Who They Are
Founded in 1992, and Fair Trade Federation member since 2007, It’s Cactus is a purveyor of exquisite Haitian metal art, a sustainable art form that’s built on long-term relationships with Haitian metal sculptors. It’s Cactus pays a fair wage, provides equal opportunity, engages in environmentally sustainable practices, provides safe working conditions, financial assistance, and in general aims to help improve the standard of living for the artists they work with.
One of the particular communities that It’s Cactus works with is Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti. Beginning with a talented, local blacksmith in the 1950’s, and continuing on through the time-honored tradition of apprenticeship, Croix-des-Bouquets is now considered to be the epicenter of the Haitian metalwork movement that we know and love today.
Watch It’s Cactus’ video from a recent visit to Haiti:
What They Do
Using old steel oil drums from the nearby city of Port-au-Prince, artists get their metal “canvas” by first burning the metal in a dry banana leaf fire (to clean off debris), then cutting the drum from top to bottom, working the drum open using their weight, and finally pounding the piece flat with a hammer.
The real artistic process begins after all that work, when complex patterns are drawn onto the metal with chalk and carved out, using such simple tools as a hammer and chisel. The final touches are added using a steel brush, to shine the metal, and a topcoat of rust preventative to ensure the work can stand the test of time!
In the words of It’s Cactus themselves, their role is to:
“take artists through the next steps. By collaborating with them on design creation, placing orders, paying fair wages, and taking Haitian metal sculptures to the global market, great strides are made in helping the craftsmen of Croix-des-Bouquets help themselves. Guided by cultural respect and conscientious business practice, It’s Cactus and its Haitian artists work toward their mutual goals of uplifting lives.“
Why We Love Them
A closer look at any of the metal art from It’s Cactus will reveal the signature of it’s creator, chiseled out simply in a corner or on the backside of each unique piece. A quick visit to their website gives in-depth biographies of each artist that has created a piece for their collection. You can read about artist Cineus Louime, and how his love of nature inspires him to frequently carve landscapes and birds, or how Guerlande Balan is proud to be one of the growing number of women to start learning metal sculpture in Haiti (full bios below).
It is this incredible attention to the individual artist (on top of being an overall great organization!) that makes It’s Cactus so wonderful. They take the time to truly connect with every individual they work with, appreciating the unique approach and creativity of each artist. Then, they share that information with those that purchase their projects, allowing us to connect on an even deeper level to the work we take home!
Cineus’ metal sculptures have a real sense of movement to them. He often sculpts birds and trees with an incredible liveliness. After finishing his formal schooling, he apprenticed with Hubert Bernard to learn the craft of metal sculpting. Over time he became a good enough artist to open his own shop. He says, “I did not have enough money to build a huge shop, but measure by measure, I make improvements. I some workers with me and we work hard every day.”
Cineus gives credit to his parents for teaching him how to be a good, hard-working man. He appreciates his wife’s work at home with their children and wears a casual smile most of the time, in reflection of his passion to grow each day. He says, “My dream is to succeed in all activities I undertake in my like as an artist and as a person.”
Guerlande blazes the path for female sculptors in Haiti, an art that was previously dominated by men. She began by working with her brother Julio at the age of 10. Like all other apprentices, she first learned how to burn out the barrels, sand the drums smooth and pound them flat. She was eager to style her own designs and with the encouragement of her brother, she began to create her own sculptures. Guerlande loves to create metal art, but says that her greatest creation by far is her daughter.