Heavy metal trade: Haiti’s village of artists works its magic

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The metal worker has to do a great deal of prep before he can produce this painted wall-hanging

To Noailles, the village which resounds with the banging of mallets and the clanging of chisels eight miles north east of Port au Prince. Noailles’ metal workers have made the suburb of Croix des Bouquets famous. (It’s also known as the birthplace of Wylef Jean of the Fugees but many would argue that it is Haiti’s signature metal sculpture that is the more enduring.)

In Noailles, we saw how the artists had transformed sheet metal into intricate works of art – the tree of life being a particularly strong theme.

According to this account on Ten Thousand Villages, the Haitian metal worker had to perform several steps before he can even begin to work his magic on the metal.

First, he cut the oil drums open, stuffed them with paper, straw, and dried banana or sugarcane leaves and set them alight to burn off residual chemicals or impurities. Once the drum cooled down, he climbed on it, bearing down so that it opened up. It had to  be flattened into a 3×6 foot sheet.

That was the raw material.

With chalk, the artist transferred hand-drawn paper designs on to the metal, cutting them out using hammer and chisel and finishing off the piece by sanding and sculpting. Some might be painted as well.

So far so good for the age of oil drums. What do they use today, when barrels are seen as too leaky and expensive and pipelines and tankers are the norm?

Some say it might be sheet metal. Whatever the raw material, the art, known as fer de coupe, seems to be thriving.

It began with blacksmith Georges Liautaud’s 1950s metal sculptures, particularly his decorative ironwork crosses for a cemetery in Croix de Bouquets.

The rest, as they say, is history – or rather, in Croix des Bouquets, contemporary reality.

Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac