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"Threads are our palette. We weave art."

Carol Cassidy

Carol Cassidy

Lao Textiles

Notes for the


Carol Cassidy’s textiles are remarkable in that they are simultaneously rooted in the Lao weaving traditions and relevant to the modern world.  In establishing a weaving program dedicated to producing work that is consistently of the highest quality and finest designs which can be sold internationally, she has devised a business model that has potential for vanishing traditions in other cultures.  Furthermore, the work is quite simply beautiful, sensuous and irresistible.  To wear or even to touch a piece of this hand-spun; hand-dyed and hand-woven silk is thrilling.  One feels an immediate and strong connection to those who have created these textiles and to their rich heritage.

Sections of the Exhibition

1. Introduction to Laos

Because most Americans have a limited knowledge of Laos and of its multiple ethnic groups, the show will open with introductory maps and photographs of this beautiful country, of the Mekong River that runs almost the entire length of the nation. The distribution of tribes and the broad characteristics of each area will be mentioned as well as some reference to the nature of their handicrafts, possibly with selected examples.  Special attention should be given to the Hmong tribe many of whom now live in the Bay area. 

2. Traditional Textiles

When Carol Cassidy first went to Laos, she was greatly impressed with the traditional textiles and began to collect them in the markets.  These antique pieces have served as the primary source of design inspiration for all of her subsequent work and thus are integral to the understanding of new pieces.

The selection of about 20 pieces will document the weaving techniques, design motifs and the functions of the various elements such as skirts, head scarves, shoulder cloths.  Each ethnic group has its own particular style and some of these will be illustrated, perhaps with photographs as well as actual pieces. If possible, one mannequin will be dressed to show how the clothes are wrapped around the body. 

3. Renewal and Transformation

The central section of the exhibition will be devoted to the presentation of work by Cassidy and her weaving studio in Vientiane.  Her careful planning and marketing research as she established the studio will be chronicled.  Her approach can serve as a business model for the preservation of craft traditions in other countries.  Over the years, she has expanded the scope of her efforts to include the raising of silk worms, and silk spinning and dyeing as well as the weaving of simpler scarves for a broader market. These operations now involve some 5000 Lao in various parts of the country. 

Some 50 examples will be selected to show the evolution of the work. The various weaving techniques including weft patterns, tapestry weave; warp and weft ikat will be shown as well as the range of colors and weights of silks.  The consistently high standards of quality, in the materials, the weaving and the designs will be evident.  These are all factors that have made the work highly saleable on an international scale.

Examples will Include

3a. Early pieces that are derived directly from antique examples and helped to train the weavers in their traditions of

3b. Works which expand upon and reinterpret the motifs and techniques while preserving the essential Lao character

3c. Commissioned works for specialized markets including wall hangings for public spaces, interior furnishings, Japanese obi, etc.

3d. A Lao frame loom with its unique vertical heddle system and pattern rods will be set up and used for a portion of the exhibition for demonstrations by one or more of Cassidy’s weavers.

4. Legacy

The success of Carol Cassidy’s weaving studio has generated renewed appreciation for and interest in traditional Lao weaving.  There are now some 26 weaving groups and an active Lao Handicraft organization established and encouraged by the government.  It is important to acknowledge the government’s recognition of the value of Cassidy’s endeavors and their active response in the formation of this handicraft group.  A selection of about 10 of the best examples of these new workshops will document Cassidy’s impact on the revitalization of Lao textile traditions.  It will also illustrate the future potential for such works.

Summary of contents:

1. Introduction to Laos

2. Multiple ethnic groups, types of textile traditions - 10 pieces

3. Photographs of the country, the peoples, the textiles

4. 2 maps: Laos in Asia; Laos with various ethnic groups identified.

5. Traditional textiles - 20 pieces, various ethnic groups, a mannequin to show how the pieces are worn

6. Renewal and transformation - 50 pieces produced by the Cassidy studio

7. Lao frame loom with vertical heddle system

8. Touch samples

9. Legacy - 10 pieces from various other weaving studios

10. Audio-visual - possibly a film or a slide show to create a sense of the country of Laos

These are the basic elements for the show.  It can be expanded or contracted as needed.  Most of the work will come from the Cassidy collection but other collectors of antique pieces, as well as her work, have indicated a willingness to lend to the exhibition.


A catalog accompanies this exhibition.  It includes
160 pages with 110 color photos and illustrations providing additional didactic material several essays, photographs of all sections of the show.

Program Suggestions in Association with the Exhibition

1. Presentation by Carol Cassidy

2. Lecture on the peoples of Laos

3. Weaving demonstrations by visiting Lao weavers

4. Workshops taught by local Hmong craftspeople

5. Symposium on mechanisms for preservation of craft traditions,possibly in association with or under the aegis of Aid to Artisans

6. Special selection of related products for sale in the museum shop