Metal drum art is a craft that is uniquely Haitian. The diversity of designs in the metal sculptures depict themes including Haitian daily life, the natural world, music, and celebration. a marvelous and unique expression of Haitian creativity. There are no other hand-crafted products in the world that are like it.
Metal art was born in the town of Croix des Bouquets, eight miles northeast of Port-au-Prince. Companies from the capitol used to dump empty 55-gallon steel drums and other industrial waste in the town. In the 1940s, a local blacksmith, Georges Liautaud, began combining the metal drums with iron bars to made elaborate metal crosses for the cemetery. His ingenuity turned waste into something beautiful, and a new craft tradition was born. Once a small and forgotten town, Croix des Bouquets now booms with artisan activity. The sound of hammers on steel resonates from behind almost every home.
CAH began working with metal artisans in the early 1990s. Today, the popularity of cut metal artwork means that artisans must purchase used metal drums rather than gathering waste drums. To transform a metal barrel into drum art, artisans follow these steps:
- Used drums are purchased from importers who bring these barrels to Haiti by the containerful.
- The ends are removed from the top and the bottom.
- The drum is stuffed with straw or banana leaves, which is lit on fire to burn off any residue.
- The cooled metal is flattened into a 4’ x 6’ rectangle, and there are two round pieces, from the top and the bottom. The metal is ready for artwork!
- The design is chalked onto the metal. Artisans create a pattern if there is an order.
- Artisans cut the outline of the piece using a hammer and chisel. Then the creative detail is added: every aspect of the design is hammered by hand using metal tools that can create an extraordinary range of textures.
- The edges of the sculpture are sanded.
- Some pieces are buffed and coated with varnish to bring out the shine and beauty of the natural metallic color. Other pieces are hand painted in vivid colors.
Several artisans will often work on one piece. The most skilled artisan will be responsible for the fine details. A large wall piece can take an entire day to make, from start to finish. Smaller pieces can be made in a few hours.
Metal art is made primarily by men, but some women can be seen hammering or painting pieces. The artisans begin at a young age, learning from family members or neighbors who pass on the secrets and skills of this craft form. The artisans from the region have been recognized for their skill and artistic creativity, and their work is prized by collectors.
Many artisans who work with CAH have won awards for their designs. They have shown their prized pieces at international art and craft festivals, including the Santa Fe International Folk Art Festival and the Smithsonian Folk Art Festival.
CAH works with the following metal artisans from Croix des Bouquet, Carrefour, and Port-au-Prince:
- Remy Michee Ramil, Croix-Des-Bouquets
- Etienne Alainne, Croix-Des-Bouquets
- Marcellus Michelet, Croix-Des-Bouquets
- Joseph Peterson, Croix-Des-Bouquets
- David Remy, Croix-Des-Bouquets
- Dieudonne Edouard, Croix-Des-Bouquets
- Jn. Desulme Brutus & Ronald, Croix-Des-Bouquets
- Colin Jean Marie, Carrefour
- Silencieux St. Jean, Carrefour
- Belhomme/Soulouque Sony/Jn. Claude, Croix-Des-Bouquets
- Johnson Augustin , Croix-Des-Bouquets
- Ulysse Meda, Croix-Des-Bouquets
- Norber Milfor/Claudy Prophete, Croix-Des-Bouquets
- Jean Exuvara Jolimeau Nouailles, Croix-Des-Bouquets
- Milien/Ykart, Gerad/Michael, Port-au-Prince
- Ajoupa Shop/Sadrole Louigene, Croix-Des-Bouquets