In the 1970s, Livan was studying painting, drawing and traditional ceramics at art school in Phnom Penh. (As a teen, he had been assigned that vocation by the government.) Then Pol Pot took over Cambodia.

Livan escaped Cambodia in 1984 and spent nearly two decades at refugee camps in Thailand. Then the artist was granted political asylum by the United States and settled in Lowell, Massachusetts, which has one of the largest Cambodian communities in the US. About 13 percent of Lowell’s residents are Cambodian-Americans

Livan’s talents with ceramics are considerable – they won him a scholarship in ceramics at Harvard University after he immigrated to the US and today he’s a ceramics professor on the faculty at two schools: University of Massachusetts – Lowell and Middlesex Community College.

To this day Livan feels it’s his responsibility to keep making Cambodian forms and symbols — elephants, turtles, fish and flowers — that decorate the elaborate, historic temples in Angkor Wat. Livan feels he must be cautious about the style of ceramics he produces because of the role he has protecting Khmer pottery and ceramics traditions. He says it is easy for even advanced ceramics students to confuse Khmer and Thai styles of pottery, which are similar to each other – but not the same.

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