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A Visit to Meet the Metal Artisans in Croix-des-Bouquets

No trip to Haiti is complete without a visit to Croix-des-Bouquets. Croix-des-Bouquets is a unique artist community on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince that has grown into one of the largest, sustainable metal art communities in Haiti. It all began in the 1950s by a local blacksmith named Georges Liautaud who began using recycled oil drums to create amazing freestanding sculptures of art known as “fer découpé”. Liautaud mentored and inspired many metal artisans within the growing community of Croix-des-Bouquets and although he passed away in 1992, his most celebrated apprentice Serge Jolimeau continues to be a moving force within the community. Known as the godfather of Croix-des-Bouquets, Jolimeau opened up his land to the artisans so they have a place to work for free and learn the trade through apprenticeships.

Today, Croix-des-Bouquets has over 1,000 metal artisans with over 60 different shops and studios creating social change and opportunity within the community. It is a magical, happy place filled with energy and life. Although Jolimeau travels the world with his art, he continues to reside in Croix-des-Bouquets where he supposedly never even bothers to lock his door. It is that kind of close-knit community; a sharp contrast to some of the neighboring slums.

Croix-des-Bouquets is located on the edge of Port-au-Prince in the district of Noailles. You can tell you have arrived in the right place by the non-stop clanking of the hammers on metal. Beautiful handmade metal signs hang outside each workshop and the entire place is alive with the sounds of creativity. I felt like a kid in a candy shop looking at row after row of artwork with each piece being more spectacular than the last. My camera in hand and notebook ready, we began our tour of Croix-des-Bouquets and I was thankful it was not my first visit. Taking it all in for the first time can be quite overwhelming.

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

Our first stop was at the studio of world renown metal artisan, Serge Jolimeau, the defacto leader of the Croix-des-Bouquets metal artisan movement. I did not have the opportunity to meet him the last time I was in Haiti so it was a real pleasure to meet the man behind so much stunning art and inspiration. His studio is bursting with creativity and life and his presence is quite powerful.

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We explored inside his studio and I was seduced by his amazing metal art. 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 and many of the symbols are of creatures that live inside the sea.

The more I saw, the more amazed I was by such a powerful force of creative energy.  Serge’s work is intricate and impressive.  Some pieces of his metal work are over three feet long while others are tiny yet equally divine. I also fascinated by the rows and rows of angels, each one almost exactly the same however it seemed impossible given that they were each made by hand.

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

We next headed over and met Jean Mikerson, another metal artisan who is famous for his masks. Many of the masks incorporate recycled household items like forks and knives. They are quite unique. Jean learned how to do metal art when he was a mere twelve years old after his parents unexpectedly passed away. He had no choice but to find some way to survive and with the arts he is thriving.

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

Jean Mikerson

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Our last stop was at “Le Panier Workshop“, the studio belonging to Rony Jacques, another celebrated metal artisan in Croix-des-Bouquets. Like Serge, Rony has been sharing his expertise with the community for years by helping train and inspire more metal artisans.

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

 

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

Rony Jacques

At this point, it was time for a live demonstration on creating metal art. As soon as we entered the workshop we could hear the constant clanking of the hammers hitting the metal. I instantly noticed that the artisans are all men and that is for a reason. It is quite labor intensive work so most women prefer other areas of art. I can’t say I blame them!

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

Lines of metal art await the next step in the process, polishing.

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

The tree of life.

Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

Artisans at work

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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.
Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti

Roodly Jacques holding a piece I bought for my daughter Sophia

Check out this fabulous 30 second YouTube video demonstration of how to make metal art.  

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.

The whole process is quite remarkable. It amazing what one can do. Another man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

I traveled to Haiti with my dear friend Haitian-American Nathalie (Nat) Tancrede. Passionate to show the true beauty and magic of Haiti, Nat launched her new travel business “Explore with Nat”. Nat provides a fully guided week-long trip exploring different regions of Haiti and embracing Haiti’s culture, history and people every step of the way. To learn more about Nat and her upcoming trips check out her website Explore with Nat. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram. 

25 comments

    • Isn’t it lovely Janet? I bought a huge metal sculpture of a tree. I call it my tree of life. It was hard to get home as I didn’t realize how big it was and it didn’t fit in my suitcase so I carried it all the way home and now have it in my office and it brings me so much joy. 🙂 I bought a small tree for my son a few years ago and next time I go I’d love to buy more. It is so beautiful. Thanks for commenting! 🙂 Nicole

  1. Oil drums! Yes, listening to a very-brief sample of the banging was enough for me to remind myself, ‘stick to painting!’

    Their work is wonderful, and in helping the locals with artisan options, I will nudge this idea to them. Your timing is perfect!

    • Isn’t is marvelous Lisa? I bought a large tree this time and it is a “tree of life”. I love it! It is very hard manual labor. I love art so much so seeing this all was really amazing. Yes as for the locals, that would be great!

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  3. Nice post on the the metal artisans of Haiti. They’re skill to create their art from recycled cans is fascinating.
    My husband is a metal artist. He works stircly with copper. He artistry is in bringing the natural chemicals of copper to
    the surface for a one-of-a-kind colorization. I’m a big fan of metal so this article was enjoyable.
    Isadora 😎
    http://etsy.com/shop.copperwhimseasbyal/

  4. What incredible art pieces Nicole. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like them. The trip with Nat sounds like one would see the true Haiti. We will certainly remember this for future travel planning.

    • Thanks Sue! I love art and watching it being made is pretty amazing too. I have a few pieces now of metal art that I’ve purchased and brought back home. I always love to get things from my trips. They always remind me of that special place or person I bought it from. Yes, Haiti was pretty amazing. What a trip it was.

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    • Thanks Jo! It was amazing seeing so much incredible art all in a short amount of time and really cool watching it be made all by hand. Something to be said about that.

  7. Such amazing, intricate patterns! I am not much of a shopper when I travel, but I would have been seriously tempted by of those masks.

    • Thanks Madhu! I left that day purchasing a huge tree sculpture that didn’t fit inside my suitcase. I got so overly excited about the art! I am not a shopper at all but when I travel I just love to get little reminders from the places I’ve been. It kind of drives my husband crazy! Yes one of those masks would look pretty cool hanging inside a house!

  8. Terrific post, Nicole. Great photos that show the intricate artistry of this craft- the masks are beautiful. I love your portraits, too.

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