Papier-mâché = French for “chewed paper”, is a composite material consisting of paper pieces or pulp, sometimes reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch, or wallpaper paste.
Papier-mâché is an extremely important form of art in Haiti and there is no other place where it is produced in such magnitude as Jacmel. We visited this beautiful seaside town to meet some papier-mâché artisans who supply the colorful papier-mâché vases and serving trays to Macy’s Heart of Haiti program.
Papier-mâché has been made for centuries originating in China, the inventors of paper, back in the Han Dynasty (BC 202 – AD 220) and spreading to Japan, Persia and Egypt and eventually Europe in the mid 17th century. In Haiti, papier-mâché has been made for generations as an important artistic and cultural part of Carnival and other celebrations.
Our group visited the studio of papier-mâché artisan Pierre Satyr where we received a live demonstration of how to make a vase out of papier-mâche by artisan Harry Sylvaince.
Inside the studio we met Paul Satyr and Harry Sylvaince, two papier-mâché artisans who have been working with Macy’s Heart of Haiti program, a trade not aid program that began after the earthquake to help Haiti’s artisans find a market for their products. Paul “Satyr”, a master painter whose friends call him Satyr, is President of the Jacmel Guild of Artists in Haiti, where he hopes to build a new artisans’ center. Patterns from his collection are inspired by patchwork and made from old rags. When asked about his work, Satyr mused: “We are creating joy from remnants and are sending joy out into the world. We hope that people will smile and feel great happiness when they see and collect our work”.
After meeting Satyr, we watched fellow artisan Harry Sylvaince give us a live demonstration on how to make a papier-mâché vase. Harry went from a papier-mâché artisan to a successful business owner. He supports his nephews in school while taking orders for his artwork. Harry believes, “Working with Macy’s is like working with the stars in the market.” He feels comfortable knowing his hard work is paying off and giving him the chance to support those he cares about.
How to make a papier-mâché vase:
First Harry takes cardboard from old boxes and paper from cement construction bags and rips them into small pieces. This will be used to cover a wooden mold as shown below and make the vase.
Next, the papier-mâché paste is made from flour, water and glue, Each torn piece of paper is dipped in the mixture and applied to the wooden mold. Harry applies four layers of the papier-mâché and then lets it dry in the sun.
Once it is dry, Harry takes the papier-mâché off the wooden mold, smooths it with sandpaper, and applies a layer of white base paint with a sponge. Then, he lets it dry again in the sun before applying the final colors of paint.
The finished products that are ready to be packed and shipped to the United States to be sold online and in select stores for Macy’s.
Macy’s gave me the chance to have more confidence in myself. Before, I had no ambition, and now I feel great, I have vision and I’m comfortable financially, so I can take care of my family,” says Satyr. He has been able to build his business and life by creating beautifully crafted artwork.
Here is a brief, 30 second video of Heart of Haiti artisan, Yvette Celestin, lives in the coastal town of Jacmel. In this video, she shares her technique of using tobacco leaves to create unique, Papier-mâché pieces for Macy’s Heart of Haiti collection.
To purchase their work, please visit Macy’s Heart of Haiti here.
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.