“Hmong Story Cloths: A Historical and Cultural Understanding” with Dr. Linda Gerdner
Saturday, April 22nd, 2017, 10 a.m. Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum
Admission: Free for current members of the TAC; $5 for students and members of FAMSF; $10 General Admission
Story cloths originated during a pivotal time in the history of a specific cohort of Hmong people from Laos. Following U.S. withdrawal from the “Secret War,” those Hmong who had allied with the U.S. were forced to flee their homeland. During confinement in refugee camps in Thailand, Hmong women applied their superior needlework skills to create a new art form. These embroidered story cloths visually convey lived experiences and cultural heritage. Following closure of the last refugee settlement, story cloths have become a dying art. The presenter has been collecting story cloths for over two decades, with a discerning eye for quality of stitches and diversity of content. Her collection includes 51 of these unique textile arts. The earliest piece in this collection dates back to 1977 and was made at Ban Viani Refugee Camp. The most recent story cloth was purchased from an elder woman shortly after her arrival to the U.S., with last wave of refugees in 2005, from a Hmong settlement adjacent to Wat Thamkrabok. The presentation will include a photographic sampling of these meticulously embroidered textiles along with a discussion that including unique attributes and cultural significance. Select images will be supplemented with life photos, memories previously shared by Hmong individuals, and handcrafted artifacts to enrich understanding. Close-up photos of embroidered images spotlight meticulous attention to detail. The time span in which these textiles were created allows for a visual comparison regarding the evolution of embroidered artistry. Story cloths are divided and presented by the following themes: Hmong People’s Journey, Traditional Life in Laos, Hmong New Year, Folk Tales, and Neighboring Ethnic People. Content is synthesized to discuss the overall significance of this art form. This presentation is based on the book, Hmong Story Cloths: Preserving Historical & Cultural Treasures, published in 2015 by Schiffer Publishing.
Dr. Gerdner has an earned doctorate in Nursing in Aging and a minor in Anthropology. She served as an ethnogeriatric specialist at Stanford University and continues to have an affiliation there. Her research and scholarly efforts have focused on the Hmong American community since 2002. To enrich her understanding she visited three Hmong villages located in Xieng Khouang, in northern Laos. She has also visited Wat Thamkrabok and the former refugee settlement adjacent to the Buddhist monastery on two separate trips to Thailand. She has published three books that focus on Hmong Americans, these include: Hmong Story Cloths: Preserving Historical and Cultural Treasures, Demystifying Hmong Shamanism: Practice and Use by Hmong Americans Across the Lifespan, and Grandfather’s Story Cloth (a bilingual book for Hmong American children and their family to promote understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease).