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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.