The art of making Papier-mâché in Jacmel

Papier-mâché = French for “chewed paper”, is a composite material consisting of paper pieces or pulp, sometimes reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch, or wallpaper paste.

Papier-mâché is an extremely important form of art in Haiti and there is no other place where it is produced in such magnitude as Jacmel.  We visited this beautiful seaside town to meet some papier-mâché artisans who supply the colorful papier-mâché vases and serving trays to Macy’s Heart of Haiti program.

Papier-mâché has been made for centuries originating in China, the inventors of paper, back in the Han Dynasty (BC 202 – AD 220) and spreading to Japan, Persia and Egypt and eventually Europe in the mid 17th century.  In Haiti, papier-mâché has been made for generations as an important artistic and cultural part of Carnival and other celebrations.

Our group visited the studio of papier-mâché artisan Pierre Satyr where we received a live demonstration of how to make a vase out of papier-mâche by artisan Harry Sylvaince.

 studio of Papier-mâché artisan Pierre Satyr in Jacmel, Haiti

The studio of Papier-mâché artisan Pierre Satyr in Jacmel, Haiti

 studio of Papier-mâché artisan Pierre Satyr in Jacmel, Haiti

Inside the studio we met Paul Satyr and Harry Sylvaince, two papier-mâché artisans who have been working with Macy’s Heart of Haiti program, a trade not aid program that began after the earthquake to help Haiti’s artisans find a market for their products. Paul “Satyr”, a master painter whose friends call him Satyr, is President of the Jacmel Guild of Artists in Haiti, where he hopes to build a new artisans’ center. Patterns from his collection are inspired by patchwork and made from old rags.  When asked about his work, Satyr mused: “We are creating joy from remnants and are sending joy out into the world. We hope that people will smile and feel great happiness when they see and collect our work”. 

CULTURE Gifts that Give Back SOCIAL GOOD
Jacmel, Haiti

Jacmel: The Artistic and Cultural Jewel of Haiti

Author’s note: This post is a continuation of my February trip to Haiti as part of a #Bloggers4Haiti trip on behalf of Heart of Haiti. To view all posts in this series, click here

One of the highlights of our trip to Haiti was a visit to the lovely oceanside town of Jacmel which is known as one of Haiti’s main cultural and artistic meccas. Founded by the French in 1698, Jacmel is a lovely laid-back town of about 40,000 people with beautiful colonial architecture, white sand beaches and lots of colorful art. Once a prominent economic hub producing coffee and sugar, today Jacmel has become a must-see place for tourists and Haitians alike, wanting to experience its beauty, culture and arts especially during Carnival time. Jacmel is on the list of becoming a World Heritage Site which gives all the more reason to visit this lovely place.

The drive to Jacmel from Port-au-Prince is not long – perhaps three hours or so depending on traffic leaving the capital. It is a gorgeous drive bringing you through Haiti’s tropical coast, up and over the mountains and rural villages and back down to the beautiful Carribean Sea.

Jacmel Haiti

Arriving into Jacmel

Jacmel, Haiti

Jacmel, Haiti

We went to Jacmel to see the incredible papier-mâché artisans who work around the clock to create products for Macy’s Heart of Haiti line, a “trade not aid program” developed by the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and Willa Shalit in partnership with Macy’s to promote sustainable income in the arts for Haitians. Jacmel is known internationally for its vibrant arts and craft scene, including nearly 200 papier-mâché artisans, as well as a school of painting and a music and film school that is recognised among the best in Haiti.