Before visiting Haiti, I never would have imagined that this tiny island nation has such an amazing artistic culture. The arts have not only survived poverty, earthquakes and other natural and political disasters, they have thrived and persevered just like the Haitian people.
What is the most astounding aspect of Haiti’s art community is the artisans’ unbelievable imagination and creativity to produce art from pretty much anything. Thrown out oil cans became the inspiration for a dynamic metal arts community. Old pieces of newspaper are striped, dyed and used to create papier-mâché masks, vases, floats, and other masterpieces. Even horns and bones from cattle that normally are thrown away, are dried and sanded to make gorgeous jewelry and furniture. The list is endless.
I had never heard of Horn and Bone art until I visited Haiti and met with Haitian Horn and Bone artist Christelle Paul, founder and chief designer at 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 had pursed a career in banking. 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 2010 earthquake stopped Christelle from following her dreams yet after a meeting with famous designer Donna Karan, Christelle decided to quit her job 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 7 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.
We 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 art and provide for their family.