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In the 1950s, the iron crosses marking many of the above ground tombs in Croix-des-Bouquets intrigued Dewitt Peters, an American teacher who in 1944 opened the Le Centre d'Art in Port-au-Prince. Peters found Georges Liautaud, the local blacksmith who had created the crosses in his small shop, and encouraged him to expand into the creation of decorative metal sculptures.
The original raw material used was iron, but with many goods shipped to Haiti in 55-gallon oil drums, there was a ready supply of discarded drums for the artisans. Over the years the number of Haitian metal artists has multiplied via families and mentor/students embracing the craft. The center of Haitian metal arts is the village of Croix-des-Bouquets, where the clang-clang of metal on metal, the hammers banging out the sculptures, provides constant music.
Starting with a 55-gallon steel oil drum, the artisan first removes both ends of the drum, then stuffs the drum with straw, igniting it to burn out any residues while also removing any paint on the drum. When the drum has cooled, the artisan slices it down one side and pounds the drum into a flat piece of metal "canvas." From cardboard patterns, the artisan traces his design with chalk on to the metal sheet and then with chisels, dies and a large hammer he cuts and molds the design. No electricity, machinery, welding or repetitive stamping is used to create the metal sculptures. When completed and the artisan is thoroughly satisfied, he signs his name with a small chisel.
Beyond Borders has been working with and nurturing the artisans in Croix-des-Bouquets for fifteen years. They meet regularly with the artisans to exchange design and new product ideas while ensuring the quality and craftsmanship remain high. During their fifteen year relationship Beyond Borders has seen real economic improvement and lives bettered through the creation and sharing of their art.
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