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Bounxou Chanthrapone

July 5, 1947

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Bounxou Chanthrapone became an expert in many Laotian weaving styles before fleeing her country in the 1970s. After spending time in a refugee camp in Thailand, where she taught weaving and the Lao language, she immigrated to the United States. Living in the Minneapolis, Minnesota, area, she continued to practice and teach both weaving and silk tie-dyeing, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Bounxou Chanthrapone in her living room, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, ca. early 1990s, photograph by Phil Nusbaum, Courtesy Minnesota State Arts Board
Bounxou Chanthrapone (left) with her apprentice, Anouock Omvongkot, in her living room, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, ca. early 1990s, photograph by Phil Nusbaum, courtesy Minnesota State Arts Board
Bounxou Chanthrapone (left) with her apprentice, Anouock Omvongkot, in her living room, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, ca. early 1990s, photograph by Phil Nusbaum, courtesy Minnesota State Arts Board
Bounxou Chanthrapone in her living room, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, ca. early 1990s, photograph by Phil Nusbaum, courtesy Minnesota State Arts Board
Bounxou Chanthrapone in her living room, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, ca. early 1990s, photograph by Phil Nusbaum, courtesy Minnesota State Arts Board
Bounxou Chanthrapone in her living room, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, ca. early 1990s, photograph by Phil Nusbaum, courtesy Minnesota State Arts Board
Tablecloth (detail) by Bounxou Chanthrapone.  'I finished this piece in 1991, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Weaving material is cotton threads. The design is medium multi-color pattern of fruits. This piece is five feet long and three feet wide.' Photograph by Phil Nusbaum, courtesy Minnesota State Arts Board
Weaving (detail) by Bounxou Chanthrapone. 'The bottom part of Lao skirt. I finished this piece in March 1992, in Bloomington, Minnesota.  Weaving materials are silk and metallic threads. The designs are small and medium multi-color patterns in red base. This piece is two yards long and one foot wide.' Interview and photograph by Phil Nusbaum, courtesy Minnesota State Arts Board
Wall hanging (detail) by Bounxou Chanthrapone. "I finished this piece in December 1992 in Bloomington, Minnesota.  Weaving materials are hand-spun silk and metallic threads. The designs are small and medium multi-color patterns in red base. This piece is one yard long and 18 inches wide." Interview and photograph by Phil Nusbaum, courtesy Minnesota State Arts Board
Small table cloth (detail) by Bounxou Chanthrapone. 'I finished this piece in 1993. Weaving materials are cotton, silk and nylon threads. The designs are small and medium patterns of fruits and flowers. This piece is three feet long and two feet wide.' Interview and photograph by Phil Nusbaum, courtesy Minnesota State Arts Board
Shawl for women (detail) by Bounxou Chanthrapone. 'I finished this piece in October 1989 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Weaving materials are silk and metallic threads. The designs are medium multi-color patterns of birds and magic trees.' Interview and photograph by Phil Nusbaum, courtesy Minnesota State Arts Board
Modern evening dress with a purse by Bounxou Chanthrapone. The designs are traditional from the central and southern regions of Laos. Cotton, linen and nylon, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Border of a Lao skirt (detail), weaving by Bounxou Chanthrapone with traditional designs from the central region of Laos, cotton, linen and nylon, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Lao skirt (detail), weaving by Bounxou Chanthrapone with traditional designs from the southern region of Laos, cotton, linen and nylon, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Lao semi-formal skirt (detail), weaving by Bounxou Chanthrapone with traditional designs from the northern region of Laos, cotton, linen and nylon, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Lao Skirt, weaving by Bounxou Chanthrapone with traditional designs from the central region of Laos, cotton, linen and nylon, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Lao shawl, weaving by Bounxou Chanthrapone with traditional designs from the central region of Laos, pure silks with natural coloring from berries, roots and tree barks, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Wall hanging, weaving by Bounxou Chanthrapone with an individually-created desgin of a dragon, pure silks with natural colorings from berries, roots and tree bark. Lao people believe that the dragon is a sacred creature that protects them from harm, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Lao skirt, Weaving by Bounxou Chanthrapone, pure silks with natural colorings from berries, roots and tree bark. The elephant pattern is an individual creative design, symbolizing peace, harmony and strength, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Tablecloth piece (detail), weaving by Bounxou Chanthrapone, a self-created design, combining tie-dye and a hand-woven process to create interwoven patterns, pure silk and cotton, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Lao skirt piece (detail), weaving by Bounxou Chanthrapone with patterns created from tie-dyeing and designs of people, animals and plants living harmoniously together, pure silk, with chemical colorings, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Traditional ceremonial wedding dress (detail), combination of a shawl and skirt, weaving by Bounxou Chanthrapone with traditional designs from the northern region of Laos, pure silk with gold and silk metallic threads, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Modern evening dress with purse, weaving by Bounxou Chanthrapone with traditional designs from the central and southern regions of Laos, cotton, linen and nylon, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

As a child in central Laos, Bounxou Chanthraphone learned weaving and tie-dyeing from her mother and grandmother. Later, through formal study, she became an expert in the weaving styles of central, northern and southern Laos.

While living in a refugee camp in Thailand in the late 1970s, Chanthraphone taught weaving and the Lao language to children and adults at the Japanese Volunteer Center School. "I couldn't take anything to Thailand, but only my life and my weaving skills," she has said. "I was very grateful to my mother and grandmother because with weaving skills, I was able to make a living and carry on the Lao legacy." Now when she weaves, she says, "it is for me."

Chanthraphone immigrated to the United States in 1982 and settled in the Minneapolis area. She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, where she works as a youth coordinator at the Center for Asians and Pacific Islanders. And she continues to practice both weaving and silk tie-dyeing and to teach those art forms at work and at home. Chanthraphone has been a dedicated volunteer teacher for the Lao Parents and Teachers Association. She weaves custom pieces for young traditional dancers and explains their significance in workshops and demonstrations, hoping to impart her knowledge and skills to the next generation of Laotian Americans.

Basic traditional Lao weaving uses black and white, but other, more complex designs are richly colorful. Chanthraphone uses a variety of looms to create intricate designs. She works with images of food, animals, butterflies and birds and sometimes includes computer designs. She creates wall hangings, tablecloths, shawls and women's clothing. Some of her garments are worn by local Laotian women on special occasions.

Chanthraphone often works with silk thread colored with natural materials such as berries, roots and tree bark. Her designs incorporate symbolic images from her culture, such as the dragon, a sacred creature with protective powers, and the elephant, which connotes strength, peace and harmony.

"There is no life without arts," she said, "and no arts without life."

Bibliography
Circles of Tradition: Folk Arts in Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota History Press for the University of Minnesota, 1989.

Watch

Bounxou Chanthrapone interviewed by Peggy Bulger, 2000 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Bounxou Chanthrapone answers the question 'How did you learn to weave?' Washington, D.C., 2000, interview by Alan Govenar

Bounxou Chanthrapone answers the question 'When did you come to the United States?' Washington, D.C., 2000, interview by Alan Govenar