How Haitians Transform Oil Drums into Art in Haiti’s Iron Village, Croix des Bouquets

fair trade art haiti rooster

Singing Rooster has written 3 fabulous articles on Haiti’s Iron Village. In this third piece, it’s all about Haitian art: how oil drums are transformed into sculptures, ornaments, wall art. In our second article (read that first), we describe how oil drums are transform into canvases and provide a video of the entire process. In our first article, we chronicle Haiti’s iron village, Noailles / Croix des Bouquets.

How do Haitians make art out of oil drums? Good question.

Most island nations import every drop of oil.  These drums stack up by the thousands throughout the Caribbean. Some islands convert drums into musical instruments.  Haitians are renown for recycling oil containers into beautiful works of art.   Their inspiration comes from nature, religion, every day life. Haitian artists are not just creative, opportunities in art provides jobs for thousands.  Haitians are on their own to provide transportation, clean water and school tuition for their families.  Art, literally, is life-saving for many.

Singing Rooster is a patron of the Haitian arts.  We LOVE the uniqueness, and cherish the artist.  Haitian art represents Indigenous American and European aesthetics and religious influences. It is an important part of their culture. #Singingrooster began working with artists in 2011, and we’ve created stable employment for a couple dozen artists.  We seek long-term relationships and are helping to build inroads to new markets.   Singing Rooster is a proud member of the Fair Trade Federation and invite you to enjoy the splendors of Haitian art. We now turn to this: How Haitians Transform Oil Drums into Art.

65 Gallon Drums are the Canvas


Step 1: Buy an Oil Drum

The artist purchases an oil drum which runs about $35 a piece. Want to give him a hand up? You can donate an oil drum to one of our artist partners; he’ll never know you by name but he will appreciate your kindness (we say “he” because we have sought but cannot find women metal artists… the hunt continues).

Drums are transported to the iron village by truck, tap-tap, even wheel barrow. To see details about the town, read: Haiti’s iron village, Noailles / Croix des Bouquets.

Step 2: Burn Off the Paint & Dismantle

Oil drums are usually covered in paint…. mostly blue or black (not sure why). Some artists use the paint in their designs, but most burn off the paint to have a plain steel canvas. Artists stuff the drum with banana leaves to burn off reside, paint.

How to make art from oil drum

After it cools, the drum is sliced down the middle, the top and bottom are removed, then it is stretched to reveal a 3′ x 6′ canvas — much like rolling out gingerbread except with steel. We have a video of the entire process in our second article: how oil drums are transform into canvases.

How to make art from oil drum
You can watch a video of how Haitians turn a drum into a canvas on Singing Rooster’s youtube channel.

Next Step: Inspiration

Haitian art is inspired by nature, religion, daily life, dreams, and what sells. Singing Rooster’s Molly is a patron of the arts, and finds the unique, one-of-a-kind art amazing. That said, she’s been helping Singing Rooster’s metal art partners to develop commercially viable pieces that reach a wider audience.

Once inspired, designs are sketched on heavy paper, reconfigured, and finalized. Artists use the heavy paper for drafting because it serves well as templates — templates that are used across years. Designs are traced onto steel canvases using pen, pencil, marker or chalk. Now the heavy lifting begins.

Each cross above is chiseled by hand with a hammer, toes, and steel plate underneath.

Steps 4 & 5: Tracing & Cutting

Each design is traced onto steel in cookie cutter fashion, and must now be individually cut from that metal… with sharp chisels and hammers. It’s unbelievable work and can get loud; we’ve tried supplying artists with ear plugs, but they interfere with conversation. The work is long and tedious; they enjoy talking to each other during long hours of work.

Step 6: Decorative Detail – stippling, pounding, shaping

Yes, cutting each piece of art individually from the oil drum canvas is tremendous work, but so too is the decorative process. The stippling, pounding, detail is wonderous. The photo below reveals that a bulk of the decoration happens BEFORE each piece is meticulously relieved from the steel canvas. It’s easier to maneuver a larger piece of steel vs. a 2 inch cutout.

This figurine is part of our 11-piece metal nativity set … if you think Joseph looks great, wait until you see the rooster.

Step 7: Plain or Painted?

Individual tastes in art are as diverse as choices in shoes. Me? I like my steel oil drum art plain. Others? The more paint, the better. Maybe the happy medium is to let the metal shine through a smattering of bright colors? Dunno. But what we do know is that artists labor long hours painting intricate designs across flashy steel.

Last Step: Final Preparation

Once decorated, the artist removes rust (from plain metal) & dust then applies a final weather resistant coating. Art is carefully packed up and delivered to buyers or proudly hung in the shop hoping to catch the eye of a visitor.

Here’s a 2-minute video about Haitian art’s transformation from steel into sculptures.

In a country where 60% lack full time employment — Haitian hammered art employs thousands.  By purchasing a piece of Singing Rooster’s metal art, you are helping provide meaningful jobs for thousands (and an heirloom piece for your family). When you buy their hammered steel, metal artwork online from our website, we put 100% of proceeds towards building stronger businesses in Haiti. Buy Haitian Oil Drum / Metal Art Today

We hope you enjoy our articles on Croix des Bouquets so much that you share them with your favorite person. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, join us on a trip to the Iron Village by letting us know of your interest. We’ll email you with upcoming trip details when it’s safe to travel Haiti: I want to know about your next art trip to Haiti.

#oildrumart ?️
#singingrooster ?
#croixdesbouquets ??
#yourartmatters ?
#mothersdaygifts ?
#hammeredmetal ?
#fairtrade ⚖
#SaveNoaillesHaiti ?