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Village Story Blanket

Men chop and gather wood, women turn grindstones, and a child rides on the back of a blue water buffalo. Preparations for New Year celebrations keep everyone busy in these scenes of traditional life in Laos, a country in Southeast Asia. What other activities can you find?

Hmong artist Ka Zoua Lee shows us scenes from three different villages on this blanket. Neatly stitched words tell us that the top two rows are a “Hmong’s village.” The next two rows are a “Blue Hmong’s village.” And the two rows below that are a “Lao’s village.” The artist pictures homes, clothing, and activities typical of each village.

The English words on this blanket suggest that it was made for sale in America. But the blanket also helps preserve the history and traditions of a people uprooted by war.

Ka Zoua Lee (Hmong, born Laos)
Village Story Blanket, 1980
Cotton, silk, synthetic; appliqué and embroidery
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Needlework is an important skill for women in traditional Hmong society.
The activities depicted on this story blanket recall a vanished way of life.
A "story blanket" does more than tell stories.

Neighborhood Scenes: Ka Zoua Lee combined many scenes of life in Laos in her story blanket. What scenes of daily life would you choose for a blanket of your own? Think about your food, clothing, home, chores and celebrations. Draw several of those scenes, each on its own sheet of paper. Join them in rows to make a larger picture. Add a decorative border around the edge for a finishing touch.  

Learning about Laos: Examine the trees and animals on the blanket, both the central panel and the surrounding border. (Use the “zoom” feature for a closer look.) Make a list of what you find. Then consult a book about Laos. What trees and animals are found there? Which of them has the artist included? Are all the animals on the blanket actually found in Laos?  

A Hmong New Year: Use the library or the Internet to find out more about traditional Hmong New Year celebrations. What activities do you recognize on this story cloth? What other scenes might Ka Zoua Lee have included? Create a set of drawings based on your research and write a paragraph explaining each one. (Extra credit: Find out about Lao New Year celebrations, shown at the far right of the fourth row of the story blanket.)  

At the Museum: Search for “Hmong” on the computer in the museum’s lobby to find out which examples of Hmong needlework are currently on display and how to find them. Because cloth can be damaged by light, these works of art are rotated frequently. What do the works you see at the museum have in common with Ka Zoa Lee’s story blanket? How are they different?  

Bibliography: Bryan, Nichol. Hmong Americans. Edina, MN: ABDO Publishing Company, 2004.

Cha, Dia. Dia’s Story Cloth: The Hmong People’s Journey of Freedom. New York: Lee & Low Books, 1998.

Millett, Sandra. The Hmong of Southeast Asia. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 2002.

Murphy, Nora. A Hmong Family. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 1997.

Shea, Pegi Deitz. The Whispering Cloth. Honesdale, PA: Caroline House, 1995.  

September 2004