Thursday, December 13, 2012

Hobart, Tasmania. a personal memory.

Hunter River Steamship Company's "Karuah".


Hobart, Tasmania.

Sailing into any large beautiful harbour is always a wonderful experience, Hobart did not disappoint. I was a young ordinary seaman at the time, the early 1950s, on a Hunter River Steamship Company that made a regular weekly voyage there to load potatoes and apple, I was entranced. In those days Hobart was a very busy port,  dozens of ships  at their births or out at anchor in on the Derwent waiting to come alongside.


Alfred Holts’ Blue Funnel Line from Liverpool,  rubbed  shoulders with the Red Star vessels and a large assortment of ships from all over the world. Rationing was still rife in post-war Europe, and Australia was doing a roaring trade in chilled beef, tined fruit and vegetables, jams etc. Salamanca wharf was a working dock full of trucks, lorries, and wharf labourers pushing trollies in every direction. Often the various crew s from Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool or Amsterdam would fall out with each other, generally over pretty girls or vast amounts of alcohol, the waterfront hotels could be pretty rough. Much of Australia was still in the grip of Victorian moral values, and it was considered sinful to drink alcohol after 6pm. I believe this was a wartime measure to ensure everyone was home and tucked up in bed with the lights out for fear of Japanese bombing. Tasmania being much further south than N.S.W. escaped this regulation that made their ports much more attractive to seaman sailing around the Australian coast.


There was no Tasmanian Bridge and the only way across the river was by a floating bridge. Its construction consisted of joined barge like pontoons that bounced around a lot as you drove over them, not to mention the excitement when crossing in bad weather. Not that there was a lot houses on the eastern shore judging by the night time lights. Hobart was very much a provisional town, horse watering trough in Murray Street, and old country style wrought iron lace on many shop awnings. Traffic was minimal and everyone moved around by tram. This has always been a great way to travel as you were able to jump on and off when the fancy took you When I am in a city that still uses trams I will always do so. The journey is slow and you are able to take in the view. Once  in Hobart  I took the tram out to New Town and that felt like a trip into the country.


In those days there were many cinemas and dance halls. One I particularly acquired a fondness for was the Sapphire Ball Room in Liverpool Street, this establishment held dances nearly every  night . As I remember the place was always packed with pretty girls who were very friendly to foreign sailors. At times, I felt many were anxious to flee the island for the wide exotic world beyond. Hobart in those days still enjoyed a wonderful harmony in its, early colonial, Victorian, Art Deco, a style not fully respected by many current residents. Many Georgian sandstone buildings lined the main streets, of which a lot have sadly disappeared in the name of progress. Where the AMP building now stands and opposite on the site of the ANZ Bank in the Mall stood very fine sandstone buildings sadly gone forever. Still Hobart has much to offer even today architecturally when compared to Sydney, that to my mind has been reduced to ugliness, by what can only be described as greed.


I had intended telling you a little about the” Karuah”, she was one of the last old style steam ships plying Australian waters. Built in the early part of the 20th century, she only displaced 533 tons, and could be a little uncomfortable in heavy weather. Being a steam ship we still carried trimmers and stockers to shovel in the coal to the boiler fire. Being an old ship  she  had an open forecastle accommodation, this was the type of cabins portrayed in films concerning sailing ships, eight to ten to a cabin. Being such a small vessel the crew was very much like a family, and many had been sailing on her for several years. At times I feel this contentment with by life at the time influenced my desire to return one day.


Hobart in many ways has not changed that much and when I returned here in the 1970s  I was surprised. The people are still those friendly being, the town has new attraction, and being promoted as one of the place to visit in our over crowed world I am glad I returned.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Goya: Horrors of War.

The Third Of May, 1808. Goya.
Museo Nacional del Prado.

Horrors of War.

I first viewed Francisco Goya’s Horrors of War during  Saloniki year as Cultural Capital of Europe. At the time it  struck me that Goya was one of the first pictorial war journalist. His images are quite graphic in their detail and are presented in a very matter of fact way .This stems from his disciplined approach to tell the truth at all cost. This attitude makes his imagery so powerful, the viewer is forced to respond in some way to the pictorial result of warfare and evaluate a personal response to the effects of war, not only on ourselves but on humanity in general.

Goya identified with the ordinary people, this is not to suggest that he was not ambitious, and strove to reach the top of Spanish society, simply that he wished to present his world in an individual way. He allowed his  citizens to stand or fall by their own personality. Goya, to my knowledge was one of the first artists to present a true vision of the efficiency of a war machine.

"The Same" etching& aquatint.

His imagery of the horrors of war, reminded me of the constant front page reportage of the Vietnam War during the 1960’s. The total disregard for human life, as though the people portrayed are not human beings .To some extent this attitude continues in Syria and Iraq.  In the case of Vietnam this continual impersonal reportage of the “T.V.War”  , resulted in the end in a general popular demand that hostilities be brought to an end.  Public opinion was such that Governments have restricted access to the front line in recent conflicts.

When Goya was busy producing these works, Europe was still in the grip of the Inquisition, Napoleonic Wars, and general internal strife within Spain, between conservatives and liberals. No matter what your own personal view about Goya images. Most of us are left with a sense of pity for the victims, and the feeling of terror these people must have felt. The painting “The Third of May” express these sentiments .admirably

"Great Feat! With dead men" 1863.
Etching & Aquantint.
War time jurnalism, 19th cent.
"This is worse".
Etching & aquantint.
A good example of  war time journalism.
                     "The Mad House" Accademia de Bellas Artes de San Ferando, Madrid.
                                                        Image of scial conditions in Spain.
The images suggest a total breakdown of basic humanity. A world were the rabble or their military counterpart have taken charge. Not that this blood lust  is only a particularly Spanish  quality. Unfortunately is raises its head everywhere. But, Spanish culture historically does not seem to the outsider very compassionate, we only have to recall the Civil War, the Inquisition and the continual blood lust of the bull ring. No matter how much bull fighting may be justified by Spaniards as a mark of valour, such medieval actives seem out of date in the 21st cent.. No matter what our personal opinions on these matters, and Goya’s political and social views, there is no denying the power of his social commentary over a very large range of subject matter.

                                                        "Nor Those", Etching & Aquatint.
                                                             Rape and slaughter of women.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Vietnamise art. Le Ba Dang.

Le Ba Dang. An extraordinary Vietnamese Artist.

I have struggled over the last few years, to arrive at a satisfactory solution to bridge the gap between eastern and western artistic statements. I first became aware of Le Ba Dang a couple of years ago while visiting Hue. Although he spent a considerable number of years in France, Le Ba Dang has never lost that poetic quality that under lies much Oriental art practice. He is one of those unique individuals who has been able to express the different and unique vision of vastly different cultures. He seems to be able to produce images that are understood by both eastern and western viewers alike.

His museum is housed in a French Colonial villa on the banks of the Perfume River in Hue, and is home to his personal collection .The villa is worth visiting in its own right. In 1992 Le ba Dang donated his work to the Vietnamese people. In 1992 the Cambridge University ranked him as one of the more important artist current alive, in fact they thought so highly of him that he was named  the most famous living artist in the world at that time.

Personally I love his ability to move between abstraction and a realised antiquity visualized in modern terms. His work traverses a wide range of materials. Oil, acrylic, sculpture, relief or embossed paper,  that he further develops with painting. Some sculptures are made out of the scraps of American B52 shot down during the war. I have not been able to give the viewer a full visual review of all this work, but the few examples here , hopefully will wet some appetites.
Graphic on embossed paper
Graphic No 2
Lebadgraphic 2
Sculpture "To be or not to be"
To be or not to be series.
Brush drawing Nude.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bruny Island, Tasmania's treasure isle

Tasman Sea coast Bruny Island . acrylic paint by Peter Kreet.
Return of the gulls. Bruny Island. by Peter Kreet.
Bruny Island.

Each morning as I watch the raising sun hit the far wall of my bedroom, I only have to turn ninety degrees in my bed, to catch  sight of North Bruny. Over the last twenty odd years of living here, I have never tired of looking out across the d’Entrecasteaux Channel at this wonderful island. Several times a year, I make the pilgrimage by the ferry to the island , to draw, and paint. On occasions, I will venture out onto the water in a crayfish boat, or what ever is at hand to view the rocky Tasman Sea coast from the ocean, that stretches away behind me for thousands of miles to South America.
The island in fact is two islands joined together by a sandy isthmus, that serves the duel purpose of joining North and South Bruny together, and acts as a major breeding ground for the local inhabitants, the fairy penguins. At night, particularly with the aid of a full moon it is possible to watch these little fellows, fully  dressed for dinner return from the sea to their burrows they have built into the sand banks. The island has few permanent residents, mostly people with skills that make it possible to earn a living without having to clock in every morning. There is also a large number of shackies, who spend their weekends in holiday shacks right across the island
Island once removed. Bruny Island. by Peter Kreet.

 Gull rockery, Bruny. by Peter Kreet

At low tide it is possible to walk along the rocky ocean foreshore, and examine natures sculptural efforts. Carved out over the centuries by the pounding force of the sea. This coast line was first charted by Able Tasman in 1642, long before any one was interested in Terra Australis. History also confirms that the infamous Captain Bligh Planted the first Tasmanian apple tree on the island. Little realising the future importance of this modest fruit to the local economy. Later the French explorer Bruny d’Enttecasteaux bestored his name on both island and channel.

 Taylors Beach. Bruny, Channel side. by Peter Kreet.
 The Bruny Coast. by Peter Kreet.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Australian Immigration

                                                    Australian troop ship "Westralia"


The current hysteria gripping Australia concerning the number of refugees arriving daily by boat, prompted me to recall the events that surrounded my own family migration to this country, after the Second World War.

There was an element of escape about our decision to desert Britain. We had endured six years of war, with its regular nightly bombing,  sprinting down to the bottom of the garden, saucepans on our heads, there was not enough helmets to go round, to reach the air-raid shelter. Past  resident Dad’s Army anti-aircraft embankment and it’s handy source of sand for small boys .

By the war’s end my father was dead, grandfather had lost a leg, and an uncle had been killed in the regular nightly Spit-fire battles near our village. We had the good fortune to live very close South England Air Defence headquarters!

My mother and grandmother were both born in Australia, so they were able to obtain a passage  home on a returning troop ship. The voyage was exciting for a ten year old, pickpockets among the sights and smells of Port Said. Arab boys diving for coins in the Red Sea at Yemen, and the appearance of Neptune as we crossed the equator.

It had been intended that we disembark in Sydney, but at the last moment we were diverted to Melbourne. This was a great disappointment to my grandfather after his years at sea, fighting pirates off the China coast, blackbird native labour for colonial planters on  Pacific islands. He could never make up his mind whether Sydney or Rio de Janeiro  could claim the most specular harbour.

My first impression on arrival was the blinding light, sunglasses were not a fashion item as they are now, so I spent my first few weeks squinting into the distance. It took several days to reach Sydney by train, every state had a different rail gauge, and we obliged to stay overnight in Albury waiting for our connection. The war years had curtailed most infrastructure development, along with housing construction. On arrival we found there were few houses for sale or rent for  that matter which set in trail the series of events that  follow ed. At least we did not have the difficulties of our current arrivals.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Portraits, what is a true likeness?

Sketch, Vision of Sue, by Peter Kreet


My first example is a quick ink and wash sketch I did a number of years ago, were the main focus was to capture the personality of the girl. It is very rough, but I feel quite lively. After all who wants to see themselves as half dead.

The Love of Portrait.
What is meant by a portrait, a photographic likeness, the capture of the spirit of an individual, realistic  academic painting, impressionist rending, and so on. Everyone has their own idea, and rightly so, after all most will live with the painting assuming that they have commissioned the work. Many artists look on portrait painting as an opportunity to earn a little money. Others may shun the whole idea declaring the practice as archaic, and only undertake the task for close friends or to learn new techniques.
Owning a portrait of yourself, has great appeal to many people. You only have to observe the crowds who queue up at the easel of a street artist to have their likeness drawn. Many people are reluctant to sit, fearing that their inner soul will be exposed in some way, or they fall into a type of trance that results in a lifeless portrait. Some artist paint only from a photo with a rather wooden result. Personally I feel this is rather sad, both from an artistic view point and a social experience. A few year ago a good friend of mine George Davis painted my portrait over six months, during which time we not only got to know each other very well, but enjoyed the company.

What constitutes a satisfactory portrait? I have taken the liberty to throw up a few possible approaches realistic or otherwise. Historically only people of wealth had their likeness painted generally by an important artist. Many of these works were produced with the artist having one eye on the reaction of the patron, rather than truthfulness. Van Dyek’s portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria comes to mind, according to Prince Rupert’s sister, the lady in question was rather short with crooked shoulders, spindly arms, and teeth that stuck out of her mouth “like guns from a fort”, not that you would  know looking at it. I know artists that feel all this is fine, after all who knows what a person looks like a hundred years or so from now, The important thing is the painting itself, its’ aesthetic, and general appeal, or even in some cases the historic context of the piece.

Joshua Smith 1943 by William Dobell


The portrait of Joshua Smith by William Dobell was much criticised after he won the Archibald Portrait Prize in 1943. Critics claimed the work was a caricature not a portrait, no matter what its artistic merit.

                                                        Morton May by Max Beckmann

In the painting of Morton May , Max Beckmann has been more concerned with the creation of tension within the work, while presenting the uncomplicated view of America. The painting was completed a year before his death. He was sixty-five and gravely ill, he seems to have provided a protective shield in front of the sitter in defence to his own internal illness.

                                           Self-Portrait in Black 1944 by Max Beckmann

The Self-Portrait In Black  by Max Beckmann displays great interest in shape and drama, rather than concern about correct portraiture. It was painted while in exile in Amsterdam for ten long yeards during in Second World War. His endurance seems to be at an end, as he turns in the seat and hurl bitterness and scorn at the world in general. Beckmann painted some eleven self- portraits during his lifetime and to a great  extent tracks his feelings about the world.

                                                      Choir Boy by Haim Soutine.

Soutine’ “Choir Boy”, like the Dobell also has that sense of caricature about it. He appears to be commenting on the petit bourgeois of Parisian  life . His work at this time was somewhat influenced by Modigliani. His colours have both humour and luminosity.

                                          Lunia Czechowska 1916 by Amedeo Modigliani

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The Modigliani portrait has everything one would desire in a painting. Bold colour, formal design, while pushing the boundaries of restrictive art practice. It has all the qualities of good portraiture, tone, tension ,texture , balance and aesthetic appeal.

                                                     Thomas Carlyle by Whistler.

The last example Whistler’s portrait of Thomas Carlyle allows us to see howl portrait painting has evolved over recent years. Although this work could not be described as a standard portrait, it never the less embodies the conventions of 19th cent. traditions.

                                                   Self-Portrait by Peter Kreet.

Finally another quick sketch, a likeness  captured with a limited amount of means. The idea was to capture the essence with as little detail as possible.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The artist's life Model

Quick ink drawing.



The Life Model’

 People have all sorts of extraordinary ideas about what takes place in a life drawing class, when in reality a naked body is a fairly impersonal thing. Even with young unscared ones, as the artist is totally focus on the problem of reducing the image to a series of lines, planes, and tones. Every person is unique with or without cloths, and even if they are very beautiful, the erotic is very much of a secondary consideration.

 Many art students at some point in their careers will be asked to pose, often the model has failed to show up, and the group must improvise. Some are only to happy to undress others not so, depending on their background, but this has nothing to do with prudishness. One of the most difficult tasks is to hold the pose as best you can, ten to fifteen minutes may seem like an eternity let alone an hour. Even with breaks in between to recapture the exact position proves difficult even for experienced models. Concentration is required to stop your mind from wandering.

  One of the great life drawing experiences I had was in Desiderius Orban”s art school above the Ship Inn Hotel, at Circular Quay in Sydney. He was a famous Hungarian artist who escaped central Europe in the 1930’s. Like many other Ex-European modernists at the time, he migrated to Australia and through teaching introduced new concepts for painting and drawing. This was never more apparent than in his life class, were ten or fifteen second drawings were often required. He would run up and down the room shouting faster faster. His philosophy was very much that creativity was an instrumental thing and a subconscious response was what true art was all about. Draw from the shoulder he would say. Naturally he had critics, but he always claimed novelty is in itself a work of art, if it is done within the limits of a creative visual imagination. His approach forced students to work freely and forget any inhibitions. This was the best way to give life to your work.
Conti sketch.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Vietnam and Lao Masks Art as Ritual.

Art as Ritual, Theatre Masks of Asia

Recently, while walking through the National Museum in Luang Prabang, I came across a collection of theatre masks, and naturally, I quickly made a few sketches to add to my book on Masks of the World. Because of the ancient nature of much Asian Theatre, masks, gestures and ornate presentation of every scene create a timeless atmosphere without parallel in their ritual. On this occasion, I drew two Lao masks to add to the Vietnamese Woven rattan ones I saw in M alacca. These masks are part of ahuman ritual that allow a person to transform themselves into another being, permitting the dancer or actor to transcend cultural and national ties.
Vietnan Ratten Theatre Mask
Theatre Mask. Vietnam


Masks are universal, all cultures use them to provoke fear, symbolize status, mock or amuse the audience. The wearer is transported from the mundane world of reality to a state of fantasy, were tensions are relaxed, dilemmas resolved, and social taboos bridged. The Venice Mask Ball serves as a good European example. I find new examples everywhere I go, and the Lao examples of the Ramayana monkey and Samphari masks are good examples. The mask enables an individual to suppress their self-consciousness and expand their personality.

Monkey Mask National Museum


Every work of art causes the receiver [viewer] to enter into a certain kind of relationship with the person who produced the piece, and those who simultaneous previously, or subsequently receive the same artistic impression. On a purely physical level masks are made to hide the real face of the wearer and substitute artificial faces drawn either from tradition or the imagination of the mask maker. However, the act of covering ones face is more profound than a simple disguise, for it has greater significance than any other of our physical features. It represents our very identity, the means by which you are recognised.

Vietnam Mask

Ratten Mask Vietnam.


Finally, this new symbolic mask translates a human situation into a cosmological one. Creating an independence between human existence and cosmic structures. After all the function of myth is to briefly strengthen tradition, and endow it with greater value and prestige by tracing it back to a higher  better reality of the initial events.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Royal Ballet Theatre of Luang Prabang, Lao.

Recently on a visit to Luang Prapang, I had the opportunity to watch a production of Phralak Phralam by a group of dance students stationed at The National M.30pm. On arrival at 5.50pm. to buy tickets,were we informed that the nights entertainment had been cancelled due to poor ticket sales. On pointing out that there was still 40 minutes before curtain rise, and there was plenty of time for people to show up, after all this was a holiday location. This suggestion was greeted in a negative way, it was not possible to sell me a ticket as there had only been three other people interested. It was just as well the production was not in Hobart, were audience generally arrive five minutes before the start. The director or whoever the person in charge informed me there could be no dance production unless twenty people were in attendance. While this discussion was taking place, chairs were being stacked away under stairs and corners, the young dancers who were present on my arrival had mystery disappeared . Things did not look good.

A further 15 minutes passed, when the three people more people who had been  turned away early, arrived back with two more potential customers, Our director claimed no matter there were not enough, and he would send the dancers home. Suddenly fifteen Thai tourists arrived wanting to see the show,  Immediately went in search of our director, finally  locating him in a back office to inform him  we now had twenty people. I should mention, that it was not possible to buy tickets anywhere in town other than at the theatre prior to the performance, so flexibility was required He seemed to brighten up at this news and was prepared to open the ticket  office after all. By 6.30 a further ten people had arrived and the performance could begin. It would appear that a new marketing strategy is required if this very talented group of young dancers are to make a living.

Early in the day I had visited the National Museum, and was delighted to see theatre masks of a similar type to those I had drawn early in the day used in the production. A drawing of one I include here. Theatre masks are such a wonderful thing, taking the actor out of themselves a into another world.

Samphari Mask.

The dancers were wonderful, and performed an extract from the Buddhist story  about Mt. Meru Sau Samin,House of Phakyin,The costumes for both male and female dancers were wonderful, as was their dancing. Among the female dancers there was one who I was informed later was only nine years old, yet she danced like a true professional. The girls hand gestures were flexible beyond belief, and very beautiful. If in Luang Prabang try to pay the theatre a visit, you won't be disappointed. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Wine Experience!


Wine reviews that best describe a possible experience!

Wine reviewer; {hopefully tongue in cheek}

This is a true wine review, I no longer remember from were, but still a great read.

While this red lacks the outright wicked blackness of previous shiraz wines, [which were all called Hermitage}, and more closely resembles the wondrous magnum blends of old, this great winery sells to mail-order customers at a pittance. Still it is beautifully perfumed, soft, but ever so spicy, zingy red of extremely high breeding, but showing a little puppy fat, since it is still draped in very naughty underwear. It will be tantalising company any time soon or during the next decade.

Let’s hope so, I can hardly wait to open a bottle.
Even drinking a glass of red can be an artistic experience.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Canadian Artist Brian Fisher.Memories of Rome

Enigma 1966 Queen's University, Kingston.

A few weeks ago, I learnt of the untimely death of my very dear friend Brian Fisher. We first meet some fifty odd years ago at the Accademia di Belli Arti, in Rome. Brian had arrived with a Canada Council grant in his pocket, and had decided to study the Renaissance masters at their source. Over the next year or so we got to know each other very well, spending days exploring the some eighteen hundred sites worth viewing in Rome. Eating together in some rather run down and questionable restaurants in the back streets of the city. We would walked up and down narrow streets, and across piazzas discussing everything under the sun as young men are prone to do, we would often make up free form poetry about the city as we went, of particular interest was the activity of the Roman dogs.It was an exciting time to be in Europe, the full impact of abstraction was making itself felt. Galleries held exhibitions of Tapies, de Stael Wols, Karel Appel, Fontana, Burri to name just a few, all within walking distance of our front door. Mark Rothko held a major exhibition down at the British School in Rome, that for young artists from the "new' world took our breath away.

Our mornings were taken up drawing various over weight models in the life drawing class, and then apart from excellent lectures in the afternoon the days were ours. We were fortunate to have a philosopher in the form of Prof. Reviasici who had been a close friend of Benedetto Croce during the 1930s.  He was very distressed at the direction the world was taking, the urban development, electrical wires clouding out the Roman sky.The Academy was full of students from all over the world, Americans, Germans, even Iceland was represented, so there was a wide range of viewpoints from which to draw.

Detail . Transfixion. Dept. of External Affairs.

Brian ,as I remember him was a very methodical person, who thought problems from a somewhat mathematical perspective. Looking back it was a quality he remained faithful too for most of his life. At the time he was a great fan of Mark Tobey, and his calligraphic impulses, reference to Chinese brush painting. like many young people at the time we were both influenced by Zen and its simplicity of form. The exhibition we held together in 1963 at Il Bilico, exemplifies his approach at the time. He would talk a lot about his teachers in Vancouver who had influenced him, Roy Kiyooka and Ron  Bloore's white paintings ,that he felt spelt out the future. of art. During my second year in Rome I saw a lot less of him, as his partner Carol Itter arrived from Canada intending to study stage and costume design at the Academy.

                                                             Early work Rome 1962.

The following year we meet up again in London, were I was studying stained glass, and he offered to sponsor my immigration to Canada. This was very kind, as it gave me the opportunity to settle in Canada. It so happened that , Toronto Cathedral was being built, and an SOS had been sent out for stained glass artist. After a short stay in Vancouver, my wife and I returned to Australia. , to visit her family.

It was only when we met up again in Tasmania, that I learnt of his successful career in the Canadian art world. His major commissions for postage stamps, murals at Montreal International Airport, various other venues. His work had sold well, and had been purchased by all the major galleries in Canada. But it was not to last, after we renewed our friendship, he was struck down by some bone disorder that resulted in the loss of a leg. Brian never seemed to be able to come to terms with his new physical condition, somethingg I can fully understands, who wants to lose their leg. Then recently he developed a tumor on his brain, that in the end carried him off. Unfortunately, I was in Laos when this happened, so was unable to say a proper goodbye. He leaves behind his lovely wife Joy, and devoted daughter and son. . Brian Fisher has left the world a richer place than he found it, I am sure in generations to come people will remember Brian Fisher through his paintings.

"Wheel" !988. Personal collection.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

FairTrade & Village Handcrafts of Laos

Rolled Paper Mats.



Fair Trade and Village Crafts of Lao.

Lao PDF is the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world. During the Vietnam War, the United States dropped a planeload of bombs every eight minutes for nine years. One positive bye product of this bombing was the emergence of Kommaly Chanthavong, a farmer’s wife who abandon her village after it was bombed, and went on to establish the Mulberries Silk Farm in Phonsavan. Her establishment is a fair trade business,  attempts to retrain Lao women in the art of silkworm farming, spinning, and weaving silk cloth. There are many such free trade businesses in Lao. A retail gallery Saoban a busness with  socialprinciples  in Vientiane ,only sells products from rural villages to create employment for villagers, particularly women , in an attempt to reduce poverty. They stock a wide range of crafts items, silk, wooden sculptures, spoons made in aluminium scrap recovered from bomb and plane parts.
Bomb Spoons
Raw Material.

Recycled paper items, like the one illustrated above are created by the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Centre. There are unfortunately   many disabled people in Lao, injured each year from unexploded bombs. The villagers of Ban Napia  make spoons and jewellery from bomb parts, hopefully to encourage the world to make every day utensils, rather than destructive bombs. This collection work is highly dangerous, but an economic necessity in a poor province. Collectors receive some 8000 kip per kilo [$1], considered by the locals as a profitable enterprise. Naturally, many are killed or injured each year, and one only hopes that eventually the world will start to take serious action on this unexploded ordnance problem.   

The major tradition Lao craft however is silk weaving, which is why Kommaly effort in establishing her Mulberries farm is so important. The farm acts as both teacher and mentor , allowing village women to develop their skills to the fullest. The mulberry trees are approached along a path lined with planting of different flowers and shrubs used to make the various coloured dyes. The trees are pruned very hard every four years or so, to make harvesting the leaves easier, worms eat some one ton of green matter every day. The orchard is organically managed , with a mulch weed control. A propagation shed houses several million silk worms, hard at work producing cocoons. When complete some are retained for stock replacement, while the remained are boiled before extracting the silken thread. One cacoon will produce some thirty metres thread. These are then dyed in the natural coloured dyes extracted from the farm flowers, and plants.

Finally, I moved to the weaving studio, were several women were busy over their looms. Highly skilled weavers over see the work, making suggestions were appropriate about colour, and design. Many of the designs take months to produce twenty centimetres of cloth. The weavers are fully trained in all aspects of silk worm farming, and the production of silk, so when they return to their villages they may act as mentors to other village women. The Mulberry Farm does not abandon them, but continues to act in a advisory role in helping with sales and technical matters.

It is little wonder that Kommaly was nominated for the Noble Peace Prize in 2005, and was awarded the UNESCO  award for advancing the lives of women in Lao. The world needs many more Kommalys .