Stories in Steel: Croix des Bouquets

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Guest contributor Marcus Ellsworth is a poet living in Chattanooga, Tennessee who was a participant in Epple Seed Arts’ Artists Pilgrimage to Haiti.

Croix Des Bouquets is a small community just outside of Port Au Prince. It announces itself to visitors with a litany of hammers and chisels striking steel.

Like hail stones on a tin roof, the constant sound of men and women coaxing sheets of steel into dreamscapes is everywhere. Nearly every home doubles as a storefront for the artists to display and hopefully sell their work.

The people of Croix Des Bouquet are hardworking and breathe a unique creativity and life into their work that defies convention and description. There are the masters of the steel craft, who are looked at with great respect. Many of them have helped to train the younger generations in how to take the designs in their heads and turn them into improbably fluid metal. Their distinct styles, techniques, and innovations are often quite evident in the work of their students. It is a beautiful tradition that evolves by leaps and bounds with every passing from parent to child or neighbor to friend.

The people themselves are just as beautiful, vibrant, and varied as their work.

There’s older artists who have seen their share of renown in their time, like John Sylvestre. A man now in his fifties, John has been working the steel since he was twelve. He has passed his skill on to many of the younger artists and looks upon his family and neighbors with affectionate pride. There are younger artists trying to make a name for themselves at least in their community, if not the world at large. Many of them share space in the buildings where they hang up their pieces.

They promote each other’s work and will brag about what they know to be the best in their small gallery, showing enthusiastic support for their peers. A prime example is Salamon Balony, a young man who is proud to be sharing wall space with his friends. He showed us around their gallery room with confidence that what they had to offer was worth serious consideration. Salamon and his friends produced a lively variety of weeping masks, suns exploding from the walls, and mythic figures dancing among vines. They found strength in their variety.

Despite this diverse and astounding work that the majority of Croix Des Bouquets citizens spend most of their day hammering, polishing, and painting; business is not nearly as good as it was before the earthquake.

Damage to some of their buildings have left a few without a space to show their work. Art buyers who once regularly visited to make large orders for stores outside of Haiti are now reluctant to make the journey through devastated Port Au Prince to Croix Des Bouquets. Even the oil drums that they rely on as the base medium for most of their art are becoming scarce. This means that in order to purchase the empty drums, the artists are forced to spend more money they don’t have for fewer drums than can possibly sustain their profession for long. With slow business and resources becoming so expensive, some artists mused about what they could do instead. Some spoke of leaving Croix Des Bouquets behind. Others contemplated driving tap-taps, privately owned trucks used for public transportation. The world would be at a loss should the hammers of Croix Des Bouquets lay still and the music of chisels kissing steel be silenced.

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An Ode to Croix des Bouquets
There are secrets one can only reveal
with a hammer, a chisel, and skill.

Kneeling at the edge of the steel sheet,
like a fisherman in his boat
on deep still waters
breaking the surface
to catch the truth of the heart
and bring it up into the sun.

Hammers pounding as thunder
Chisels falling as rain
Hands summoning patient storms
that awaken life
from the quiet metal

Angels come to dance
Flowers bloom immortal
Spirits gather
to laugh, and rage, and teach,
and be made solid for our eyes and hands

Such is the gift of steel and those who mold it like clay

Listen to the sounds of Croix Des Bouquets

This is the sound of dreamers bending the world to their will.

For more information or to purchase artwork please go to www.eppleseedarts.com.