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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

The Visual Feast: A peek into the workshop of Gerard Fortune

IMG_6075 (640x640)Where did the time go? Already it’s been a month since our return from Haiti – and such a great trip it was! Of course we spent a good deal of time in Croix-des-Bouquets visiting the metal artists, but we also took a trip up the hill beyond Petionville to Montagne Noire to pay a call on one of the pre-eminent naiive painters in the country, Gerard Fortune, It is nearly impossible to resist the charm and innocence of his paintings, so why try? We came back with an armload!

Gerard himself is a bit of enigma. In three tries to determine even the year of his birth, I came up with three different answers. In fact, I found out that a friend of ours asked him directly once and the reply was, “Well, I don’t really know.” The closest I can pinpoint is somewhere between 1925 and 1935. Working most of his adult life as a pastry chef, and also being a practicing hougan, Gerard began to teach himself to paint in the early 1980s.IMG_6084 (640x640)
In 1988, Selden Rodman published his masterful book on Haitian art, Where Art Is Joy, he included several of Gerard’s paintings – most in full-color plates. At once, Gerard’s place in the art world was established. Today, his work is part of permanent museum collections in the United States and in Europe, and is avidly sought by private collectors as well.

That having been said, he is a man of modest means. He lives and works in a two-room dwelling of cinderblock, mortar, and corrugated tin in the space between two towering mansions. Without running water or electricity, he and his older brother and younger sister, each in similar shanties nearby, share the chores of fetching water, laundry, and cooking. I use
the term “shanties” with a bit of reluctance. The word seems accurate, but it doesn’t convey the cheer of the brightly painted walls or the grace of the banana trees shading the windows, or the laughter of children playing outside. Theirs are the humble homes of the working poor, but they
are far from dreary.

IMG_6076 (640x640)Inside, paintings are everywhere. In stacks, hanging layer upon layer on the walls, and those in process on the table. A visual feast, to say the least. The hard part, as always,was choosing which ones to bring home.  Look here: https://www.itscactus.com/catalog/Haiti_Folk_Paintings-126-2.html  Now don’t you feel the same?


Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

Masks and the Spirit of Carnival

Haitian masks, made from simple materials, are marvels of imagination and craftsmanship.

Haitian masks, made from simple materials, are marvels of imagination and craftsmanship.

In just under three weeks, the solemn Christian season of sacrifice and restraint known as Lent will begin. With all of its associated forbearance, however, observance of the Lenten season will be preceded in many parts of Christendom by the joyful, blow-it-all-out celebration of Mardi Gras, or Carnival.

Carnival revelry is conducted with great exuberance in Haiti, but nowhere more enthusiastically than in Jacmel.  Throughout its environs, preparations for the spectacular Carnival parade are undertaken weeks in advance.  Bands gather and practice, dancers choreograph and rehearse, costumes are designed, sewn and decorated, and perhaps most extravagantly, larger paper mache masks are prepared. It is because of this extraordinary celebration that Jacmel has become the creative locus for paper mache products of all kinds.  Small serving bowls, decorative items, stand-alone sculptures, and most importantly masks have put Jacmel on the map for this particular type of folk art form.

The masks of Haitian Carnival are of every conceivable theme and style.  Some are caricatures of historical figures, current politicos, or pop-culture icons.  Some are of animals or birds, which may be indigenous to the island, a faraway jungle, or the far reaches of fantasy.  Both playful and ceremonial, these masks are often worn to depict an older, wilder Haiti dancing through the streets in a chimerical parade. (Click here to see a photo essay of the Carnival parade in Jacmel in 2011 http://goatpath.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/haiti-carnival-2011/ )

The basic steps required for paper mache mask-making are actually rather simple.  Strips of paper are dunked in a soupy mixture of flour and water and

A cheerful sun face in bright colors such as these create a light-hearted visual punch.

A cheerful sun face in bright colors such as these create a light-hearted visual punch.

placed over a base form, usually of clay.  The paper is allowed to dry for several hours to form a rigid outer shell.  Once removed from the base form, embellishments of paint, glitter, sequins, yarn, and more are applied to the mask. (Click here for a video demonstration: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eyN_7XnJo8 ) God, of course, is in the details, and masters such as Didier Civil, Pierre Edgard Satyr and Tidier Lavoyant have achieved such skill as to have their work collected world-wide.

Whether museum worthy or just for fun, Haitian masks are authentic pieces of folk art that can make a decorative statement of joie de vivre.  The spirit of Carnival – anytime!

Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Details, details

What speaks to you when you look at art?  Is it the medium?  Is it the design?  Is it shape or color or pattern?  All of those elements play their part, to be sure.  Still, my guess is that when you look at a piece of art, whether it’s a 17th century painting by Jan Vermeer, or a contemporary piece of glasswork by Dale Chihuly, or a piece of Haitian folk art by Jean Eugene Remy, it is the details that draw you in.

Take for example this one-of-a-kind piece. Jean Eugene has whimsically imagined this bus going to market.  Unencumbered by proportion, the round bus goes bumping through the countryside, dodging low-flying birds.  The youth riding on top points the way as he reclines against a box and a 3-D basket containing a chicken and various produce.  The dimensional effect of the basket is achieved by cutting the contents backwards as a side piece and then bending the metal tightly behind the slitted, concave basket. A little bit more time spent in execution, but the result is good visual impact.  A fine detail

Look again.  Notice that all of the passengers vary somewhat.  Different hats, different clothing, different fullness in the face, longer hair, shorter hair.  Individual characteristics that give the riders character.  Clones don’t ride the bus, people do.  Details.

And the bus itself. Notice how small caps have been hand-riveted on the front end as headlights.  Clever.  The wheels, however, are the coup d’grace.  They revisit vintage wire wheel hubcaps on Corvettes and Cadillacs, 1968-1982.  (Yes, I looked it up, and by-the-way, you can find them on ebay for about $1250, if you’re in the market.) Jean Eugene innovatively uses spout caps and rivets and wire hooks, which are bent one at a time to create each spoke. Fifty-seven in the back and sixty-three in the front. Talk about detail!

This kind of craftsmanship is not unique to one artist alone, though Jean Eugene does raise the bar.  Bicycle chain, metal tubes, coins, spikes and more have been utilized with good effect as design elements in Haitian metal sculpture across the board.  Next time you look, really look.  The more you see, the more you will appreciate.  It’s in the details.

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