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.
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”.