BY BEE SCHINDLER
We could hear the clinking of hammers and chisels on metal around us as we stepped from the 4-wheel drive truck. The long and bumpy ride through narrow streets filled with people and goats and cars, was worth it. We made it to the birthplace of metal artistry: Croix des Bouquets. Not sure what we would find, and my mind traveling more to an open-air market, we came upon a long hot and sunny avenue filled with cement storefronts with square air vents. Most of the galleries had black signs over the door, welcoming visitors to browse their selection of pieces hanging salon-style on the walls. Often, teenagers brought us pieces as we oohed and ahhed at the range of expression. Some of the pieces were ones that we noticed across the country - birds and flowers and fish, but others were deeper: anamorphic or spiritual representations of gods and goddesses. We were drawn to bowls made from recycled oil drums, their intricate designs drawing us in. We liked a bull mask with a sun, and square mirrors that should be in West Elm. We purchased a metal hand with an etched Erzulie - the goddess of love - symbol traced into its palm. The piece was reminiscent of the Hamsa symbol commonly represented in Middle Eastern and Northern Africa cultures - its design symbolizing protection.
Croix des Bouquets is a place for bartering, however, we were lucky to have famed-sequin artist John Baptiste John Joseph as our lead. He'd furrow his brow if a price reached a price ceiling that he didn't agree with. The art world is all about networks, and JBJJ is closely linked to Haiti Friends colleague Pascale Monnin who made the call to him while having beers with us at the newly opened Marriott Hotel in Port-au-Prince the night before the trip. But, we wanted to be reasonable.
The piles of discarded metal at the entrance of various galleries, and the artisans hunched over their metal canvases meant time spent. They should be well compensated for their efforts, particularly when so many were fluidly carved out. Not all pieces were possible for purchase on this trip. Midway through the gallery crawl, we ducked into a side gate that opened into a large outdoor space - one wall looked like the others, with animals and flowers. To the right, however, was a life-sized metal motorcycle - it's driver, a wild goose with glasses. It was remarkable. The artist was a young man no older than 30, and told us that he paid $2k a year ago to show the piece in Paris. It was his pride and joy. We talked briefly about getting him to Miami to show in the H'Art & Soul of Haiti Art Basel Miami show in December. His interest piqued, we shook hands and left. It will not be the last time we meet him.
The fragile metal work was carefully wrapped into found cardboard and taped many times over. The pieces had to make the flight to Pittsburgh, soon to be revealed in our gallery during Metal May - an open-to-the-public art show that will highlight these handpicked and unique pieces.