Getting Crafty

The wonderful part about a city so set on preserving it’s crafts is that there are quite a few places to see local things the minority groups make. There are galleries, museums, and various stores dislaying and selling local handicraft and an entire night market selling what appear to be cheap Chinese knockoffs.  I was particularly impressed by the well set up Ock Pop Tock.  They run a living culture center where you can observe or learn how to dye, loom or basket weave, or do wax resist Batik dying.  The classes are a bit expensive so I visited their living cultural center to watch their artisans. It’s still worth a visit to look around and some of the younger tour guides and staff took time to share some fresh tamarind and talk to us about their crafts and their former monk lives.

I was a tad disappointed that i could not finally learn how to make an awesome Ikat scarf, but that just meant I got to wander by the Yensabai bookstore and see that they’re running a stencil class.  I used to love messing with stencils and spray painting so I was curious what they were teaching.  Turns out the local monks create elaborate paper stencils to sponge paint temple walls with Buddhist motifs.

A wall full of paper Buddhist stencils.

I wanted to make the weird looking elephant/tiger mix but the former monk teaching me suggested it would be much easier to make a symmetrical piece.  I’ve seen Chinese paper cutting before but I had no idea how stencils like this could be cut in ye olde times.  It is perhaps telling when the instructor asked if I had ever made a stencil, and when I replied “Yes, with an x-acto knife”, he just looked at me, laughed, and told me that is much easier.

Tools of the Laotian Buddhist monk stencil making trade.

I picked up the various straight and curved metal chisels he handed me and set off to work pounding them into the mulberry paper with the wooden stick/mallet he handed me.  The chisels come in multiple sizes and you pick the right size ones to get the curves and lines you need.  I quickly saw why he recommended a symmetrical picture.  As I toiled for an hour or two with a complimentary cup of watery tea, I was looked at curiously by passerby.  Apparently, all Asians do look the same, as various customers wandered up and asked me for help and one French family even took pictures of me chiseling.  One guy seemed confused why anyone would want to do anything he thought was just straight up “work”.  It indeed was some physical labor but once you got in the groove of it, it was a rather relaxing almost meditative state you got into as you slowly moved or changed chisels and gave it a satisfying whack.  I’d rather be learning how the temple art is made than paying admission to see all the temples in town.  This is a fun diversion if you’re in town and have a few hours to learn an old craft or want a homemade souvenir.

Yensabai Bookstore

On the street on the opposite of Phousi hill from the main street and the same street as the Hive Bar.  If you’re at the Hive bar, walk towards the nearest visible intersection and it’s on the same side of the street as the Aussie Sports Bar.  You’ll pass the sports bar and a few guesthouses before you get there.

Ock Pop Tock

There are two store locations in town and the living cultural center is two km south of town near the Phousi Market.  See the well designed website for better directions.


1 comment
  1. Jenn said:

    this looks so up my alley. i LOVE ornamental design. probably why i love islamic art so much. and i agree with the calming and meditative state that comes with rote work. it’s almost spiritual once you get into the groove. i wish i got to learn this with you.

    can i see your final product?

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