1. Tell us about Haitian Metal Art, how it started, evolved and uses recycled materials.
This particular art form was born in Haiti in the early 1950's by a simple blacksmith, Georges Liautaud. In his small shop, he made and repaired tools and created primitive metal crosses, for the graves in the Croix-des-Bouquets cemetery. It was at the encouragement of an American teacher, DeWitt Peters, who in 1944 opened the Le Centre d'Art in Port-au-Prince that Georges Liautaud expanded into the creation of decorative metal sculptures.
We have worked in the production of handcrafted art in Haiti since 1982. These include hand painted metal wall art, stained glass sun catchers and jewelry boxes and the ethnic steel drum Haitian metal art.
The Haitian steel drum metal art is hand cut, with hammer and chisel, from a flattened, recycled 50 gallon steel drum. (The chisel is made from recycled steel truck springs.) The drum is initially set on fire to burn off paint and residue, then cut apart and flattened. The design is drawn on to the 34” x 72” piece of steel. The 24” tops and bottoms are also used for many of our round wall art designs. After completion of the design, it is finished with 3 coats of a clear rust preventative solution, making the piece suitable for indoor or outdoor use. More information and pictures can be found at http://www.haitimetalart.com/About_Haitian_Metal_Art.html .
2. Tell us about your artists, gallery and workshop.
We have a covered workshop that is situated among trees and is open on 3 sides to the fresh air. It is a very pleasant working environment for our artists. Some of our metal artists do their work here and others do the work at their homes and bring the finished pieces into us for final inspection.
We do not sell locally in Haiti. All of our sales are to buyers, throughout the world, on our websites.
3. Tell us how the recent earthquake affected your operations and how you are faring today.
Our private home was completely destroyed in the earthquake. This was one of the historic homes of Port au Prince. We have our workshop in the adjoining property. This was 50% destroyed. We have been working on rebuilding the workshop. Within 3 days of the earthquake, we asked our artists to come back to work, using the safe areas of the workshop and driveway to work. We supply all of our people 2 meals a day. Almost every one of our people had their home damaged or destroyed, members of their family killed or injured. Fortunately, none of our people were killed and only 1 was injured. Pictures and a brief description our experience can be found at: http://www.haitimetalart.com/Haiti_Earthquake_News.html
4. Tell us what needs your artists and operation still have in order to recover from the earthquake.
All of us need to rebuild. This can be made possible by orders for our handcrafted products. We are not looking for charity. We want to provide work for our artists. Due to the vast unemployment in Haiti, support of the family (and his extended family) is very important to each artist. He is looked to, by his extended family, for the supply of food, medical care, housing and schooling for children. It is said that each employed person in Haiti has 15 - 20 people who are looking to him financially.
5. How can readers help?
Place orders, so that we can provide employment for our artists.
6. We are a scuba diving magazine -- can you tell us if any of your staff or artists scuba dive or snorkel, and if so, how does diving and the underwater world influence their art and/or philosophy about art?
No one involved that I know of.
7. What role does ocean art play in Haitian society?
The mermaid figures into Haitian folklore, dating back African beliefs and to reported sighting of mermaids by Christopher Columbus off the coast of Haiti. ( Experts believe that it was manatees that he had seen.) The Haitians believe that the mermaid protects them from the dangers of the sea and is a revered figure in Vodou worship. The mermaid (or la sirèn) is associated with the goddess Ezili or Erzuli, who takes on several different identities. She can be seen as a beautiful and engaging young woman. She can also be viewed as hideous and destructive, even dangerous. The mermaid is believed to either protect fishermen, swimmers, boaters, and others on the water, or else causes them to drown.
It is only natural that other forms of sea life are depicted in the art, as Haiti is an island of the Caribbean, surrounded by sea life.
8. I noticed a lot of music influence in the mermaid and fish themes...can you tell us about that and how it ties in with Haitian culture?
In Haitian culture, the mermaid depicts La Siren, the Vodou spirit who enchants sailors with the melodies of her trumpet or other musical instruments.
9. If you are a diver, please tell us about your favorite dive locations in Haiti.
I am not a diver, but I do know that through the 1970’s and 1980’s Haiti was quite popular with divers. The tourism industry has fallen off since then, therefore a drop in diving locations.
10. How can people order work from you and what is the turn-around time now after the earthquake?
We have 2 websites offering the natural steel drum Haitian metal art…. www.HaitiMetalArt.com and www.HaitiCheri.com. We offer hand painted metal tropical wall décor, hand cut from recycled steel drums on www.TropicDecor.com , www.TropicAccents.com and www.TheGiftSellers.com . Our stained glass designs can be seen at www.AccentonGlass.com .
In most cases, we ship orders in 1 - 2 weeks after receipt of order. We air freight our orders from Haiti every 2 weeks to Miami, where they clear customs. They are then shipped with Fed Ex Ground or the Post office to US addresses or internationally.
11. Please add anything else you would like our readers to know.
I am an American, but it has been my desire for over 40 years to help the people of Haiti economically. After raising 7 of my own children, I began living and working in the arts field in Haiti and am fulfilling that initial desire.