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It’s All Good

They Are One organization

They Are One is in active partnership with this school in Bercy, Haiti.

The shift from the old year to a new one often brings with it a bit of introspection. How can I do more? How can I do better? Where should I put my energy and resources for the greater good? So it was true at It’s Cactus. With the passage of 2017 to 2018, we looked for answers to those very questions – and we found a few! As is frequently the case, the answers were surprisingly close at hand.

As it turned out, excellent opportunity was right in our own backyard. Salinas, CA is the action center for “They Are One,” a charitable organization which has local outreach as well as ongoing projects in Haiti. They conduct fund-raising activities year-round to aid and empower needy children in Monterey County as well as sponsor a faith-based secondary school for children in Bercy, Haiti. In partnership with Lifesong MBO, they not only deliver funds to supply hot meals, school supplies, and uniforms for the children, but also support teachers and staff with contributions toward their salaries.

In the words of Jackie Scott, Vice President of They Are One, “Our organization is all about empowering orphans in Haiti by connecting our community with their community. Our first priority is to build a long term relationship with the staff and children of MBO School in Bercy, Haiti. We do this by taking trips there to connect face-to-face and determine how we can best come alongside the leadership in the work they are already doing well. TAO:Local is the division of our organization that works with local vulnerable children and families in need ”

metal crosses hand made in Haiti

It’s Cactus donated crosses like these to They Are One to augment their fund-raising efforts.

How perfect – a match made in heaven! Opportunity to help our own community as well as school children in Haiti. With an idea budding, Casey contacted the TAO officers and proposed a donation of several dozen pieces of Haitian art from It’s Cactus which they could use in fund-raising efforts and reap 100 percent of the profits. Not only would TAO programs benefit, the plan would also give greater exposure for our Haitian artists and their work.

Done and done! They Are One posted their items on Facebook and the resulting sales have been fantastic! Additionally, they have sold items at church fairs with great success and interest in the art form has risen in tandem. Moments of introspection have thus paid off: Energy and resources are being forward for the greater good. And it’s ALL GOOD!

 

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus


How Much Money Goes Back to the Artists?

Casey, the indispensable Franz, and Jean Rony in Jean’s workshop. Discussions in progress!

If we’ve heard that question once, we’ve heard it a thousand times.  And it’s a good one. The quick response is, “None goes back, because we pay 100 percent up front. They get paid first.” But that isn’t really a complete or direct answer, is it? (Yeah, I know, I kind of dodged it.) Still, it’s a hard question to answer because there isn’t one “absolutely all-the-time” firm, formulaic response. (I think I just saw you roll your eyes…)

Let me start by saying that we negotiate the price for every new piece we order.  Artists tell us what they would like to get, and we consider what end price the market will bear. If we can compensate them at their asking price, cover our costs, and turn their pieces over quickly in the marketplace, we’ve got the magic number. Dealing is done.  But sometimes the magic number comes after going back to the pencil and paper a time or two. Sometimes the artists have to re-think what they hope to make.  Or sometimes we say, “Okay, we’ll try it at that price and see if it moves. ” And we’ve even said, “Oh, we can do better for you than that. Let’s go higher.”

Hand hammered folk art from Haiti

Sculpture al fresco in Haiti.

 

I can tell you honestly that I have watched these discussions a hundred times, and all of those responses have occurred. Generally, the more experienced the artist, the better feel he has for pricing.  His asking price and our buying price are easily matched and settled with a smile and handshake. We’ve been doing this successfully for a while now and so have they.  Together, we’ve learned that these exchanges yield the best results for everybody. It’s all good!

So then what?

The artist receives his order, for say thirty of his “Flower with Hummingbird” designs.  At the time he receives that order, he also receives full payment for all thirty pieces.  In this way, we not only meet, we exceed fair trade practice guidelines, which set a 50% minimum.  One month later, the art is delivered to our warehouse.  In other words, we absorb all of the risk.  If a flood washes out the workshop, the loss is ours. Not everyone works on those terms, but we do.  Always have, always will.

And there you have it.  The answer is somewhat circuitous, but the clear result is win-win.  (Oh! I just saw you roll your eyes again…)

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

 

 


Another Great Show in Philly!

How Dutch can you get?

Tulips, bicycles, and windmills carried out the Dutch theme at the PHS Flower Show in Philly.

Can’t believe that a month has gone by since we turned out the lights on our ninth Pennsylvania Horticulture Society Flower Show in Philadelphia.  And what a show it was!  With the theme, “Holland” it was a delight to behold, the exhibitors displaying a wonderous array of tulips, bicycles, and windmills of course, but also paying clever homage to Mondrian and his primary colored squares. Additionally, there were lovely floral tributes to other heavy-hitting Dutch artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Rembrandt Van Rijn.

It is such fun to meet new customers and see their appreciation for Haitian metal art grow as they come to understand that the pieces are all

Modern art at the Philly Flower Show

Mondrian flower boxes. How bright and clever!

made by hand out of recycled oil barrels.   It is also wonderful to visit with old friends who come to the show year after year.  Always love hearing, “We always look forward to seeing you.  We buy something every time!”

Perhaps it is here that we should stop a moment to express our heartfelt gratitude to all of our terrific customers – newcomers and long-time, loyal friends – for supporting

our fair trade efforts in Haiti.  The artists work hard to produce amazing pieces of art, and we work hard to make it available, but it is YOU who commit your dollars, bring the art into your homes, and enthusiastically share it with others.  That’s what make those efforts count. Together, we do so much good.  THANK YOU!

Watching a video of how Haitian metal art is made

Casey pointing out the video we had running in our booth showing how the art is made.

 

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus


Just Add Birds

Sometimes, when I am helping customers shop our metal sculptures, they comment on how they like the movement of this piece or that. Being

Metal sculpture by Julio Balan

Tree of Life sculpture by Julio Balan (RND253)

a “word person” I always think that sounds funny. In the literal sense it defies logic, yet I know that they are quite right. The image is static, but it feels otherwise. In fact, many of our Haitian metal art pieces are suggestive of movement. Take for example our various trees of life. In the example to the left here, the design elements of the birds’ outstretched wings, the gently bowed trunk of the tree and its curved branches all work together to form an illusion of growth, wind and flight. The implication of activity is clear.

That illusion can be further carried out by adding a few small birds to form a wall grouping. The individual sculptures can easily be arranged to

compose a scene which implies movement and much more. When taken as a whole, the birds in flight and the tree now tell a story: The sun is sinking below the horizon. As darkness descends, birds wing homeward, settling softly into the tree for a night of rest. The caressing

birds plus tree of life sculpture

A couple of birds hung in place near the tree become a wall grouping, Together, they create a greater illusion of movement.

branches provide safe haven until morning dawns.

Okay, that may be a little flowery, but you get the idea. You’ve got your Tree of Life. Maybe you’ve had it for a while and you want to give it a new look, extend the movement, and tell a larger story. The solution is simple: Just add birds!

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

tree of life with birds and more birds

Now you’ve got a story!


Our New Video

Hands at work in the creative process

Chalking the design onto the metal is one step in the process of creating metal art.

During our last trip to Haiti in October, we brought along our favorite filmmaker, Mary Ragsdale, to capture “our Haiti” on video and enable us to share the experience with you.  After long hours of shooting and even longer hours of editing, she has come through for us in a big way.  We are so pleased!

Set to an a cappella Haitian folk tune, the film opens with a stroll down the main street of Croix-des-Bouquets.  A counter-melody to the song is the unmistakable syncopation of hammers ringing out against steel. From the street, the viewer is lead into several of the artist’s workshops and introduced to the artists themselves by our business partner, Roody Soulouque.  Inside the shops, sculptures hang in wondrous array and the artists demonstrate the skill of their craft. Watch and see how the designs are drawn with chalk pencils onto the metal, then cut with chisels, sanded smooth, and finished with a weather-coating.

IMG_9168 (640x640)

In the video, Roody Soulouque translates for Bernard Excellent, as Bernard tells the story behind, “Mermaid Talking with Fish.”

Maybe you’ve been around us long enough to know the story of the artistic process. You’ve seen our photos at shows and in pamphlets and information cards. Maybe you have it all perfectly focused in your mind’s eye. But there is a story within the story.  Notice the smaller details captured by Mary’s lens: the warm greetings, the easy smiles, and above all, notice the pride.  As one of the artists, Jean Claude Soulouque, says as he holds up his one of his best-selling sculptures, “I have seen this.  I have seen it.  It is from my ancient fathers, and that is what I do.” It is the family business, handed down from one generation to the next for nearly 60 years.

And did you see all of the collared shirts on the men?  Mary captured those as well; clean, pressed, and hastily pulled on just as we arrive. Probably their best shirts, likely reserved for occasions of note. Best foot forward.  That too, is pride.

IMG_9254 (640x640) Casey among the barrels

It all starts with a 55-gallon oil drum…

At risk of saying it one too many times, It’s Cactus is about giving opportunity.  Enabling our artists to earn their way, to provide for their families, to be successful, and to take pride in what they do.  Mary captured that pride.  Look for it in the video and be proud too, that your purchases make a positive impact.  It is a pride we can see and pride we can share.

 

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus


Shop Amazon for Savings on It’s Cactus Haitian Metal

Haitian Metal sculptor, Jean Claude Soulouque with his recycled metal art.

Jean Claude Soulouque holding his “Cross with Milagros inside his workshop in Croix-des-Bouquets.

As most of you are well aware, It’s Cactus’ reason for being is to fight poverty with art.  We pursue a market-based solution to uplifting lives and improving economic rnd330__53239.1430492501.100.100security for our artists, their families, and their communities.  We’ve been dedicated to that purpose for over 20 years and we’ve been doing it at various times through physical storefronts, retail and wholesale shows, and building a strong online presence.  This includes not only marketing on our own It’s Cactus website, but also on social media, such as Facebook and Pinterest, as well as on retail sales sites like ebay, etsy, and the retail mega-giant, Amazon.winged_heart_with_bird__45644.1439168484.100.100

“Why Amazon?” you may ask. “Isn’t that kind of like bargaining with the Devil? Aren’t you in competition with yourself that way?” The answer to these questions lies in the numbers.  According to Michael Hayes of “Shopify,” Amazon lands 85 million unique monthly visitors.  Another source tells us that 44% of online shoppers go to Amazon first when looking for goods.  In other words, while a new customer may find us on garden_butterflies__07942.1439228030.100.100Amazon and make his/her first purchase through Amazon, we have the opportunity to win that customer through giving them a wonderful product, providing excellent service and fulfillment, and have the chance to introduce ourselves and our own company to them.  It’s a chance we can’t afford to miss and more importantly, it’s a chance we don’t want our artists to miss.  Giving them the greatest opportunity to sell their art is why we are in business.
SO…strange as it may seem, I am encouraging you to shop Amazon now through Feb. 15th for It’s Cactus products.  It’s a great time to do it! It will happen only twice per year; now and again in August.  Amazon works with us to determine how much SM181B__01835.1453512105.100.100product to ship to their fulfillment centers and, for a set amount of time, those products are stored for distribution there for free. However knowing exactly how much will sell lies somewhere between math and magic.  Rather than pay for having the goods returned to us after the specified time has passed, we’d rather have a sale and enjoy our customers reaping the benefit of 40% off our regularly priced pieces of terrific Haitian metal art.
Below is a list of links to all of the products that we are selling at the reduced rate.  Just enter promo code “Cactus4U” at checkout and score the discount!  BUT, we would so appreciate it if you would take the time to give your new and wonderful sculpture a star rating when you have received it.  Marketing research by “Big Commerce” shows that 92% of customers across the board rely on product reviews when making their purchase decisions.  What these product reviews mean for our artists, is that their work is something to get excited about.  That excitement translates directly to their increased sales and greater economic security.
Ready to join us in fighting poverty with art?  Shop the sale, rate your product with (lots of!) stars, and know that you are fighting the good fight!
Sweet Summer Angel                            Spring Garden Flock of Birds
Tree Sculpture with Birds                       Garden Butterflies
Angel Playing the Horn                          Cross with Birds
Birds in Flight                                       Metal Sun
Spring Garden Tree                               Garden Flowers
Cross with Milagros                               Little Mermaid Under the Sea
Angel with Attitude                               Sea Turtle
Garden Birds and Sun                           Garden Tree with Birds
Moon and Sun                                      Heart with Wings Set
Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

A Merry Christmas in Haiti

The Haitian Christmas greeting is Jwaye Nwel.

Merry Christmas is Jwaye Nwel in Haitian Creole.

As in much of the world, Christmas is a beloved and eagerly anticipated holiday in Haiti, with rich traditions and exuberant celebration. Preparations begin weeks before with decorations beginning to appear in stores and markets and quickly finding their way into Haitian homes. Trees are a part of the decorating scheme, though in smaller homes, branches suffice to hold colorful holiday lights and homemade ornaments. Fanals are elaborate paper lanterns, often cut to resemble miniature Victorian gingerbread houses or churches. The “windows” are lined with colored tissue and a lighted candle inside the lantern combine to create a stained glass effect. Placed in windows or on porches or doorways, they create a warm, welcoming aura and light the way inside. (Click to see an example of this handcraft.)

Children look forward to a visit from Santa Claus, known in Haitian Creole as Papa Nwel. In preparation, they clean up their shoes, fill them with straw, and place them under the tree or on the porch. Of course, they are hopeful that he will replace the straw with a wonderful toy or present, and that Papa Fwedad, the dreaded dispenser of lumps of coal (and worse!) does not show up instead!

Because Haiti’s population is largely Catholic, midnight mass is an integral part of the Chrismas observance. Following the service, families

Haitian Metal Artist Claudy Soulouque with his Peace on Earth design.

Claudy Soulouque with his sculptural wish for peace on earth.

gather in parties collectively called Reveyon. Children are often allowed to stay up very late, playing games such as wosle (similar to jacks) and lighting sparklers and homemade fireworks. A creamy spiced coconut drink, known as Kremas flows freely (Recipes abound, but this one is a good representative, should you care to try.) while music, dancing and shouts of good will fill the night air until the wee hours.

Jwaye Nwel. No matter how you say it, the traditions are dear and the feeling is warm and heartfelt at home, in Haiti, and around the world. Merry Christmas. And above all, Viv ak ke poze sou Late. Peace on Earth.

 

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus


The Season of Giving

It is the Season of Giving. What an opportunity to do good! Truly, it is a wonderful opportunity – one that anyone is loathe to squander. But how does one give effectively? Ah, that is the harder question.

The art of giving, as explained by a Haitian metal fish sculpture.

If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day…

There are many ways in which to give, but I am going to boil them down to two and use the time-honored fishing analogy as my vehicle of explanation: If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Tomorrow, he might get a call that the new job is his and he will never have to learn to fish. You cannot foresee what brightness tomorrow will bring and in the meantime, you help a needy man over a rough spot. He might never know hunger again, yet he will always be grateful for the kindly hand that offered up the fish when the time was tough. Sometimes it works out that way, and when it does, it is wonderful.

At It’s Cactus, we believe in teaching a man to fish, and we do so by giving opportunity. We open trade opportunities and teach our trading

Working in Haiti, It's Cactus gives opportunity for trade and learning.

By giving opportunity, we give a gift that can last a lifetime.

partners about the business of production and marketing, giving them the skills they need to feel success and see it grow. This is not an easy path, and achieving positive results takes a great deal of time and patience. Yet we have seen terrific results in our 17 years of working with our Haitian artists and practicing Fair Trade. The best part of it is that we have seen success sustained. Once the opportunity is seized upon, once the lessons are learned, they sitck. They stay. They LAST.

Here’s how: When a new artist approaches us with an innovative design to sell, he gets an order worth $100 USD to make samples. This enables us to evaluate his style and consistency as well as assess his ability to follow through on our agreement. When those hurdles are cleared, we work with the artist to establish a selling price that is both fair and marketable. We discuss all aspects of pricing; teaching and learning in both directions along the way. When the price is settled, a new order is written, again with 100 percent paid in full up front.

As our sales of the new artist’s design grows, our ability to buy more from him grows as well. This steady growth enables us to experiment with other new designs and orders with him. He becomes more skilled not only as an artist, but also as a

Giving as explained by a mermaid sculpture.

If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.

businessman. With lessons well-learned and well applied, the rise in his prosperity – though not meteoric – is substantial and sustainable. In this way, the gift of opportunity becomes a gift that can last a lifetime. Multiply that gift by the 30 artists we work with on a regular basis, and the impact on their families and their community becomes enormous. That success reinforces our continuing efforts to keep opportunity growing and expanding.

Giving is a very personal thing. Bringing happiness in any form to anyone at any time is a worthy gift whether it is meant for a moment, a day, or a lifetime. Giving opportunity is simply how we at It’s Cactus choose to give. When you buy from us, you support our artists, and that is a very great gift, indeed.

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus


A Fascination with Folk Art Nativities

Haitian metal Nativity Scene

A Haitian version of the Nativity, by Exulien Exuma

Isn’t it fun to look at Nativity scenes? I love to see how the “First Christmas” is expressed in folk art, with variations from one artist to the next;

one tradition to the next. Diversity is a wonderful thing! Just looking at the three pictured here, the cultural clues are as distinct as they are endearing.

In the first example – worked in recycled metal from Haiti by Exulien Exuma – the evidence of it’s tropical origin is plain. The Holy Infant is unswaddled, for the evening is warm and balmy. He is laying in a tuft of grass under swaying palms, Joseph wears a straw hat, and Mary’s hair is bound up in a kerchief, Caribbean-style. A goat stands in close attendance, nary a sheep or camel in sight.

This Peruvian version, created in Ayacucho, has design details characteristic of the indigenous cultures of the Andes. Even the clay from which it

is made is indicative of its source. The bread being offered by the adoring shepherd is likely Pan de Chuta, if I had to guess. (And I do.) I think it’s a good guess, though. Pan de Chuta is a sweet, anise-flavored bread and regional specialty of the Peruvian Andes. Baked in traditional

Folk Art Nativity from Peru

Peruvian Nativity set from Ayacucho.

wood-burning ovens over eucalyptis leaves, and the small, round loaves are frequently offered as gifts. (To read more about the bread or to see the recipe, click here.) The shepherd also wears a knitted cap, very typical of the region, while Mary and Joseph wear heavy felted wool fedoras, also popularly worn in the Andes. Each of their cloaks, and the Holy Infant’s blanket bear indigenous weaving motifs, all of which combine to create a very Andean signature on the scene.

The third example, though not strictly a Nativity scene, depicts the Holy Family in their flight to Egypt, as interpreted by a Central American folk

artist from El Salvador. Again, clues to the artist’s world view abound. The perfectly cone-shaped mountains that loom in the background of the

Folk art painting of the Holy Family and their Flight into Egypt

From El Salvador comes this vibrantly colored rendering of the Holy Family.

painting echo the volcanic cones that dominate the Salvadorean horizon. Mary and Joseph are enveloped in what might be considered biblical robes, but their bright colors and bold floral and geometric patterns are straight out of the Central American tradition as are the chickens that mill and peck near Joseph’s feet.

While the central story of the First Christmas is universal, its representation through folk art is a unique reflection of the individual artist’s cultural identity, conveyed through the values and aesthetics of his communtiy. Like a translation, folk art nativities are expressions in colloquial language, with nuances and accents that make them vivid and easily understood. And that is precisely what makes each one unique and wonderful.

 

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus


Haitian Art in a Modern Decorative Scheme

Working in Haiti is great. It’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s mind-opening and mind-blowing all at once. It’s also steamy and sweaty and dusty and at the end of the day, you’re not opposed to taking in a bit of gracious ambiance with your hot shower and cold drink. We’ve stayed at some nice

Tropical heat is a work hazard for wimps.

Hot and sweaty in Haiti. It is the tropics, after all.

hotels over the years, nothing truly fancy, but consistently having good service, clean sheets, a solid in-house restaurant, and wonderful character. Having said that, Casey always has an eye out for the next best thing and is prone to experimentation. So when she announced that we were staying at the Best Western Premiere Hotel in Petionville, I wasn’t sure that I had heard her correctly.

Best Western? Well, check the box affirmative for clean sheets and decent service and restaurants of an adequate sort. I’ve never minded

staying at a Best Western, but in the wonderful character category, I haven’t ever thought of giving them high marks. Plain vanilla has pretty much been my over-riding impression and I am here to say THAT is very unCasey-like.

Louis-Prospere inspired elevator surround and Haitian recycled metal mirror frame.

Design element from a Louis-Propere painting surrounds the elevator door. Mirror frame is Hatiain metal.

But she nailed it.

Let me pause to tell you this is not a Tripadvisor review that I’ve posted incorrectly to the It’s Cactus blog. The point is actually decorating with Haitian art, and how they did it at the Best Western Premiere Hotel so beautifully. The modern, somewhat minimalist design scheme is punctuated by GREAT local art. Rumor has it that Donna Karan had a hand in the interior design work, so saying that the designer had an eye is a bit of an understatement. Take, for example, the paintings by Pierre-Louis Prospere hanging in the hallway:  design elements from those paintings were appropriated to surround the elevator doors on every floor. How about the framed recycled tire art arranged near the lobby check-in desk by Eugene Andre? And check out the full barrel sculptures by the early metal art masters hanging near sparkling crystal chandeliers. All combined for a WOW factor that for me, was completely unexpected but very much appreciated.

I have written previously about different decorative schemes into which Haitian art can be incorporated. Clearly, I can add minimalist modern to that list. And how!

 

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Haitian iron and crystal, together in the Best Western Premier Hotel

Imagine pairing Haitian iron and crystal. Magic!

Haitian art - rubber cutouts

Cut-out rubber artwork by Eugene Andre

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