Two years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Haiti as part of a program to view Macy’s Heart of Haiti products and meet the artisans behind the beautiful art. It was an incredible trip in many ways as it opened my heart and mind to a different side of Haiti that is often not discussed in the press. Instead of seeing tragedy, hardship and destruction I saw amazing resilience, hope and creativity through the arts. While many challenges remain for the people of Haiti – it still is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere – there also lies opportunity and beauty especially through its vibrant, dynamic arts much that is made from repurposed materials that would otherwise send up in the trash.
One such community that is ingeniously using scraps of metal to create beautiful works of art is Croix-des-Bouquet a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, 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-Bouquet.
Today, Croix-des-Bouquet 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-Bouquet 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.
Watching how a piece of old rusty metal becomes a gorgeous work of art was the highlight of the visit. The artisans 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.
Here is the studio of 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-Bouquet 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-Bouquet. 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.
Two years later I am still in awe and wonder at the immense creativity of these artisans. Their inspiring repurposing of metal into incredible masterpieces of art is truly amazing.