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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


Celtic Dragons, Druids, and the Ley of the Land

 

Celtic inspired dragon with tail worked into a trinity knotCeltic inspired dragon with infinity knot

Wiseton Brutus has done it again. His Celtic-inspired designs of crosses and claddaughs are wonderful. (And have, incidentally, been selling like hotcakes!) They are his Haitian homage to familiar and ancient symbols of of Ireland; their classic forms embellished with intricate knot designs typical of the Celtic tradition.

And now:  Enter the dragon! A powerful image, fearsome yet charismatic. It is difficult not to be drawn to its aura of mystery and magic. Wiseton has made two, both unmistakably Celtic, with distinctive interlocking knots front and center.

In medieval Ireland, the dragon was thought to have been the First Being, a seed born of the Earth and fertilized by the Sea and Sky. From this union, the dragon sprung forth, a supernatural creature that held the secrets of the universe. Where it walked, a pathway of cosmic energy remained. Druids were Celtic “seers,” capable of finding these pathways, which were known as leys. In fact, the modern phrase, “getting the lay of the land,” is derived from the ancient practice of Druids looking for the “ley of the land.” With their ability to see the ley left in the wake of a dragon’s footsteps, they could reveal those places which had been cosmically “energized,” and designate them for temples, monuments, and festivals.

Later, when Celtic Ireland became Christianized, the dragon assumed the persona of Satan. A serious reversal of roles, the dragon was thenceforward regarded as a formidable foe to be vanquished. Saints, kings, and knights alike threw their righteous might against the forces of that Evil so that Peace, Justice, and Holiness would prevail.

Maybe you thought a Celtic dragon was merely cool…

 

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus


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


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


Bringing Haiti Home

Mary Ragsdale will film video for itscactus

Meet Mary Ragsdale, who will be helping us bring Haiti home to you.

We’ve got an exciting few days ahead – another buying trip to Haiti! But this time, we are fortunate to have an additional intrepid traveller with us. Along with Casey and her mom Gigi and I, Mary Ragsdale will be joining us. And Mary’s got skills. I personally regard them as superpowers, for SHE does video….

Everybody knows that video tells a story that simple photos cannot. With Mary behind the camera, we will be able to share with you so much more of the Haitian experience than we’ve ever been able to before. We’ve had the “Visit Haiti” segment on our website for quite some time but now we’ll elevate the whole production, with a start-to-finish clip on how Haitian metal sculpture is made.

You will also see scenes of of Croix-des-Bouquets and daily life. We’ll do a video piece on pumping water and the women who head carry it back

Video will help bring the Haiti we love home.

Video will be another way for you to meet our artists and their families.

to their homes for washing, drinking and cooking. In a voodoo temple, we’ll take viewers on a “nickel tour” and interview practitioners on some of their rituals and observances. Another piece we’ve got in mind is on voodoo flags, how they are made and how they are sold on the “Voodoo Tree.” All in all, the newly shot videos will enable us to share our experiences and provide a glimpse into the lives and work of our artists and their families in Haiti.

It’s a pretty heady prospect! It is so helpful for people understand the art that they buy, where it comes from, what it takes to create it, and how their purchases helps the artists who produce it. Understanding takes the enthusiasm level from “I like it,” to “I love it!” And that’s just what we llke to hear!

 

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus


Promises, promises…

Dove and Flight, SM488

Dove and Flight, SM488

A promise is a promise. In the previous blog, I told you that I would delve into the symbolism of the Dove as the Holy Spirit, and so I shall. But after a fair bit of digging, I confess that the research hasn’t gone quite as I had expected. Yes, the dove is a strong symbol of the Holy Spirit, but its representation as such is hugely variable. I thought I could say, “When the dove looks like our Haitian art piece (photo left) it symbolizes the Holy Spirit, and here are lots of other examples.” Well, that’s just not gonna happen. The Dove as Holy Spirit flies, it hovers, it perches, it sits, it is in profile and it is in full frontal view

Brazilian carving, ca 17th century, artist unknown.

Brazilian carving, ca 17th century, artist unknown.

. In short, it seems that if a dove has a few leaves in it’s beak, it is a Dove of Peace and pretty much EVERY other posture a dove can possibly assume could be interpreted as a symbol for the Holy Spirit.
The origin of this association is found in several instances in the New Testament of the Bible. According to Bible History Daily, dove imagery is noted at the baptism of Jesus in all four of the Gospels.  When John the Baptist brought Jesus up out of the water, “The [Holy] Spirit [of God] came from heaven and descended on him ‘like a dove’  (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32). The baptism story built on the pre-existing symbol of the dove as God’s spirit (and its many other meanings) and firmly entrenched it as the preferred representation of the Holy Spirit.”
Italian Renaissance artists took that ball and ran with it, including doves in their renditions of events such as the

Folk Art Cross by Felipe Gonzales, ca 1985.  International Museum of Folk Art

Folk Art Cross by Felipe Gonzales, ca 1985. International Museum of Folk Art

Annunciation of the Virgin, The Baptism, and The Crucifixion.  Latin American artists followed suit and thereafter folk artists used the dove in their depictions of these same

biblical events. (See photos right.) Notably, Andy Warhol added a dove to his 1986 series, “The Last Supper – Dove.” It was a characteristically Warhol interpretation of DaVinci’s epic piece in which the Renaissance Immortal apparently thought no dove was required. (View Warhol’s “Last Supper – Dove” here.)
So there you have it. Doves can represent  Peace and the Holy Spirit, not to mention Motherhood, Purity, Love, Innocence and a host of other attributes. But I’m not going to write any more about doves and their symbolic meaning hence forward. The subject becomes fuzzy very quickly and the challenge for coherent delivery is just too great. I did find some interesting images with peacocks and trees of life together, that could lead to grand adventures in hypothetical correlation and I might even write about them someday, But I’m not making any promises!

 

Final Installment in a series of two

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus


Keeping up Tradition: The Nativity Scene

Ceramic folk art nativity from Ayacucho, Peru.  See more like it here: http://www.itscactus.com/catalog/Nativities-29-1.html

Ceramic folk art nativity from Ayacucho, Peru. See more like it here: http://www.itscactus.com/catalog/Nativities-29-1.html

Nativity scenes are one of the most cherished of holiday symbols. Displayed publicly and privately around the world as performance art or as sculptural groupings made of paper mache, wood, metal, ceramics, or other media, expressions of the Holy Night are as varied as Art itself. It was an idea originally conceived in 1223 by none other than St. Francis of Assisi and blessed by His Holiness, Pope Honorius III. Francis organized the nativity display in Greccio, Italy as a living pagent, with friars and the local folk enlisted to portray the Holy Family, shepherds, Magi and livestock from a neighboring farm to round out the cast. The event was an immediate success and was adopted as a holiday traditon that spread throughout Christendom in the years that followed, including the creation of nativity sets carved from wood.
As Christianity arrived in the New World, so too did the tradition of the nativity scene. As with many other Old World practices, it was adapted by indigenous cultures to it’s new environment Thus, nativities took on characteristics that were suited to it’s viewers. In Andean locales, for instance, Joseph and the shepards were likely to wear knitted hats and mantas, rather than keffiyehs and robes of the eastern Mediterranean. (There is a great article with photos of many renditions of the nativity that just came out online this week in the Huffington Post that you can read here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/09/a-creche-course-at-christmas_n_2252966.html 

That is one of the things that makes them so interesting and so tempting to collect. Folk art interpretations of the humble stable setting, the attending animals, the adoring Magi, the simple

Haitian metal nativity by Jean Marie Soulouque.  See more metal sculpture nativities here: http://www.itscactus.com/index.php?p=catalog&mode=search&search_in=all&search_str=nativity&x=32&y=21

Haitian metal nativity by Jean Marie Soulouque. See more metal sculpture nativities here: http://www.itscactus.com/index.php?p=catalog&mode=search&search_in=all&search_str=nativity&x=32&y=21

shepherds, and the Holy Family are uniquely wonderful. Whether the shepherds are bundled against European winter chill, or wrapped in sarongs in tropical heat, the meaning, the message of the nativity is a clear today as it was in the time of St. Francis: The Birth of the Child was a Heavenly Gift for all Mankind.

 

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

 


Creativity is the best part of Holiday Decorating

Aguilar and Ortega figuresIf you are like me, the minute the Thanksgiving dishes are cleared, you shift into heavy holiday mode.  I take inventory of items to be given as gifts that for months have been stashed in the “gift closet,” I have grocery lists for cookie baking in process, while wrapping and packing gifts to be mailed are on the “to do” list for next week, as is deconflicting the family schedule to shop for the holiday tree. This week, it is ALL ABOUT decorating.

This year, I undertook my decorating with a determination to be creative and group things together in ways I hadn’t tried before.  It turned out to be a fun experiment, with which, I will say with very little modesty, I got good results. Starting with the mantle, I arranged the Ortega Wise Men I collected years ago with my more recently acquired Aguilar market women. (See our wonderful selection of Aguilar figures here. http://www.itscactus.com/catalog/Aguilar_Family-35-1.html ) Who said the Wise Men travelled alone?! They now process splendidly together following yonder star. Then I had a brainstorm regarding Guatemalan belts.  How terrific they look as bows on a wreathOaxacan tin and Guatemalan belt trimmed with Oaxacan tin ornaments!  In truth, I have the wreath hanging in my window, but the backlighting was so horrible,  I opted to photograph it on the door instead. Good either way, says I! (Yes!  We have Guatelmalan belts here: http://www.itscactus.com/catalog/Traditional_Belts_and_Hair_Ties-58-1.html  and Oaxacan tin ornaments here: http://www.itscactus.com/catalog/TIn_Art-70-1.html  Call the shop at 831-998-8993 for an even greater selection.)

Haitian metal sculptureMy greatest decorating inspiration, however, came when I spotted our new Haitian metal signs that say “Peace on Earth.”  Oh!  I though, “that might look pretty great attached to a wreath.”  See what you think.  And by all means, do some experimenting on your own. The best part of holiday decorating is the creative part.  If it wasn’t for the creative aspect, decorating would just be work.  Bah-HUMBUG!

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

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