Transforming an Oil Drum into a Canvas – Haiti’s Iron Village / Croix des Bouquets

bending oil drum

How does one make a canvas out of an oil drum? Good question.

Singing Rooster has written 3 fabulous articles on Haiti’s Iron Village. In this second article, we cover the beginning of Haiti’s hammered metal industry. This article also describes how oil drums are transform into canvases. In our first article, we chronical Haiti’s iron village, Noailles / Croix des Bouquets; in our third installment, we detail how a metal canvas is transformed into art.

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.

In the Beginning there was Georges Liautaud

Nobody knows the exact count, but it’s likely that Haiti’s metal art district has several dozen artists. Next, hundreds of apprentices and workers convert artistic designs into handmade pieces one hammer, one chiseler at a time. There are likely several thousands in Croix des Bouquets / CDB who earn money in the oil drum art industry. Noailles, the Iron Village, is a subdivision of CDB and is a magical, happy place filled with energy.  It all began with George.

Iron village oil drum into art
You can find exceptional, one of a kind art in Haiti’s Iron Village

Haiti’s metal art began in the 1950s by a local blacksmith named Georges Liautaud. In his small shop, he made and repaired construction tools; in his free time, he created metal crosses for local graves – he was determined to provide beautiful markers for the dead.  Visitors took notice of his touching tribute and the elegance of his work. Along with grave markers, Georges began using recycled oil drums to create amazing freestanding sculptures known as “fer découpé”. His sculptures and crosses became the seed of an industry that now employs thousands. Liautaud mentored and inspired many metal artisans within the growing community. Although he passed away in 1992, his most celebrated apprentice, Serge Jolimeau, continues to be a moving force within the community.

Serge Jolimeau

Known as the godfather of Croix-des-Bouquets, Jolimeau (still a vibrant inspiration) opened up his land to the artisans so they’d have a place to work for free and learn the trade through apprenticeships. Although Jolimeau travels the world with his art, he continues to reside in Croix-des-Bouquets where he is rumored to never lock his door. It is that kind of close-knit community; a sharp contrast to some of the neighboring areas. When Singing Rooster first visited Serge, his kitchen was full of art and his living room was packed with boys and men (huddled around the only tv in the area watching a big soccer match).

Iron village oil drum into art

The Iron Village

Open street markets, tent studios and brick and mortar shops are pervasive in Haiti. Streets are lined with colorful paintings, soap stone, beaded flags, and mixed-media art.  But all pales in comparison to oil drum art — hammered metal, steel art, upcycled drums. How did Haiti become renown for this medium? In short, there is no oil in the Caribbean. Each island nation must import this mixed-bag of energy. Drums, once emptied, stack up as waste across the world, but not in Haiti. Metal drums are purchased near the port and are disseminated across Haiti; the majority of drums make their way to the small village of Noailles, within Croix des Bouquet, by way of truck, tap-tap, donkey, or wheel barrow.

How Oil Drums are Transform into Canvases

Artists purchase drums for about $35 a piece. When unrest is pervasive, prices for drums spike to over $50 — sometimes overnight. Singing Rooster purchases drums on behalf of our artist partners – to help insulate them from gouging. You’re welcomed to join us & donate a metal oil drum today –> just $35

Iron village oil drum into art
Singing Rooster buys, then stores drums for artists to mitigate overnight gouging. Join us. Support an artist & donate an oil drum here.

The process of converting an oil drum into an artist’s canvas is technical – one that Haitian’s have honed with skill. First, turn the drum sideways & give it a good pounding; this creates a non-rounded surface where a chisel will not slip when cutting it length-wise. After cutting it down the length (leaving connections at both ends), the top and bottom of the drum are removed. Both pieces are reserved for 23″ pieces of art — where many artists incorporate the air and oil spigots into the design.

Iron village oil drum into art
Air and Oil Spigots are often incorporated into the design of oil drum art – like our 23″ tree of life

After the top & bottom are chiseled off by hand, the drum is cut free on both ends. The artist uses a cloth (because it’s sharp) and carefully flattens the drum with a move that most yoga masters would envy.

Here’s a 7-minute video of Louis Omiscar (one of Singing Rooster’s first artist partners) demonstrating Haiti’s Iron Village – Where Oil Drums Transform into Canvases. It’s worth every minute.

Tour the Art Village w/ Singing Rooster

Haitians see art everywhere, and Singing Rooster’s tour through the metal art district / village will fill you with awe.

If we’re all lucky, during the tour, you’ll witness the in-coming canvas: a tap-tap full of steel oil drums. Price per drum fluctuates from week to week. Most artists expect to pay around $35-$40. During troubled times (more often than you think), prices skyrocket. We buy drums during down times and store for artists. If you want to buy an oil drum for an artist – we welcome your support by donating an oil drum here.

If you’re interested in putting Haitian art on the shelves or folding art into a fundraising event, read through our Frequently Asked Questions:

Singing Rooster loves this town and the people who live here; we’ve established long term relationships with many artists who have studios in the epicenter — near Madame Steel. Want to visit the Iron Village with Singing Rooster – let us know: I want to know about your next art trip to Haiti — we’re collecting names & will email you when it’s safe to travel Haiti.

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