This post is part of a series on my recent trip to Haiti as part of Heart of Haiti’s #Bloggers4Haiti trip. To read more in this series, click here.
After we landed in Port-au-Prince on a Thursday afternoon, our team of three bloggers, one daughter, and three representatives from Everywhere Agency (who sponsored our trip and works exclusively on the Heart of Haiti initiative for Macy’s) gathered in our van and drove to neighboring Croix-des-Bouquets,a famous artist community in Port-au-Prince known for its metal art.
We were thrilled to all be spending the next four days meeting with Macy’s Heart of Haiti artisans, and there couldn’t have been a better way to jump-start our trip than by visiting Croix-des-Bouquets and seeing for ourselves what Haiti is known for: Spectacular metal art.
In Croix-des-Bouquets, we were going to visit several metal artisans’ studios and get a real live demonstration on how the art is made. We also would learn a bit more about the history of Croix-des-Bouquets, a unique artist community that has grown into one of the largest, sustainable metal art communities in Haiti.
Over 60 years ago, Georges Liautaud began a movement in creating metal art from recycled products that became the thriving metal artisan community of Croix-des-Bouquets. Today, Croix-des-Bouquets has over 1,000 metal artisans making their fabulous metal art with over 60 different shops and studios creating social change and opportunity in this growing community in Port-au-Prince. Croix-des-Bouquets is where the most famous, accomplished metal artisans reside who have traveled the world with their art and have become instrumental within the community by creating apprenticeship opportunities for Haitians to learn their trade.
Our first stop was at the studio of renowned metal artisan, Serge Jolimeau. Serge is one of the most revered metal artisans in all of Haiti and is the defacto leader of the Croix-des-Bouquets metal artisan movement, training many metal artisans within the community.
We explored inside his studio and I was seduced by his amazing metal art. If only I had an enormous suitcase to carry some of it back! Much of the metal artisans work in Haiti is influenced by voodoo, a syncretic religion practiced in conjunction with Catholicism by an estimated 80% of Haitians. Voodoo symbolism lies deep within the art and the subject matter. Mythological figures such as mermaids are common.
The more I saw, the more amazed I was. Serge’s work is intricate, creative and impressive. I especially adored the large wall metal art that must have taken hours to create. Some pieces were over three feet long.
Our next stop was at the neighboring studio “Le Panier Workshop” belonging to Rony Jacques, another celebrated metal artisan in Croix-des-Bouquets. Like Serge, Rony is good friends with Heart of Haiti and has been sharing his expertise with the community by helping train and inspire more metal artisans.
Our third stop was at the studio of Jacques Eugene whose whimsical, large pieces of metal art and sculpture are famous in their own right.
An inside look at the wonder of Jacques Eugene.
Finally, we had a live demonstration of the process of creating metal art. What is so incredible about the metal artisans is how they do it. Basically, these industrious artists take old, tossed out oil drums and recycle them into something extraordinary. The process of making metal art is:
- Take oil barrel, cut it and open it up.
- Burn it.
- Lay the metal on the ground and place a stencil pattern on top.
- Trace the pattern.
- Pound out the shape with a hammer and take away excess pieces of metal.
- Sand, varnish and fold it. Then, voila you have a gorgeous piece of metal art that you can hang on your wall.
Heart of Haiti metal artisan, Jonas Soulouque, lives in the town of Croix-des-Bouquets. A community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, known for its stunning metal artwork. Most of the items are created using recycled oil drums and expertly crafted to become lanterns, wall decorations, photo frames and serving trays.
I asked why metal artisans are all men and after seeing how it is made, I realized why. It takes a lot of man power to chisel and hammer away the metal.
The whole process is quite remarkable. It amazing what one can do. Another man’s junk is another man’s treasure.
Our list visit was the highlight of the day! A visit to world-famous artisan and voodoo priest Jean Baptiste. We were in for a big surprise! Stay Tuned…
Macy’s Heart of Haiti offers some of the beautiful metal art we saw on the trip. To see the latest collection of lanterns, frames and metal art bowls click here. It is updated often and proceeds help provide sustainable income and opportunity for Haitian artisans and their community.
Spotlight on Artisans:
The earthquake did not do a lot of physical damage in Croix-des-Bouquets, but the effect on this artisan community was earth shattering. I began creating metal art when I was just a little boy. Here in Croix-des-Bouquets, it is a skill that is passed down. We learn it from our father and our uncles. I always knew I would be a metal artisan and would work with my uncles and father here.
The orders we get from Macy’s have changed my life. We’ve received some big orders and worked as a team to complete them. How has this changed my life? I’ve been able to pay my school fees. Right now I’m helping my little sister pay her school fees. What we hope for is more orders – I can only imagine with more orders, we could change this whole metal working community. What excites me is building a community of artists where everyone has work. I can’t even imagine seeing my work at Macy’s – truly, it’s like a dream come true. But for big dreams? I dream one day of coming to the United States and maybe showing my metal art at an exhibition or a gallery.
In the earthquake my house and studio were damaged but all in all we were safe. Economically, however, it was a disaster for us – not just for my family but for this area, the whole country!
When Macy’s came to us with the first order, this was the first program that allowed us to have some financial stability after the earthquake. We had work and this not only changed my life for the better, but the entire landscape of Croix-des-Bouquet. Croix-des-Bouquet is a region well know for metal art and there are many, many metal artisans living here with their families. All of them were out of work. We were able to employ many of them to work on the Macy’s orders. I have 14 employees. Imagine, it was life-changing for me but also for everyone in this community. We could provide the basics, but we could also send our children to school – this costs money in Haiti.
As an artist, as a metal artist, I work to represent my country. It’s a dream to imagine the things I produced for sale at Macy’s. I’m both an artist and a businessman so I want to create things that my clients love, things that give them happiness, but of course it’s also important that the price is right!
2015 has challenges and opportunities for me. The country is rebuilding the road outside my studio and shop so I have to rebuild this entire space. But day after day, I’m looking to the future. Hoping for more orders, hoping to sell more internationally.
Want to learn more about Haiti’s world famous metal art? Click here. This is an excellent site on the history, symbolism and importance of Haiti’s metal art.