The Ock Pop Tok team prepares to go to the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico in mid July. This year marks Ock Pop Tok’s sixth year of attending the Market, and the excitement around the Living Crafts Centre is palpable. The Market, which gathers an impressive group of master folk artists from around the world, is an opportunity for artisans to come face to face with customers and with fellow artisans. Additionally, the Market gives folk art, traditional cultures, and the artisans themselves an elevated, respected spotlight on the international stage. In spite of obvious language barriers, the artisans, many of whom have never left their village, are inspired by each other and feel proud to be part of a collective movement to preserve and share their craft and their respective cultures.
Launched by the International Folk Art Alliance, the Santa Fe Market celebrates its twelfth market event this year and is scheduled to be held from July 11 to 13, 2014. Committed to preserving the economic and cultural sustainability of folk artists and folk art, the Market also works to create intercultural exchange opportunities for artisans. The Market evokes comparisons to a souk or bazaar along ancient trading routes where exotic goods and tribal lore exchange hands and connect communities. Of the folk artists that are invited to participate each year, some are renowned artists, but most are have never traveled further than their home village. In addition to being part of the show in Sante Fe, the OPT team will also travel to San Diego where they will participate in the Empowering Women Folk Art Market hosted by The Museum of Man. The market in San Diego is an extension of the Empowering Women exhibit which is currently being hosted at the Museum of Man. The exhibit highlights the role of women in preserving their culture, generating sustainable income and transforming their communities. Ock Pop Tok is one of ten women’s cooperatives selected to be featured in the market, among artisans from Bolivia, Ecuador, Rwanda, Namibia, Peru, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico and Swaziland.
Each year, Jo and Veo select a weaver to attend the market to represent Ock Pop Tok and the village weavers. This year, they selected two members of the team: Aloun ‘Dtor’ Vilaypohone, one of our Master Weavers, and Sengchan Chanthavong, Head of Guest Experiences at Living Crafts Centre. This is the first trip to the United States for both Dtor and Sengchan. Both women are excited and a little nervous. When asked what part of the journey is most intriguing, Dtor remarked that she was looking forward to seeing landscapes that are physically and culturally different from Laos: “I imagine looking out of the plane window and seeing a place that doesn’t look like the trees and hills in Laos.” Dtor and Sengchan are equally excited to meet other artisans. The weavers at the LCC are excited too – with many questions about where Santa Fe and San Diego are in the United States, the people that will be there, the food, the crafts, the conversations. Follow Dtor and Sengchan as they discover the US and meet fellow artisans and buyers on Instagram. We will be updating our posts often, so make sure to follow their adventure!
Now, a little more about Dtor and Sengchan…..
Ms. Aloun ‘Dtor’ Vilaphone – Master Weaver
Ms. Aloun Vilaphone, or Dtor as she is known among family and friends, is disconcertingly young for a Master Weaver. Twenty-seven years old, Dtor has achieved a level of skill that most weavers spend years perfecting. Dtor began weaving as most Lao girls do, with their mother in their home villages. However, Dtor’s mother did not teach her to weave until she was ten years old. At the age of six or seven, Dtor recalls nagging her mother and getting into mischief in order to convince her mother to begin teaching her earlier. Perhaps the wait was integral to Dtor’s advancement in the craft. Today, she is able to work diligently and carefully for long periods of time on complicated patterns, tireless in her commitment to create masterpieces efficiently and perfectly. Dtor joined the Ock Pop Top team seven years ago and, here, she continues to develop her skills and ingenuity. She is very accomplished in the ‘chok’ or discontinuous, supplementary weft technique. She feels a strong connection to the tradition of weaving, which she believes provides a livelihood, a necessity and a pastime for women in villages. Dtor is proud to be part of a company and a community that is actively promoting Lao culture and preserving the traditions for future generations. Dtor, herself, is quite humble when speaking about her craft and vocation. She claims that her capabilities come with possessing acceptance and a peaceful state of mind. “You have to be at peace and happy to weave complicated patterns. If you are not happy, then you cannot weave well.” Dtor was born in Ban Khoy in Luang Prabang Province and, as a teenager, she moved to Ban Phonxay where she currently resides with her husband. She enjoys weaving on personal projects in her spare time and listening to music. Dtor hopes to have three children, and if any of them are daughters, she is insistent they will be weaving as soon as they ready. In addition to teaching them to be ambassadors for Lao culture, Dtor hopes her daughters will find the sense of solace and happiness that weaving offers her.
Sengchan Chanthavong – Head of Guest Experience & Instructor
Sengchan Chanthavong, Head of Guest Experience and Instructor at Ock Pop Tok, is truly an ambassador for Lao culture. Each day, she hosts visitors at OPT’s Living Crafts Centre, and introduces them to the rich traditions and techniques of Lao textiles. Sengchan also instructs visitors who take weaving and dying classes, helping them grasp the complexity, skill and patience required to produce handmade fabrics. For the past two years, Sengchan has curated OPT’s Fibre2Fabric Foundation, an exhibition space that features OPT’s collection of heritage textiles. As a young girl growing up in That Luang in Luang Prabang province, Sengchan hoped to be a school teacher. Her interest shifted when she realized her passion for introducing and explaining the intricacies of Lao textiles and culture to international visitors. Sengchan’s interest continues to develop, and she is grateful that she is able to work with an organization that is committed to the sustainable development and conservation of Lao textiles, particularly at the village level. In many respects, Sengchan’s childhood dream of a becoming a teacher has been realized at Ock Pop Tok. Here she is encouraged to be both a student and a teacher: a cultural ambassador that continues to learn about her own history and to share her knowledge and enthusiasm with others.
If you are in or around Santa Fe, NM or San Diego, CA, please stop by and see the Ock Pop Tok team.
For more information on attending the markets, please contact IFAM and The Museum of Man directly:
International Folk Art Market, July 11- 13, 2014.
The Museum of Man: Empowering Women Folk Art Market, July 19 – 20, 2014.