“Sonje lapli ki leve mayo ou” – Remember the rain that made your corn grow (Haitian proverb)
I had never heard of Horn and Bone art until I first visited Haiti two years ago and met with Haitian Horn and Bone artist Christelle Paul, founder and chief designer of her workshop “Atelier Calla“ in Port-au-Prince. Horn and Bone art began within the walls of Haiti’s prisons in the 1950s. To pass the time, the men in prison enjoyed playing games and they ingeniously discovered they could use old horns and bones to make pieces for card games. The art continued to evolve over the years being passed down from generation to generation.
Christelle has always been passionate about art yet she pursed a career in business and worked in the banking industry for many years. One day back in 2006 she was out shopping and noticed that there were a lot of products made out of horn and bone yet none that she really liked. This inspired her to start creating her own horn and bone jewelry based on the designs and ideas she desired. What began as a hobby suddenly grew into a passion. Yet the journey from being a full-time banker to full-time artist was a long one.
A series of setbacks such as the devastating 2010 earthquake stopped Christelle from following her dreams. A inspiring meeting with world renown designer Donna Karan was the final push Christelle needed to leave banking and pursue her passion for Bone and Horn art full-time. Her workshop “Atelier Calla“ was opened in October of 2011 and today her team employs a handful of artisans within the community who were once unemployed. Her mission is to provide fair wages and work opportunities to help young, unemployed people find a fulfilling, sustainable career in the arts. She is a remarkable woman.
The last time I was in Haiti in 2015, I had visited Christelle’s studio to learn more about this unique kind of art and also hear how her studio and workshop have helped other Haitians pursue a career in Horn and Bone art. Since my past visit two years ago, Christelle has moved to a new location in the center of Port-au-Prince in her mother’s home that was abandoned after the 2010 earthquake. Christelle is in the process of rebuilding the house as her studio and workshop. The roof fell down and walls have crumbled leaving a big part of the house in ruins. However, Christelle is determined to rebuild and get her new studio and workshop all fixed up. She has done it before seven years ago after the earthquake struck and she lost everything. She had to start all over again, working seven days a week while raising three young children yet succeeded. She attributes her strong resilience to simply being Haitian. The path is never easy but with hard work, perseverance and resilience I am certain Christelle will succeed.
Driving from our hotel to Christelle’s studio. Conditions in Port-au-Prince are still very difficult and the infrastructure throughout the country significantly needs to be improved. This is a challenge for entrepreneurs as it makes getting their products to the market difficult.
It was an extremely hot afternoon when we arrived at Christelle’s workshop. The smell of smoke filled the air as the horns were being prepared over a small fire. It is fascinating to see the horns turn colors as they burn. There is actually a significant amount of variety in the colors which you will instantly notice when you see the final product.
In Haiti, many times art is made from recycled or discarded materials and Horn and Bone art is the perfect example. Artisans purchase the horn and bone from slaughterhouses once all of the meat is taken and skin sent away to leather manufacturers. They use almost the entire cow to create incredibly, beautiful art. It is astounding!
Once the bones and horns have their beautiful color, the next step is to polish the material to give it a lustrous, shiny sheen.
The final products are spectacular. Here are a few of my favorites:
As we left the studio, Christelle pointed out the remaining rubble and work that still needs to be done. Her next goal is to put a tin roof over the workshop and also eventually expand her tiny office into more space. It will be exciting to see what Christelle does next.