The sound of hammers on metal reverberates around the Croix-des-Bouquets neighbourhood of Haiti’s sprawling capital Port-au-Prince. Hundreds of makers, mostly men, are continuing the tradition of a uniquely Haitian art form, one that is helping families plan for the future.
Every day, decommissioned oil drums are brought from the port to Croix-des-Bouquets. The drums arrive full of oil, which is sold at the port. Deemed too expensive to ship back empty to their countries of origin, the drums are discarded by the shipping companies, but they don’t go to waste.
The barrels are brought 10 kilometers from the port to Croix-des-Bouquets. Some are brought by hand. Others ride on the roof of taxis. Eventually, they make it to metal shops, where skilled makers do something extraordinary with a hammer and chisel.
Fer-de-coupe, what we call Haitian cut metal, almost never made it off the island. The first known cut metal in this unique style was practiced by a Haitian blacksmith named Georges Liautaud, whose work making metal crosses for the communal cemetery impressed visiting American artist DeWitt Peters, sometime around World War Two. Encouraged by the American, Liautaud began breaking down fuel cans, drawing freehand designs on the flattened metal in chalk, and then cutting and hammering the material to give it three-dimensionality.
As Liautaud’s work began being featured in museums around the world, he gained disciples at home, eager to learn how to transform trash into something that could be featured in art galleries. These disciples developed into a community of artists, a community that remains active today.
In 1972, the Comité Artisanal Haïtien (CAH), a non-profit co-operative, was formed to reduce competition between makers to help artisans earn the income they deserved. Today the organization represents more than 200 makers.
In Haiti, the unemployment rate is near 40%. This means that most of the makers with CAH produce metal art as a primary income. Many are their family’s sole income providers.
One such provider is Bouchard Jean Roosevelt. Bouchard is 40, and has been working in a Fer-de-coupe workshop for the past 20 years. He began outside of CAH, making copies of other designs, before apprenticing with one of the craft’s great teachers, Hubert Bernard.
Bouchard told us, ‘Before I worked with Hubert….I was not making much money. Once I trusted myself enough to create my own pieces, I realized I could make it on my own. Now, I have my own workshop that helps me make enough money to take care of my family and my workers.’
Thanks to CAH’s fair trade programs, Bouchard is able to send his children to school. School is technically free in Haiti, but in reality only about 40% of Haitian children can afford to attend.
In the evenings, Bouchard likes playing soccer, and spending time with his family.
As Father’s Day approaches, we’re thinking about the makers in Haiti, who with ingenuity and drive have pursued excellence in their craft. Thanks to his partnership with CAH, and their partnership with Ten Thousand Villages, Bouchard has built a business that thrives. This is the world that fair trade envisions: one where people like Bouchard can turn drive, skill, and heart into a bright future for their families.