Into the mountains of Laos

This is the third part of the talk I gave at Clayspace back in August 2014. Some new work based on this part of the talk is on display as part of Newstead Open Studios. 

Laos is a place I have visited several times now – I feel like I am falling into a kind of connection with this beautiful country. My last visit was all about textiles and traditions, travelling into the mountains to visit relatively remote villages and experience their textile traditions.


Supplementary weft silk weaving

Travelling out of the mountains in the north-east we came to Vieng Xay, a landscape of limestone mountains that became a haven for Laos people and for the Pathet Lao, a communist political movement closely linked to the Vietnamese communists. To quote Wikipedia:

Through the 1960s and 1970s the Pathet Lao battled the Royal Lao Government during the Laotian Civil War, gaining control of the north and east of Laos. The Pathet Lao gained power throughout the country by the spring of 1975. In May, the US-backed Vientiane government fell and the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party formed a new government.[3]

In Vieng Xay we explore the caves deep inside these mountain, visiting places where the Pathet Laos planned their campaigns and where people lived, sheltering inside the mountain as bombs rained down outside. Laos was the most heavily bombed country in the Vietnam (aka American) War, and today unexploded ordnance – bombies – still takes lives and limbs despite the massive efforts of the bomb clearance teams.

Today bombs are made into practical objects and jewellery – including miniature bombs!

Vieng Xay

Vieng Xay

Vieng Xay - entering the well protected cave system

Vieng Xay – entering the well protected cave system

As a counterpoint, the story of the Hmong people interested me. They are one of the so-called ‘ethnic minority’ groups in this region – mountain people who were recruited by France and then the United States to fight on their side during the first and second Indochina Wars. Being on the losing side meant many Hmong became refugees, heading for the US, Australia and other countries; those who stayed were pushed out of their traditional areas, out of the mountains. Hmong women wear skirts of hand-woven hemp with patters created through wax resist and then indigo-dyed, and then appliqued, embroidered, stitched together, pleated and starched and finally worn. Remarkable pieces of work, representing days or weeks of work in each skirt.






Hmong skirt: museum display

Hmong skirt: museum display



And so I have started on a series of work on the theme of “Haven”, reflecting the form of the mountains and the sweep and motifs of a skirt. The first pieces were only a partial success, with the terra sigillata surface peeling unexpectedly.

Haven 1







2015 Developing the Haven idea

2015 Developing the Haven idea

Recently (in early 2015) I have made another set of pieces on this same theme and have had these on display as part of Newstead Open Studios during the 2015 Castlemaine State Festival.

Ultimately for me it is about being in our place – in our identity, our inspiration, our stories, and using our signifiers and symbols.

For me, ideas and words are evocative. Often what seems like a new idea leads me back to a familiar place, visited before.

I continue to be intrigued by enclosed forms – the unknown interior – and in painting the surface with the clay that is literally from beneath my feet. I enjoy throwing on the wheel and reshaping – pulling, folding and cradling pots.

And I love the not knowing – the wondering of how might I express this feeling, this idea, this place!

This posting is just one of many steps on my continuing ceramics journey.

One thought on “Into the mountains of Laos

  1. Great read, thanks Chris. Hope to get to your studio this weekend, Love Prue and Richard

    Sent from my iPhone


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s