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Bend It???

IMG_8047Whenever I sell a Haitian metal sculpture, whether at a show or a street fair or holiday bazaar, I am always pleased when our customers walk away happy and confident with their purchase. But sometimes I have to chuckle at the process. When something is brand new and shiny and wonderful, the ready instinct is to be careful with it. And it’s a good instinct to follow, usually. On the continuum of action between cautious and bold there are times when one should be exercised over the other. Sometimes being cautious is the right choice. And sometimes you have to be bold and bend your sculpture.

“Bend it?” you say. Yes, bend it. Many of our sculptures have a three dimensional element and sometimes you have to bend that element out to make it “pop” to give it the depth that it deserves. For instance, in the photos at the left, you will see a great little daisy sculpture by Caleb Belony. In the first photo, the petals are all flush with each other. Completely flat. That’s how we pack them to be shipped, whether to The Flower Show in Philadelphia or to your Great Aunt Tilly in Tuscaloosa. It’s more IMG_8046compact, takes up less bulk and all of that good stuff.

However, when you go to hang that sculpture, you need to bend those petals out a little bit. Go ahead. Do it boldly, with grit and determination. You’ll see the difference immediately. It’s got more pizzazz, more life. It looks more like a daisy. The same is true of most of our winged sculptures, such as our birds, dragonflies, butterflies, and angels. A big clue on wings is if they are attached with a rivet. If so, go ahead and bend it out.

Of course I will tell you that bending is not limited to elements that are riveted. Case in point, the flower at the left. Some dragonflies don’t have rivets, but the wings look better bent out a little bit anyway. Same with some of our curly haired girls and masks. If you think your sculpture might look more lively that way, give it a try. (You can always bend it boldly back!)

IMG_8049IMG_8053  Contributed by Linda for It’s Cactus

The Art of Michee Remy Lives On

Angels by Michee Remy

Angels by Michee Remy

Two years ago, one of the most highly acclaimed active metal sculptors in Haiti died at the age of 41.  Michee Ramil Remy began his artistic career at the age of 14 in the workshop of his stepfather, master craftsman Gabriel Bien-Aime.  Over the next 28 years, he honed a distinctive style and level of expertise that generated international awards and accolades. From the first invitation to participate in the Haitian National Arts Exhibition in 1993 to attending the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival as a guest artist the following year, Michee’s talent became widely recognized.  He was on the radar; busy and with an ever-growing demand for his work.

His association with Beyond Borders extends back to the mid-nineties.  For fifteen years, we purchased and carried Michee’s work consistently, though almost always as one-of-a kinds. Throughout that time, he collaborated with Beyond Borders on only two catalogue pieces, preferring instead to produce single pieces of his art.  It was a decision that founder Casey Riddell to this day acknowledges was for the best.  “Some artists should never go into production.  Their work is pure. It is uniquely their own and should stay that way.  Michee is one of those artists.”

Fast-forward to 2009:  Michee’s participation in the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe attracted the attention of the Clinton

At Michee's workshop in Croix-des-Bouquet

At Michee’s workshop in Croix-des-Bouquets

Global Initiative.  He, along with Serge Jolimeau, another Haitian metal artist of distinction and Toyin Folorunso, a skilled metal artist from Nigeria, were commissioned to create sculptural awards for the Clinton Global Initiative’s Global Citizen honorees. Said Robert S. Harrison,  Chief Executive officer of the CGI, “These men are not only talented artists, but they have become leading social entrepreneurs – creating jobs, invigorating the art community and training new generations of artists to pass along their traditions.” This selection brought further opportunity, in the form of a joint exhibition for Michee and Serge, originating at the North Miami Museum of Art and travelling on to the Clinton Presidential Library, where it was featured for several weeks.

In March of 2011, it all came to an abrupt end.  Michee had battled numerous health issues for years; it was a battle he was not to win. Beyond Borders is both proud and fortunate to carry many of his remaining works.  In them, the memory and creative genius of Michee Ramil Remy live on.


Contributed by Linda for Beyond Borders/It’s Cactus

Nightcrawlers in Grandma’s Fridge


Catch of the day!

Catch of the day!

When I was a kid, I used to love to go fishing.  My grandparents lived up in northwest Iowa, a block and a half from one of five of Iowa’s “Great Lakes” and my family would go up and visit every summer.  The centerpiece of each of those summer memories is Grandpa and my brother and I going out in Grandpa’s boat to fish.

But it wasn’t just the fishing.  It was getting ready to fish.  We’d have spent a good portion of the night before going out with flashlights in the dark and digging into the soft, loamy soil for nightcrawlers.  Seems like there was a reliably good spot underneath a sprawling maple tree near the fence on the side yard where they could be found in good quantity; fat and squirming and key to a glorious catch in the morning. We’d put them in Styrofoam cups and punch holes in the lids so the worms could breathe and stick them in Grandma’s refrigerator.  Then off to bed, dreaming dreams of landing a Big One.

Loaded with bamboo poles, fresh nightcrawlers, a well-fortified tackle box, a thermos full of Kool-Aide, and oodles of confidence we would set out. It was always an early go because Grandpa knew, as all great sportsmen did, that the fish don’t bite much when the sun gets high and the water gets too warm.  We’d buckle into our sturdy orange life vests, find our places in the boat and motor over to the far side of the lake where the water was deep and the trees gave good shade well into mid-morning.  It was there that we would bait our hooks, drop our lines……and wait.

SM194D by Joseph Jean Peterson

Haitian metal sculpture SM194D by Joseph Jean Peterson

At this point, memory fades a bit.  I suppose there were squabbles between my brother and I over which side of the boat was the lucky side and who had the best/most/biggest fish.  I suppose there were days when there was nothing to squabble about because we didn’t catch anything at all.  But I do know that when they were hitting, it was sheer delight to pull up the line and watch the silvery fish break to the surface.  “How big is it?  What kind is it?  Do you think it’s the best yet?” “Can we cast out for one more?” And as our pail swirled with our catch of perch and sunfish and crappies, we would eagerly anticipate the feast at dinner that night.

Truth be told, I don’t know how many hours it took Grandpa to clean those fish, or Grandma to filet and fry them.  And I probably don’t want to know.  But the patience they forbore, their toil, their tolerance of holes in the yard and creepy-crawlies in the fridge assured my grandparents’ places in heaven.

I still love to fish.  But what I love most is the memories I have of fishing and those yet to be made.


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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