Fire Power

text: keithrecker

In Croix des Bouquets, metal, fire and muscle come together to make lithe mermaid goddesses, mythic lovers and radiant sunbursts. Because these images often come from Haiti’s syncretic voudou tradition, which blends West African Yoruba religion and French Catholicism, Croix des Bouquet metalwork has earned an important place in Haiti’s cultural milieu. The town’s metalsmiths, who live and work not far from the Haitian capitol of Port-au-Prince, are not only artists, they are entrepreneurs, and cultural and community leaders, too.
Some of the best smiths, Serge Jolimeau among them, have joined forces with Haiti’s Artisan Business Network (ABN) in an effort to expand into international markets.  This alliance combines Haitian genius with modern marketing. In the three years since ABN began working in Croix des Bouquets, connections to major customers like have been forged — and as a result, Jolimeau and his colleagues are in the news, and sales are brisk.
Though now integral to Haitian visual culture, Croix des Bouquet metalwork came into focus only in the 1950s, when American watercolorist DeWitt Peters and local metalsmith Georges Liautaud struck up a relationship.  Peters founded Port-au-Prince’s Centre d’Art in 1944, a turning point for inherently vibrant Haitian folk art. His advocacy on behalf first of painters and subsequently of other craftspeople helped carve out a central place for the arts in Haiti, as well as markets at home and abroad for their work.
Liautaud was a talented metal craftsman who made, among many things artistic and utilitarian, iron crosses to mark the graves of fellow townspeople.  Their elegant and inventive embellishments caught Peters’ eye.  With the slightest encouragement, Liautaud’s work expanded into beautifully worked figures from everyday life and from Haitian voudou.   The amazing vocabulary he developed inspired, in turn, an explosion of creativity in other metal craftsmen in Croix des Bouquet, and the art of fer decoupe’ now employs dozens of craftspeople in 40 ateliers.
Jolimeau, who, like most of Croix des Bouquet’s metalsmiths, traces his artistic roots back to Liautaud, sells his work to a small number of importers bringing Haitian art to the US and Europe. And he travels occasionally to special venues like Santa Fe’s annual International Folk Art Market. But work of such cultural richness and skill – not to mention its economic importance to dozens of artists and their families  – cries out for larger markets. Cine Institute’s founder David Belle comments about Croix des Bouquets metalwork: “There’s so little in our lives these days that feels hand made, and the art so clearly shows the fact that it was all done by hand, without power tools — only a hammer, chisel and wire brush. Every single ridge or raised dimple is an individual chisel mark. A close look reveals hundreds and hundreds of hammer strokes. I think people respond to that, and respect it.”

Enter ABN, co-founded by Willa Shalit and Keith Recker, with the support of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and the wonderful collaboration of Nathalie Tancrede, who returned to Haiti post-earthquake, after 25 years in the US. ABN’s mission is to link the talented artisans of Haiti to US business in search of inspired handmade product, and to train Haitian artisans in entrepreneurial skills, management and logistics, and product design. Visit
For a sampling of what ABN has brought to Macy’s, visit…