Haitian Metal Art

DeWitt Peters, patron of Haitian arts, was intrigued in the 1950s by the iron crosses protruding from many above-ground tombs. Peters discovered the blacksmith, the soon to be renowned Haitian artist Georges Liautaud, and so began Haitian metal art. The raw material was iron, and, soon, the steel oil drum. The center of this activity of Haitian arts is the village of Croix-des-Bouquets, where the clang clang of metal on metal, the chisels banging out the sculptures is a constant music. The pattern is drawn on the metal and chisels and dies and a large hammer are used to cut and mold the designs. The artist smoothes out the steel’s rough edges, beats out the convex and the concave shapes, and when the highly intricate sculpture is completed and thoroughly satisfactory to the artist, he signs his name boldly with a small chisel. A uniquely Haitian form of artwork, it is an art of multiple meanings and the Haitian artists’ imaginations are spectacularly fertile.
Haitian steel drum sculpture (fer découpé) is fabulous both indoors and out. However, the question always arises about how to care for it when it is exposed to the elements. I have had pieces outside in my garden for 12 years and they continue to look great. Most contemporary steel pieces have been coated with a varnish, generally a glossy varnish. If you install a piece outdoors in an exposed area, it will not remain glossy. It will take on an interesting flat patina over time. However, it will eventually develop rust. Rust is not ugly, but it will corrode the piece. To prevent that all you have to do is thoroughly spray it with WD40. Don’t wipe it off. Just leave it and reinstall the piece. You will have to re-spray from time to time, but normally not more than once a year. WD40 works on all steel drum sculpture, regardless of age. If you have an indoor steel drum piece that becomes scratched from handling or whatever, all you have to do is lightly spray it with a clear varnish made for metal, either a glossy or a matte varnish, depending on the look you want. The scratches disappear immediately. However, do not varnish over rust. If you want to remove rust, sand it off with a fine piece of sandpaper, brush the residue off the metal, and then apply the varnish