Just Sew Stories: Hmong Culture Comes to Maine

Kue John Lor, the exhibit's co-curator, in traditional Hmong clothing

On Sunday, June 30th, the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine will celebrate the opening of Just Sew Stories: Hmong History Stitched, a new temporary exhibition within the acclaimed We Are Maine exhibit.

Just Sew Stories features more than a dozen costumes, toys and tapestries created in the traditional Hmong style of paj ntaub (literally translated as “flower cloth”). Long an important element of Hmong clothing and decorative arts, this intricate embroidery style evolved as the Hmong people were driven from their native countries during and after the Vietnam War, settling in refugee camps throughout Southeast Asia. As they traveled and resettled – many in the American Midwest – Hmong women used embroidery to tell the story of these migrations. The narrative tapestries they create are known as story cloths.

The exhibition was co-curated by Museum & Theatre staff and Hmong cultural consultant Kue John Lor with support from the Frances R. Dewing Foundation. In addition to the Hmong embroidery (most created by Lor’s aunt, Nao Vang, a Laos native living in Wisconsin), the exhibit features

Nao Vang (far right), paj ntaub artist, with her family in Thailand

interactive components, including felt boards that children can use to create their own story cloths.

In the spirit of cross-cultural learning, the exhibit opening celebration will also feature a short documentary about the Culture Scholars, four Portland High School students from around the world who work part-time at the Museum & Theatre leading programs that encourage families to learn about new cultures and share their own. The Children’s Museum & Theatre’s multicultural programming – including the Culture Scholars program, the We Are Maine exhibit and other endeavors – earned international recognition in 2012, when the Museum & Theatre was one of four children’s museums in the world to receive the MetLife Promising Practice Award.