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Letting the Skeleton Out of the Closet

I wasn't kidding about the skeleton in my closet! Sculpture by Jean Claude Soulouque

I wasn’t kidding about the skeleton in my closet! Sculpture by Jean Claude Soulouque

Labor Day has passed and suddenly, it’s fall. Of course, in the scientific sense, it is not fall until the autumnal equinox has occurred. This is when the sun shines directly on the Equator and the length of day and night are very nearly equal, happening this year on Sept. 23rd at 08:22 Universal Coordinated Time, according to timeanddate.com, just in case you were wondering. All of that is well and good – not to mention precise – but to me, fall has arrived already. The school busses are back in the neighborhhood, the temperatures are starting their blessed annual slide, and if I look very, very carefully, I can see the first signs that the leaves are starting to loosen their grip on the twigs and branches above me. That is all the proof I need.

So all of that reminds me that I have a skeleton in the closet that should come out. Maybe not right away, but at least I should start thinking about it. I might try carrying him around a little bit, give him some air, and see if if I can’t find a fresh, new spot for him to while away the hours. Yes, it is time to generate some new decorating ideas for the Day of the Dead and Halloween next month!

I have had my skeleton for a couple of years now, and I tell you, I love it. But every year it is the same. I put it on one of my two front porch pillars and there it hangs, like a macabre sentinel, guarding the Door of Dread. It looks good – great, in fact, if I may say so. But still, it’s got other possibilities. I just need to find them.

Should I dress him up? Hang him elsewhere? Use him in some other manner? The first two below are my favorites. What do you think?

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Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

3….2….1…..Countdown to Launch!


Just making sure you can find us...

Just to let you know how hip and progressive we are, let me announce that we are launching a new website by way of a little story:

In April, Google announced that it would give organic ranking advantage to websites that are “responsive” to various user platforms. In plain English, this means that websites that can be viewed with equal easy on smartphones, pad, and laptops will have better placement in Google searches, though paid ads will remain at the top. Since It’s Cactus is now an online-only retailer and since our old – but beautiful! – website is not of equal viewing ease from phone to laptop, this spurred us to action! We have been working feverishly for months and we are now close, so close, to our new and improved look.

Should I go into detail about the work that this involves? No. Just consider it to be monsterous. It has included reading, learning, shopping, comparing, calling customer service, and spending hours on the phone with our guru, Dennis, of Clever Concepts. It has included trial, error, thinking and re-thinking, organizing and re-organizing, shooting hundreds upon hundreds of photos, writing copy, and inputting it all. Did I mention a significant cash investment? That too.

But it’s all going to be worth it. Soon you will be able browse “It’s Cactus” easily, whether at home in your jammies or on the go. There will be Haitian iron by the virtual (and veritable) ton, of course, but there will also be an incredible amount of other types of folk art – more than ever before. We have added a product zoom feature, lots of style photos and greater product search capability. There’s also a “Wish List” where you can save items that morph from “want” to “need.” And there are tools that we can use behind the scenes that will help us do an even better job of making great folk art available to you. It’s very exciting!

Even with the launch date now in sight, the new website will still be a work in progress. If there is something about a piece that you need to know, something that we have overlooked, or simply haven’t gotten to yet, PLEASE don’t hesitate to call or email. We’d love to hear from you. That NEVER changes!


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

A Poet’s Vision of Croix-des-Bouquets

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While doing some research online, I stumbled across a poem entitled “Ode to Croix-des-Bouquets” on a website coincidentally called, “Beyond Borders.” This is not the wholesale Haitian metal art company owned by Janet and Joel Ross, but a charitable organization in Washington, D.C. that is working in Haiti to end child slavery. (They are beyondborders.net, while Janet and Joel are beyondbordersfairtrade.com) The author of the poem, Marcus Ellsworth of Chattanooga, TN, visited Haiti as part of an artist’s pilgrimage a couple of years ago. While in Haiti, the group ventured out to Croix-des-Bouquet and Ellsworth was moved to jot down his impressions in verse. So instead of writing my usual blog, I thought sharing his poem with you would be a pleasant change of pace. His evocative words quickly bring me back to Haiti in my mind….


“Ode to Croix-des-Bouquets”  By Marcus Ellsworth

There are secrets one can only revealIMG_6427 (640x640)
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.

IMG_6348 (640x640)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,
IMG_6180 (640x640)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.


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Haitian Metal Can Be A Perfect “Fit”

A primitive sculpture, such as this "Tree of Hope"  by Jean Carlo Brutus is a surprisingly versatile decorative piece.

A primitive sculpture, such as this “Tree of Hope” by Jean Carlo Brutus is a surprisingly versatile decorative piece.

Not infrequently, I have heard comments from customers to the effect that, while they like the concept of recycled metal art, and they like that it is completely handcrafted, and that they appreciate the culture from which it originates, they are concerned that it won’t “fit” into their decorative style. I get that. Not all art that I admire “fits” in my home either. But my response, though it may sound like a blatant sales pitch, comes from a true heart: “There are so many styles and themes within this art form, I bet you can find something that fits perfectly.”

Shall we assume that Haitian metal works well in a “Caribbean” style, since that’s where it comes from? And shall we also assume “Folk Art Funk” and “Ecletic” are fairly obvious “fits” as well? In a recent blog post “Create Your Own Peacock Room,” I talked about how peacocks were used as a decorative motif for a room filled to the brim with Chinese antiques and suggested that our exquisitely detailed Haitian metal peacocks could assume a role within Asian style . Maybe a little unexpectedly, but surprise, surprise – it works! Okay, so there’s four. What else? Shall we go with another style that’s not exactly obvious?  How about “American Traditional”?

Haitian metal can be a beautiful "fit"  in a Traditional American decorative style.

Haitian metal can be a beautiful “fit” in an American Traditional decorative style.

Many of our sculptures are done with primative lines, not unlike those you might associate with quilt patterns, needlepoint canvases, and Shaker furniture. So yes, they are works of Haitian origin, but their inherent simplicity is well-suited to the “American Traditional” style. So, for example, consider this piece above (REC132 Tree of Hope) The sculpture is nicely executed, possessing fine detail without being ornate. The birds in the tree are universal design elements, easily translatable.

Now consider this same sculpture in an American Traditional setting. (See photo, right) The sculpture is complimentary to the total look, in sync with the spindle rocker, the cross-stitched sampler, the stacked books, the Amish print, and the black and white family photo. The colors are subtle, the sizes are proportionate, the design elements are cohesive, the theme works, and the folk art aspect they share bind them together as a grouping.

How about that! Shall we go for five decorative styles? Six? (I think we can!)

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Going Big

A Haitian version of Lady Godiva created by John Sylvestre using and entire 55-gallon barrel.

A Haitian version of Lady Godiva created by John Sylvestre using and entire 55-gallon barrel.

When I am in Haiti looking at sculptures, I have to admit that sometimes, I get overwhelmed. There are so many, everywhere! Each workshop has them on the walls both inside and out, there are sculptures stacked on tables, on the floor, in the rafters – virtually every available space is fair game for display or storage. At the end of the day, it is a bit like not seeing the forest for all of those trees.

And yet, even at the end of the day, sometimes the scope and mastery of a piece will jump out and grab me. The forest becomes visible again. It happened to me most notably in the workshop of John Sylvestre, one of the first artists with whom we collaborated and, indeed, one of the proverbial “Old Masters.”

John, now in his late fifties, learned from Janvier Louisjuste, who learned from the orignal metal art master, Georges Liataud. Starting as a laborer at the age of twelve, John was a quick study. He soon headed his own atelier and began forming his own style, with a body of work that is tender, sensual and otherworldly. The piece that stopped me in my tracks was a tropical version of Lady Godiva. (above) The execution of detail was superb, but the design element that got me and held me fast was its size. The whole barrel had been used in its creation.

There is something to the old adage that “bigger is better.” To use a movie analogy, “Avatar” is entertaining on a 46″ diagonal flat-screen, but in the theater, it’s AMAZING. It needs to be big. It’s richness is fully realized only when it is projected on a grand scale.

So it is with Haitian metal art. Some design images are sweet and cute and need to be expressed as a suggestion or a hint, rather than a statement. Others crave to be boldly expressed or they lose their intrinsic intensity and their power is lost. An entire barrel, when completely utilized, gives the artist a “canvas” that is 34″ x 72″. A hummingbird that size would be weird and ridiculous and possibly scary, for whatever fineness there may be in texture and line. But Lady Godiva, champion of the poor, executed in near life-size is stunning. Her pride and her elegant bearing are fully communicated. Similarly, the Angel Couple on our website seem as divine, projecting the grandeur and infinity of Heaven. With them in large scale, you are drawn there too. A slice of Heaven is yours.

How great is that?

Contributed by Linda for it’s Cactus

Weird You Say?


Recycled Haitian metal art sculpture

“Lid Tree of Life” by Charles Luthene.

Recycled oil barrel lid converted to sculptural art

“Fish Lid” by Evenson Thenor

Does this sculpture on the left look funny to you? Do you wonder about that hole in the trunk of the tree? How about this one on the right? What about those eyes? Are they a little weird?

Well, maybe they look funny to you and if so, that’s fine. You know what you like. No argument there. But if you bear with me just a bit and I’ll tell you why they look amazing and clever to us. The hole in the tree and the eyes of the fish are barrel spouts. What was old has been made new again! The old spouts for pumping fluid in or out of the drum have been incorporated into the design of the new sculpture. The recycled lid is in clear evidence in the revised form.

In Haiti, an artist floats his new design idea featuring the spouts of an oil barrel lid

Artist discussing his idea for a new lid design.

Part of the process of preparing the metal for sculpting is to burn out the residues within the barrel

Barrels stuffed with leaves, ready for burning. The first stage of recycling the metal and preparing the metal to become art.

The first artist to integrate the spouts into his sculptures was Evenson Thenor.  A couple of

years ago, It’s Cactus sponsored his visit to California to do artist demonstrations throughout the Central Coast.  When he arrived at the airport in San Francisco, he came off the plane with an inspired idea in his head and a gleam in his eye.  When we asked him what he had in mind for his work he said, “I have an idea in here,” as he pointed to his head, “I don’t know if you are going to like it.  But I think you will.”  Over the next several days we watched in amazement as the idea took form on the metal.  Slowly, the features of the fish took shape around the spouts of the oil drum lid.  When it was finished, he presented it as a gift to Casey, saying, “I can make more – a little bit different, if you like.”  Yes!  We like!   His new design is “Fish Lid” pictured above right.

Weird or clever?  You decide…

Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

The Dove of Peace

Doves which carry an olive branch, however stylized are universally recognized as a peace symbol

Doves which carry an olive branch, however stylized, are universally recognized as a peace symbol.

When is a dove just a dove? Almost never, it seems. Doves are simple birds that have been heavily endowed with symbolism in cultures that criss-cross time and space. Depending on it’s form, its perceived meaning can change rather profoundly. These, pictured left, are Doves of Peace. Everyone knows it. Everyone I’ve ever heard call it anything has called them Doves of Peace. One hundred percent of the time. But why is that?
The answer is several thousand years old, with the passing of time and events sealing the deal. Back when Noah was sailing on his Ark, desperate for a sign that God’s wrath abated, he sent off a dove in search of land. It took a few tries, but one day, the dove returned with an olive branch in its beak. Noah knew by the olive branch that land had arisen from the flood waters and God was at peace with Mankind once again. This story is, of course, from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but there are other sources as well.
In Central Asia, there is a very old folk tale about two kings who were about to face each other in war in Central Asia. A dove had built a nest in the helmet of one of the kings and the king’s mother implored him not to disturb the nest and leave his helmet at home. The next day, when the two armies marched out to face each other, the king without the helmet rode out to meet the other king. When the second king found out that the first king was without protection because of the dove building a nest in his helmet, he was moved by his compassion and

A slight variation on the sculpture above, Both are by Haitian artist Guy Robens Remy.

A slight variation on the sculpture above, Both are by Haitian artist Guy Robens Remy.

thought that perhaps he had misjudged him. The two kings talked out their disagreements instead of fighting, and they all lived happily ever after. The dove thus symbolized the peace that was achieved between their two nations. (Hear the story as it is told to children in Azerbaijan here.)

Fast-forward a few milenia to post-war France. Pablo Picasso lived in Nazi-occupied Paris for the duration of World War II and the experience hardened his position as an avowed pacifist. Peace organizations flourished after the War and were eager to engage Picasso and reap the benefits of his celebrity. The First International Peace Congress chose Picasso’s life-like lithograph “La Columbe” as it’s emblem, thus reafirming the dove as a symbol of peace in the modern era. His later renditions of doves were simple line drawings of the bird with a single olive branch in its beak or with colored flowers and an olive branch. These dove drawings became widely associated with the global Peace Movement in the early 1950s and remain among his most popular works today. (See those images here)

And so it is the Dove of Peace. But give it a slight change of form, and it becomes representation of the Holy Spirit.  More about that to follow…
First in a series
Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Visit Us Online!

Casey in the new retail office of It's Cactus, your online source for the finest in folkart

Casey in her new office!

It is a fait-accompli: It’s Cactus, which started out as a brick and mortar store in Carmel, CA in the early 90’s, is now online only, operating strictly out of our Salinas warehouse. In February, this was an idea, quick to gel. Today, it’s the way we roll.
Or at least we’re starting to. This has not been a small task, and there’s still a good distance to go, especially in the way of re-vamping the website. Though you will continue to have unmitigated shopping opportunity in the meantime, we are only going to get better. Coming one

day in the not-so-distant future (July, hopefully) the website conversion will be complete, with

There's lots of recycled metal in the Salinas warehouse.

It is widely suspected that there is more Haitian metal in the warehouse than there is in Haiti. Care to count?

oodles and boodles of great folk art of every stripe. From Haiti of course, with new designs and creations in wondrous array, but also a much larger presence of our folk art from Latin America. It was in the shop, and locals had access to it there, but now it will have full representation online. Equal folk art opportunity for all – how great is that?
We’re also going to have what, in the biz, is known as a responsive website. (I confess to have learned that terminology….um……recently. Like last week.) That means that our website will be easily viewed from desktop and mobile devices alike. No more pinching and widening and shifting from side to side. You’ll be able to see every page in all it’s glory, no matter how or on what you choose to view it. Now, isn’t that a wonderful thing?
We’re pretty excited about it all. The wave of retail seems to be evermore about access and evermore driven by convenience. Our aim is to be all of that, convenient and accessible on a much broader scale, yet to remain the friendly, trusted, personable – and very fun! – purveyors of folk art you’ve always known and loved. Visit us online!


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Will These Sculptures Rust?

Our retail show flurry has wound down for the time being, but while it was running full-tilt, we heard time and time again: “Will my sculpture rust?” The sculptures are all made of recycled steel and if they are exposed outdoor weather untreated, answer is unequivocally, “Yes.” Like death and taxes, rust is inevitable.

Hatian metal sculpture one-of-a-kind by Michee Remy

Rust on this beautiful sculpture by Michee Remy does nothing to take away from it’s appeal.

We do assure shoppers that the metal comes with a clear-coat to protect it, but that the clear- coat will wear off sooner or later, depending on exposure. The sculptures can be retreated easily with spray-on clear coat enamel. (THIS or anything similar works fine.) Usually spending 5 minutes once a year to re-apply the protective coating is plenty and your sculpture will retain the same look as the day you bought it, pretty much forever.

HOWEVER, what if it does rust? What if you don’t get to it in time? Is that bad? What will it look

Haitian metal looks great with rust or without.

A rusted metal garden stake looks charming nestled amongst bright blooms.

like then? Well, I live in Arizona, and my sculptures outside are under the porch, so I haven’t had any of them rust. Casey has hers outside exposed to everything that the Central California Coast has to offer and this is exactly what happens. (Photos left.)

The rusted patina actually looks pretty great too! On the wall, leaning on a stand, or in the garden, like this GARDEN STAKE, they all are fine. Your sculptures won’t disappear and they WILL add artful interest to your landscape, rusted or not. Bottom line: Don’t worry. You can’t screw this up!


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Black Madonnas of the New World

Our Lady of Guadalupe retablo from Peru.

Our Lady of Guadalupe retablo from Peru.


Since the first known representation of the Madonna, found in the catacombs of Rome and believed to have been painted in the second century A.D., the portrayal of her physical characteristics have been widely varied. Though images of ivory- skinned madonnas often pop readily to Western minds, there are over four hundred “officially recognized” Black Madonnas. These Black Madonnas are considered by academics to be aa type of Marian statue or painting of mainly medieval origin (12C-15C), of dark or black features whose exact origins are not always easy to determine, and most important, of particular prominence. The latter, the prominence of the Black Madonna, is mostly due to the allegedly miraculous character of the image. Read the article by Michael P. Duricy here:



In the New World, two “Black Madonnas” have special significance, though both have their roots firmly planted in Europe. Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mother of the Americas, was the dark-skinned image that appeared on the cloak of a poor indigenous man that Mary visited on a hilltop in Mexico in 1531. She came to be called, “Guadalupe” because of her similarity in origin to an earlier Black Madonna, Santa Maria de Guadalupe in Caceres, Spain. That Madonna was a wooden figure that had reputedly been carved by St. Luke and given to the Archbishop of Seville. During the 8th century Moorish invasion, the statue was hidden and remained so during the years of occupation. Seven hundred years later, a cowherd by the name of Gil Cordero was visited by the Virgin Mother. The cowherd ran to the priests and told them to dig at the site of his vision. There they found the long-lost sacred statue, now blackend after its years of “entombment.” A shrine was quickly erected, which grew over time to become the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadalupe in Extramadura, Spain.

St. Luke was also the reported creator of “Our Lady of Jasna Gora,” a Black Madonna on canvas which he painted on a cedar table belonging to the Holy Family

Image of a Black Madonna as Erzulie Freda adorns a sequined bottle from Haiti

Image of a Black Madonna as Erzulie Freda adorns a sequined bottle from Haiti


. The painting was “discovered” by St. Helen in Constantonople in Jerusalem in 326 and worked its way over the next eleven centuries to Jasno Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland via Constantinopole and Belz, Ukraine. It is this image of Mary that Polish soldiers, fighting on both side of the Haitian Revolution, brought to the Caribbean. There, black slaves and free men embraced her as their own. In Haiti, Our Lady of Jasna Gora was absorbed into Voodoo culture and became associated with the Voodoo spirit, Erzulie Dantor. See Blog:here:https://www.itscactus.com/blog/2013/04/10/erzulie-dantor-the-fierce-mother/


In both cases, the arrival of Black Madonnas on New World shores resonated with local populations. They recognized her as the Universal Queen. To them, her message was clear: “Am I not here with you as your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Surely you recognize me, for I am of your kind.”


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus


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