature piece, the smorgasbord plate, was not an object that typically had been decorated, but Lysne's new form had a pervasive influence. The phrase on the plate reads, "The smorgasbord is now spread. Enjoy!"
Parade Celebration of Per Lysne
Stoughton, Wisconsin. Syttende Mai Festival. Source: Western Publishing, Inc.