Besides being known as a beautiful, colonial beachside town, Jacmel is one of the leading producers of papier-mâché in all of Haiti. In fact, this dazzling town of about 40,000 residents is famous for its arts and has dozens of studios and shops where papier-mâché is made, sold and celebrated especially during Haiti’s Carnival.
Our team visited Jacmel to see firsthand how papier-mâché is made and to meet some of the different artisans who sell their art to Macy’s Heart of Haiti program and Artisan Business Network (ABN). ABN is the heart and soul of Macy’s Heart of Haiti program (a “trade not aid” initiative that began after the earthquake to help local Haitian artisans sell their products in the United States). Run by Nathalie Tancrede, an amazing Haitian American woman who left her home in New York after the earthquake to help, ABN works with a variety of Haitian artisans to assist with long-term economic development and training on design, marketing, packaging and exporting so they can expand internationally. ABN has made a huge impact on the artisan community of Haiti which was largely hurt after the earthquake. It was amazing to see some of their incredible work and it just so happened that we were in Jacmel a few days before Carnival.
Founded in 1698 by French colonists, Jacmel has the most creative and yet traditional Carnival in Haiti awash with brilliantly colorful papier-maché masks and marionettes, bands à pieds, and street theatre depictions of politics, religion and pop culture. As we entered town, we could see papier-mâché statues and masks everywhere.
Given Jacmel’s vibrant cultural and artistic scene, it wasn’t a surprise to see art being made en plein air right on the streets. It felt like the entire city was alive and was quite invigorating.
Although it was exceptionally hot and humid, our group of bloggers took a stroll along Jacmel’s streets to explore some of the different papier-mâché studios. I must admit, it was amazing. Colorful masks hung from storefronts and lined the dusty sidewalks. Papier-mâché was everywhere!
Most of the papier-mâché that is sold in the United States and abroad however are papier-mâché vases, platters and other pieces of home decor as shown in the shops below.
We even visited a few stores that supply products for Macy’s Heart of Haiti line in the United States. Below is a vase that is similar to the ones that are sold by Macy’s (The products change frequently. To view the current Macy’s Heart of Haiti products for sale click here).
Here is a photo of Gerard Dume, a popular papier-mâché artisan, holding up a Heart of Haiti vase.
If only I had an enormous suitcase, I would have bought as much as possible to give away to family and friends back home. I loved it all! The bright colors and the love and dedication placed into each unique piece.
As we were standing inside the shop, a wonderful sweet smell gently lingered in the air. I poked my head outside the front door and there she was, the artisan’s wife cooking up fresh fried plantains along the sidewalk. Of course we had to buy some!
Our final stop that afternoon was to the studio of an important Heart of Haiti papier-mâché artisan Pierre Satyr where we would receive a live demonstration on how to make papier-mâché. I could hardly wait!
Author’s note: This post is a continuation of my February trip to Haiti as part of a #Bloggers4Haiti trip on behalf of Heart of Haiti. To view all posts in this series, click here.