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Haitian Iron at a Celtic Fest

Working at the Celtic Festival

Gigi and Casey. Ready to go to work at the Celtic Festival in Bethlehem, PA

Late last month, Gigi and Casey ran the It’s Cactus booth at the Celtic Festival in Bethlehem, PA.  Though they have done countless shows together in the past, this one was special.  For one thing, it was the debut of Haitian metal sculpture among all things Celtic.  Strange, you say? Well, maybe. And then again, maybe not.

Our artists have been working on Celtic designs for over two years now.  Celtic symbolism translates easily into much of their work.  The Celtic Tree of Life, for example, has “infinity knots” worked into its roots and branches.  And how appropriate that the Tree of Life symbolizes the infinite cycle of death and rebirth, while knots themselves represent a bond, just as the Tree that binds the Heavens and Earth below.

It turned out that the Celtic Tree of Life, as well as our Celtic Crosses, were great hits! And though they are quite marvelous, we were surprised how fast the dragonflies “flew.” out of the booth. We had no idea that in Celtic lore, dragonflies are believed to once have been dragons.  Following their metamorphosis into dragonflies, they belong to the faerie folk. Dragonflies are thereby strong emblems of change. Further, their skittering across water indicates that, in life, one needs to not look only at the surface of things, but also to look deeper to find greater truth and meaning.

Additionally, there were requests among the patrons for other things of Celtic imagery.  Birds, and particularly ravens were mentioned

Guys in kilts at the Celtic Festival

They are the real deal! Kilt-wearing patrons at the booth.

time and again.  According to Celtic tradition, ravens are seers, favorites of the Celtic gods and goddesses, and are often linked to a warrior’s death in battle.  It is even said that King Arthur, (Yes, I know, he’s Welsh, but that fits under the Celtic umbrella, along with the Bretons, Cornish, and Gaels.) receiving a mortal wound at the Battle of Camlann  turned into a raven and flew away to Avalon. To bring the idea full circle, ravens in the voodoo culture of Haiti symbolize the divinity of Man.

Ravens then, demonstrably worthy, are on the radar. It takes time, though, to go from concept to product.  Drawings will be exchanged between Casey and our artists in Haiti. From those drawings, several  prototype sculptures will be made.  Several months may pass before the right combination of design and execution is reached, but when success is achieved, the artist will receive his order.  Weeks later, we’ll get the first peek of the new sculptures at the warehouse in Salinas.

Celtic designs in Haitian metal?  Not so strange as it sounds.  They are a perfect fit!


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Travel Tips: Antigua, Guatemala

Traveling to Guatemala is nothing new to Casey and her family.  Casey and her mom, Gigi have been going on buying trips since the 1990’s, Casey and her husband, Brian got married there in 2001, and daughter Georgie took her first trip at the tender age of 3 months. I think you could call them seasoned!  But every trip is an opportunity for discovery and this one was no exception.  In addition to buying handcrafted folk art items for the online shop, they attended the wedding of a friend, and set about building upon the Spanish language skills of now teen-aged Georgie and her cousin, Quinn. The discoveries came in the form of finding an outstanding driver/guide to Antigua named Carlos, and an equally outstanding language/cultural instructor, Ruth.

Carlos Mijangos is a enterprising Guatemalan man, proud of and passionate about his country.  He worked as a bi-lingual guide for a large company for several years, but with the encouragement of his father, struck out on his own at the age of 40.  Carlos offers custom tours for individuals and groups in his large, comfortable van.  When asked how many the van could hold, Casey replied, “Well it held me, my mother, the girls, and lots and LOTS of boxes of wood carvings and textiles.  And we all fit!” Based in Antigua, Carlos provides transfers to and from the airport, tours around Antigua and vicinity, as well as excursions further afield.  His knowledge base is as impressive as his fluency in English. Additionally, he is “as trustworthy as the day is long.” To learn more, go to his website http://guatemalanguide.com/ If you are planning a trip to Guatemala, it would be wise to book well in advance.  The word is out:  This guy is good!

As for language instruction, Ruth Acabal Reyes has no match. With ten years of experience teaching Spanish to learners of every stripe, she has her methods down. Not only does she offer personalized instruction in Guatemala, she also offers lessons via Skype.  While both methods are effective, says Casey, “You can’t beat learning Spanish on the street. Ruth came to the hotel every day and took the girls out to practice.  She got them to learn the language by using it in real-life situations. Shopping, eating, asking directions – when you have to speak in another language, you find a way.” Ruth, too has her own website loaded with information.  If you have the slightest interest in Spanish language acquisition, Ruth is just the instructor you need to get you on your way. http://ruht.weebly.com/


Contrubuted by Linda for It’s Cactus


The First Day of Spring

Lovely floral scene struck in metal by Haitian artist, Charles Luthene

Signs of spring in metal: Growing The Flowers by Charles Luthene

While Casey is back in California, madly selling metal at the San Francisco Flower Show, I am still on the East Coast.  In Washington, D.C., now and I awoke this morning eager to greet the First Day of Spring.  With joy and anticipation, I went to the window and  raised the blinds to behold what Mother Nature would reveal.  Well, that Mother Nature, she’s quite a character, with a well-developed and somewhat ironic sense of humor.  Today, on the first day of spring, it snowed.

This should not be.  Average temperatures for this area range in the fifties by now and teasing into

These new buds are just going to have to tough out the unseasonable snowfall.

These new buds are just going to have to tough out the unseasonable snowfall.

the sixties by the end of the month. Today represents a full fourteen-degree shortfall, according to the historical weather record.  Now, I know that averages are AVERAGES, i.e. the compromise between the lowest recorded temperatures and the highest.  But COME ON!  It’s the First Day of Spring!  There should be something cosmically sacred about that, right?  Surely Mother Nature has an intrinsic obligation on the First Day of Spring to bring forth a day bright and glorious, emblematic of the season of renewal and rebirth.

You would think.  Or at least you might allow yourself to hope.  But Mother Nature clearly has a mind of her own.  Spring will come, but at her pleasure and in her own time.  We mere mortals in the Middle Atlantic will simply have to wait.


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda

Photo op with Dan Akroyd, selling his Crystal Head vodka at the Philly Flower Show 2015

“Who ya gonna call? ” Everyone! I got to shake hands with Dan Akroyd at the Flower Show!

By now you know, if you have been keeping up with our blog, that we were at the Flower Show in Philadelphia a little over a week ago. But what you may not know is that we had a brush with fame. Yes! In the aura of a true celebrity.

It was Friday afternoon and all week long we had seen posters on our way down to the booth advertising the fact that Dan Akroyd would be in the Convention Center entry hall from 2-4pm signing bottles of his “Crystal Head Vodka.” So when a man wearing a black button-down shirt with the “Crystal Head” logo embroidered on it wandered into our booth, it didn’t take much of a leap in logic to figure out that he was with the Akroyd entourage and most likely, the other man with him as well. Brief conversation confirmed our assumptions. The man in black, David, asked, “Hey, are you going to go out and get a bottle of vodka signed?” We recluctantly replied that, though we’d love to, the booth was much too busy and likely to remain so. Sadly, we wouldn’t have time to stand in line.

A bit more conversation and Casey and I had an inside track, with assurances from both David and Michael, that if we waved them down when we got to the signing event, they would expedite our access. True to their word, we were ushered straight to the signing table. In our turn, we were able to shake hands and get our photos taken with Dan Akroyd and walk away with bottles of Crystal Head in our arms, the ink of his autograph not yet quite dry. How fun! How nice of David and Michael! “Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!” We were giddy with excitement. (Read about the signing event here: http://www.crystalheadvodka.com/news/dan-aykroyd-and-the-head-stop-to-smell-the-roses )

Giddy indeed. Why weren’t we thinking? Why didn’t we take up three of our skull stakes and give them Haitian metal with OUR autographs and OUR compliments? How fun would that have been? One good turn deserves another, does it not? Coulda, shoulda, woulda….!

Autographed skull garden stake

Dan, Michael and David, this skull’s for you!  Until we meet again, this will have to suffice.  (Darn it!)







Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus




It’s Philly Time!

Seen at the 2014 Garden Show.

Seen at the 2014 Garden Show.

The warehouse in Salinas could be taken for a beehive these days for all the hum of activity. We’re preparing the truck for delivering the goods to the Philadelphia Flower Show. Metal must be selected, counted, sorted, and packed. The booth – which will have a new look this year – has been designed, constructed, painted, and crated. (Thanks Brian and Lalo!) Lighting – Check! Tape, scissors, pens, tags, promo literature, calculators, screw drivers, energy bars, Starbucks cards, shrink wrap – CHECK! Have we thought of everything? Check? Not Check? Ah yes, change. We need quarters, nickles and dimes. Better run to the bank!

But we love coming to Philly every year. Return customers are starting to feel like old friends, business is always good and the flowers….Oh! The flowers! The floral displays this year promise to excite with the theme, “Celebrate the Movies.” According to the offical website of the Flower Show, http://theflowershow.com/ the theme is taken from a Walt Disney quote, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” And these people can dream, let me tell you! The rich elaborate floral creations are breath-taking and leave me thinking, “When I get home, I am going to GARDEN.” This is no small thing, for I have no talent. Walt Disney never met me. I can dream, alright. But execution is….ummm….problematic. I usually start with a Haitian metal garden stake. ( Like these: https://www.itscactus.com/catalog/garden_stakes-21-2.html ) From there, the plan falters somewhat. The stakes are pretty and I can’t kill them, though strictly speaking, I don’t know if sticking one in the ground and admiring my own eagle eye for placement qualifies as gardening.

A floral headpiece of one's own design ALWAYS makes a statement!

A floral headpiece of one’s own design ALWAYS makes a statement!

Aside from inspiration, another of my favorite things at the Garden Show is kind of a combination ofthe flowers and the customers. The Show includes what is called a “Make and Take Room” where patrons can create extravagant floral headpieces to wear at the show. Some of these creations can be quite beautiful, and all of them – beautiful or not so much – are delightful. The people making them and wearing them are stepping out and having a good time. That is something to appreciate. (Incidently, we in the booth secretly vote on the best headpiece of the day. We’ll let you know if it’s you!)

See you in Philly!



Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

It’s Never Over

All Souls Procession in Tucson 2013

All Souls Procession in Tucson 2013

According to the calendar, the Day of the Dead has come and gone for 2014.  But just because the calendar says so, doesn’t mean it IS so.  In Tucson, AZ, it ain’t over ’til it’s over.  The largest Day of the Dead celebration in the country will occur in the form of the “All Soul’s Processional” this Sunday at nightfall.

The Procession was born in 1990 in the mind of Susan Johnson as a creative means to express her grief.  Mourning the recent passing of her father and inspired by Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos observances, Johnson felt she wanted to honor her father in celebration and through performance art.  Her piece was enthusiastically  received and the Tucson art community was moved to perpetuate the Procession as a new and growing tradition.
This year, up to  100,000 participants are expected to parade on the streets of downtown Tucson for a two-mile long, brilliantly costumed procession that culminates in the burning of a large urn filled with handwritten offerndas from the public in memory of deceased loved ones. Inside the event are myriads of installation art, altars, and performers, some of whom have spent months in preparation for the event. The All Souls Procession, and indeed, the entire All Souls Weekend is a celebration of rememberance for those who have gone before.  Read all about the event here – and maybe even get inspired to create an “All Souls” event in your area! http://allsoulsprocession.org/
The Day of the Dead is wildly celebrated at “It’s Cactus,” too. The store and the website are filled all year ’round with Day of the Dead art in a wide variety of media, colors, shapes, sizes and price ranges.  (Click here to view the wonderous array. https://www.itscactus.com/catalog/Day_of_Dead-45-1.html )  At “It’s Cactus,” it just ain’t over when it’s over.  It’s NEVER over!
Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Shigra shopping in Ecuador

Bargaining hard in Quito.

Bargaining hard in Quito.

Oh, I am so sorry. I just got back from a trip to Ecuador and now you’re going to have to hear all about it and look at my pictures and EVERYTHING! But mostly, you’re going to have to hear about shopping for shigras and how they just don’t make them like they used to – because they don’t!

Let me backtrack a bit and confess to you that I am a bit of a shigra junkie. I don’t have piles and piles of them, though I do have three very nice ones. I do love them, however, and when my husband and I decided to go to Ecuador, I knew that I would be doing some serious shigra shopping. There is something about the labor intensity of removing the fibers from an agave-like plant, dyeing them in fantastic colors, and the delecacy of weaving them all together with a blunt-ended needle to create remarkable figures and geometric patterns as the bags take shape. I feel like they’re on trend and timeless all at once. Off to Ecuador and off to market!

The first market of opportunity was Quito’s El Mercado Artesenal La Mariscal. Stalls and stalls of booths with handcrafted items from Ecuador and beyond. I saw flutes. I saw embroidered blouses. I saw handwoven belts and table runners and hair ties. I saw knitted sweaters and scarves and ponchos and mittens. I did not go away empty-handed, but I saw no shigras.

On to Otavalo, home of the largest indigenous market in all of South America. But it was Wednesday

Hidden waterfall near Laguns de Mojanda.

Hidden waterfall near Lagunas de Mojanda.

when we arrived and though the market runs every day, THE market day is Saturday so we waited it out, hiking beautiful mountain lakes and waterfalls in the meantime. (A wonderful diversion, incidently!) We also toured a few local artesan workshops, among them Artesania El Gran Condor in Peguche, where we watched wonderful weaving demonstrations as well as how wool is carded and dyed. (See a video from the shop here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQErDubP4ho )There were piles and stacks and oodles and boodles of textiles of every Andean kind and in a small stack in a remote corner of the third floor I found three shigras. Just three! They were fine. They were nice. They were not extraordinary, but they would make good gifts to bring home so I bought them all. When we got to the market on Saturday, we saw more shigras, but more of the same. Nice enough, but not extraordinary.

Here’s what I’m talking about. These  vs. THIS. Casey got her shigras for It’s Cactus when she was travelling to the Andes regularly 15-ish years ago and luckily still has a number of great ones in stock.  Notice the fineness of this one; the tightness of the weave and  how even it is? Notice the bold, well-formed figural and geometric patterns? That’s what you don’t see anymore. You’ll see bags that are fun, colorful, and functional, but not great. Nope, they just don’t make ’em like they used to…

Now this is a fine shigra, with tight, even weaving and bold, complex design.

Now this is a fine shigra, with tight, even weaving and bold, complex design.

My nice new shigras.  Nice, but not extraordinary.

My nice new shigras. Nice, but not extraordinary.

It’s All Good at the Folk Art Market

IMG_0680 - Copy (640x480)The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, held this past weekend on Museum Hill was another stellar achievement by the International Folk Art Alliance. The annual event, this one being the 11th, included 150 artists from 60 countries. Though sales records have not yet been released, I can tell you that enthusiasum was high. The Friday night gala and the Saturday Early Bird opportunities were both sold out and Saturday after general admission opened was packed. It is hard for me to imagine that the Market was anything less than a resounding success.
Of course, the Haitian art is near and dear to my heart and its representation did not disappoint. There were 15 artists in 8 booths, displaying metal sculpture, voodoo flags, paper mache masks, stone carvings, and paintings. It was great to see Georges Valris, a sequin artist, and Serge Jolimeau, a metal sculptor – both of whom are friends of It’s Cactus – doing well.
And there was so much more! This time, instead of ONLY power shopping, I also took some time to eat – a delicious African lentil curry, thank you very much – and watch some wonderful music and dance performances. Curiously, my favorite performance was off the main stage, featuring an ad hoc duo consisting of a IMG_0675 - Copy (480x640)Nigerian drummer and a Peruvian pan flutist. An odd pairing, perhaps, but it worked. I loved the combination, and I can tell you I had plenty of good company listening with me, nodding and tapping to the beat.
The great thing about the Market is the good that lasts beyond the weekend. Ninety percent of artists’ earnings go home with them. The money is spent in various ways, but many artists and cooperatives choose to share their good fortune with their communities. Funds have been distributed to provide such basic necessities as food, clothing, new health clinics and freshwater wells. In places where the people struggle with enormous social, political and environmental challenges, the impact is enormous. Forgive me for being trite, but it really is ALL GOOD.
See you there next year!


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus



One of the many eye-popping floral displays, this one depicting the "Mad Hatter's Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland.

One of the many eye-popping floral displays, this one depicting the “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from Alice in Wonderland.


The184th Philadelphia Flower and Garden Show was as always, a sensational event, with horticultural splendors and retail opportunity in great abundance. Living up to its theme “Brilliant” the show was a tribute to the grace and beauty of traditional English gardens. Click here for a recap on their official website: http://theflowershow.com/

And Beyond Borders was there! The enthusiasm of the shoppers we encountered and their appreciation for hand-crafted original art reminded us how fortunate we are to represent such talented craftsmen and help them provide for their families through fair trade.

Shoppers wearing floral "facinators" were fun and colorful additions to the retail experience!

Shoppers wearing floral “facinators” were fun and colorful additions to the retail experience!

Jaime was one of the local gals who worked with us to tell the Beyond Borders story at the show.

Jaime was one of the local gals who worked with us to tell the Beyond Borders story at the show.

Fast-action Casey kept the booth constantly supplied with fresh metal.

Fast-action Casey kept the booth constantly supplied with fresh metal.

"Holy Night" SM415

“Holy Night” SM415

Shelove Vilsant’s nativitie’s and Gary Pierre’s sunfaces were great hits, among many others.  Thank you Philly, for your support – See you next year!

"Ray" RND 350

“Ray” RND 350



Standing in Canada with Haiti on My Mind

Summertime is vacation time for many of us, and as my family lives in a place to which people escape winter’s wrath, it’s probably no surprise that we chose to migrate northward as the summer’s heat became too intense for general tolerance. We set off for Victoria, British Columbia but, of all things, by the second day there, I was reminded of Haiti.

Haiti? You would think that about all Victoria and Haiti have in common is that they are on islands and that the residents speak some French.  But on an early morning stroll among the float homes on the Inner Harbor, I spied a fish sculpture by Guy Duval and instantly, my mind wandered back to his workshop in Croix-des- Bouquets. Guy is a remarkably talented person that takes great pride in his work.  I thought how pleased he would be to see his art so perfectly set in this beautiful place. It tickled me later when I re-read the letter he wrote to Beyond Borders accompanying a sample of this very design.  He said, “I take this moment extraordinary to introduce to you my model of fish. I think you and your friends are going to like it very much.” He was so right! Haitian art is as perfectly at home at the beach on the Caribbean Sea as it is along the Straits of San Juan in the North Pacific.

After our quayside amble, we hopped on an excursion bus and headed north from Victoria to nearby Buchart Gardens, a glorious 55- acre spread of botanical extravagance that receives upwards of 1 million visitors annually.  The Gardens are the result of great vision on the part of Jennie Buchart, who, in 1904 sought to restore the site of an old quarry after it had been depleted of its limestone. Even on an afternoon when the coastal fog had been slow to dissipate, The Gardens were a photographic wonderland.  Everywhere I turned there were marvels of color and delicacy to behold.

And I thought again of Haitian sculptors, this time, Jimmy Prophet and Willie Juiene, whose artful eyes and exacting hands re-fashion Nature’s work so elegantly in steel. The monochrome of the metal they work focusses one’s attention to form and line, and emphasizes the refined precision of the artists’ touch. These men have never seen Buchart Gardens nor are they likely to, but flowers and trees that serve as their inspiration are miracles of design no matter where they bloom and flourish.  In Haiti, as in Canada, the miracle is the same.

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