“I am so excited“ said Sith for the 42nd time that hour as the plane descended over the California coast and cruised into land at San Francisco airport. On the plane from Laos that day was Pany; OPT master weaver, Sith; head tour guide from the Living Crafts Centre, Pok and Heather from Passa Paa and myself and Nik, we were en route to Santa Fe for the International Folk Art Market.
Do you know the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe? It’s a market place for artisans from all over the world. This year featuring: 156 artisans from 54 countries around the world. Apart from drawing 21,000 people, and generating $3.1 million in sales, it’s a chance for artisan groups to feel like a part of a global movement, a movement that honours the handmade, the tradition of historic cultures, the diversity of peoples. So we are there for the 9th year a huge honour and privilege and an opportunity for 2 of our Lao team to experience the USA.
This year we selected Pany a weaver that has been with us for 14 years. Pany is also a mother of two girls, an enthusiastic football player, great cook and life and soul of any party. Her nickname at work is ‘Nai Ban’ meaning head of the village as her voice can often be heard over the clack clack of the looms as she cracks jokes and teases her colleagues. Unlike Pany Sith has never left Laos before or been a plane. Sith is from a neighbouring province but like many young men in LP moved here to be a monk. Once settled in LP he looked for work found a wife and is now a father of a beautiful young boy. Sith as has he keeps saying on the trip is “so excited”.
“I felt like a part of a bigger community of folk artists around the world”
The market went super well. We profiled traditional jackets and skirts, with a blend of our scarves and wall hangings.
The ambiance booth in Santa Fe also supported us by buying our Dream Catcher Peru keychains. A product that we developed to help fund our next ambitious plan: To send 8 Lao weavers to Peru for the Tinkuy Conference: a Gathering of weavers from all over the world. That’s happening in November 2017.
Pany said, “This was the trip of a lifetime for me. I love being an ambassador for Lao and sharing my culture and textiles with people from around the world. I felt like a part of a bigger community of folk artists around the world.”
As we do every year, we planned a road trip after the fair. This year we headed to Utah and the canyon lands. The pictures say it all. In one restaurant in Moab, Pany and Sith proudly placed a pin in a map on the wall that invited people to place pins showing where they are from. They were the first visitors from Laos!!
Our destination was Jackson Hole Wyoming, where our good friend Laely organized two trunk shows, one with WRJ design, a prestigious interior design company and the other with Inversion Yoga.
However first we had to tackle the wild Snake River. Two river trips later we were ready for the trunk shows. Again huge successes, we met super interesting people and enjoyed sharing our stories from Laos.
As Sith said “Hey Jo, it’s like we work for the Luang Prabang tourism board, I love telling people about where I am from, I never knew people would be so interested in my country.”
Before heading back to Laos we had the chance for one last visit, a short stop over in San Francisco afforded us the opportunity to meet with good friends Joanna and Mark. As soon as we arrived, we jumped in the camper van and headed to the golden Californian hills for our last US sunset.
These trips really see us fulfilling our mission: elevating the profile of Lao textiles and artisans, increasing economic opportunities and facilitating creative and educational collaboration in Laos and worldwide. And we would like to thank everyone for their support both friends, partners, volunteers at the IFAM, customers and fellow artisan groups. This really was the trip of a lifetime, so thank you!!
Check out our instagram for more pictures of the trip.