Highlighting Hmong batik cloth
Before the shutdown, the Anthropology and Collections Services departments at the Science Museum were working on inventorying and digitizing SMM’s ethnographic collections from Minnesota. This work is funded by Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment. It will ensure that more of our collection is easily accessible to the public via our Collections Online portal.
The Science Museum holds a large and well-documented collection of Hmong material culture collected from refugee camps in Thailand and from St. Paul, and dating from the 1970s to the 2000s.
Here’s a quick summary and some photos from Mandy Wintheiser, an Anthropology Technician working on this digitization project, of one beautiful aspect of the collection: Hmong batik cloth.
Hmong Batik Cloth
Batik is a fabric decorating technique that uses melted wax and dye to create complex designs. An artist might start by drawing a pattern as a guide and then tracing over the pattern with melted wax. The wax prevents dye from touching certain areas of the fabric. The wax is sometimes tinted with indigo dye so the artist can see their design better while working on light-colored cloth. The neutral colored cloth below is hemp cloth with geometric designs applied in wax by Hmong artists. After the wax is dried, the hemp cloth would be soaked in indigo dye repeatedly until all the fibers are a deep blue color. Then, the whole piece would be boiled until the wax comes off, revealing a lighter design preserved under the wax. The last photo shows a roll of finished batik cloth made by a Hmong artist.