Hmong – Pa Ndau Needlework
When Jim Curtis and Laurie Wenzel founded On The Wall Frame Shop in 1982, they not only offered framing services but posters, reproductions, and original art as well.
At the time Laurie’s father, John J. Wenzel, was teaching high school in Fresno, California, one of the American cities targeted to accept evacuated Laotian soldiers after communist takeover of Laos in 1975. These men had fought in General Vang Pao’s Secret Army that was subsidized by the CIA to destabilize North Vietnam. Subsequent to the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, the families were allowed to immigrate as well. Currently there are over 31,000 Hmong living in Fresno.
John had several Hmong high school students whose family members produced exquisite needlework called Pa Ndau. Concerned that his students were struggling with poverty issues while learning how to integrate into an unfamiliar society, he asked if On The Wall would sell Pa Ndau on consignment. Laurie and Jim found the work not only beautiful and intricately made but also intriguing. While most pieces were basically decorative by western standards, many other works were very large wall hangings depicting scenes of daily life in the Hmong’s native Laos as well as brutal depictions of war, all carefully embroidered in storyboard form.
John passed away in 1989. Recently a batch of Pa Ndau was discovered when Laurie moved her mother, Carole, to the Rogue Valley. These are from the original batch of Pa Ndau from the families of John’s students but ones that had been purchased outright by John and Carole. Their significance is that they are not newly made Pa Ndau; they are over 30 years old and from the early days of the relocation of Hmong to the U.S. On The Wall, Inc. currently has these on display and for sale, pictured above and below. If you’re interested in the art of Pa Ndau, please stop by.