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An American Artist Breathes Life into the Silks Of Laos and Cambodia

May 21, 2015

Whereas Jim Thompson, an American spy, resuscitated the Thai silk industry, Carol Cassidy, brought high fashion design to the silk industry of Laos and Cambodia. Carol arrived in Laos in 1989 as a textile expert with the United Nations Development Program in Laos. One year later, she formed Lao Textiles, designed her own looms for hand woven silks and began integrating traditional Lao motifs into more modern designs.

Even though Laos was much different when Carol settled in Vientiane than it was when the author was there twenty years before, it was any place but an established commercial place of business. Carol’s charm and obvious skills began to pay off and she soon became recognized by famous interior designers around the world. One famous French designer has her do all of the furnishing coverings for his residence.

A couple of years ago, we went up to Vientiane from Bangkok to meet Carol and visit Lao Textiles which is housed in an old French colonial mansion. Just by chance we had lunch in another colonial mansion, the Settha Palace, that seemed very familiar and I realized I used to stay there some 45 years before. In those days, Vientiane was an open city with Pathet Lao (Lao Communists), Force Armée Royale (allegedly on our side though the acronym FAR stood for far away when required), Air America pilots (good guys) and espionage agents (mixed bag) from most every country that claimed to be a world power. Everything was cleaner and better organized this time but did not measure up to the French food of a bygone era and the unbridled excitement of the old days.

We walked over to Lao Textiles with our friends Stephen and Nop of Manop Rachote.

We met Carol and purchased obscene quantities of silk to take back home to the store. I noticed a photograph of an elephant wearing a fabulous silk blanket that Carol had by chance made. It was a festival held in Hong Sa, Laos where an elephant polo match was said to have been held some years back.

As I knew the members of one of the teams, I asked Carol about the polo and she said there was no elephant polo match. Back in Bangkok I confronted the team and they sheepishly admitted they never left the bar and negotiated with the other team as to which one would be the winner. Nonetheless, I bought the last remaining bit of the elephant silk blanket and memorabilia of the alleged Hong Sa elephant polo tournament which hangs in The Elephant Story.

Several years back, Carol took over another textile project in the remote location of Preah Vihear, Cambodia. There some eighty Cambodian villagers, many of whom are land mine survivors, are supported by the vibrant silk creations they produce. The colors are striking but the textures are very subtle.

 Therefore, the artist has extended her reach from Laos to neighboring Cambodia to create wonderful products, thereby enabling a group of surviving artisans to support themselves. She is truly a wonderful, caring person who takes pride in her artistic and philanthropic accomplishments. 



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