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  • For Haitian Artisan Josnel Bruno, Recycling Is a Way of Life

    The Folklife Festival’s pop-up Marketplace on the National Mall may have ended, but the wonder of other cultures continues in our online shop, a natural extension of the Folklife Festival that honors the creativity, heritage, and masterful skills of artisans while contributing to the Smithsonian’s mission of sustaining traditional crafts around the globe.

    Here we showcase the work of one of the artisans featured in the Marketplace: Haitian metalworker Josnel Bruno. Influenced by his island nation’ s natural environment—along with a mix of French, Spanish, and Native Tainó cultures—he expresses himself in metalsmithing.

    Bruno is famed for creating rough-hewn yet delicately detailed vases out of scavenged fifty-five-gallon oil drums. He is part of a movement of Haitian artists who define themselves by working with recycled materials. In doing so, they create an economy of garbage buyers and sellers, which has significantly eased the waste crisis. Urban pollution has long been a problem in Haiti, which produced more than 2 million metric tons of waste in 2015, according to data from the World Bank. Bruno is among the country’s most celebrated artisans, demonstrating the vital well of creativity that contributes to the strength of Haitians in the face of many challenges.

    These photos by Melanie Yates follow the artisan as he crafts a decorative vase in his home, Croix-des-Bouquets, a town in western Haiti famous for its metalsmiths and stunning iron sculptures.

    A Black man sits on a paved walkway, working a sheet of metal. Three decorative metal vases sit nearby.

    Josnel Bruno is a craftsman from Croix-des-Bouquets, famous for its metalsmiths. He studied under master metalsmith Serge Jolimeau. You’ll find Bruno banging and clanging mallets, chisels, and knives on all kinds of recycled materials.

    A seated Black man holds a sheet of metal shaped like a disc in one hand and a mallet in the other. Halfway out of frame to the right of the man is a decorative metal vase.

    After cutting apart a discarded oil drum made from steel, Bruno hammers the drum until it attains a flat surface.

    A hand draws an outline of a dish on a metal sheet disc with a yellow pencil.

    He outlines a nature-inspired design using a colored pencil or piece of chalk.

    A seated Black man whose upper body is out of frame chisels at a sheet of metal shaped like a disc with a mallet.

    Using a type of chisel called a burin, Bruno hand-chisels his designs into the desired shapes.

    A Black man in a white, button-up shirt holds a tall, decorative metal vase. Cut-outs in the vase reveal a design of butterflies and flowers.

    While his tools and materials are industrially derived, his artworks feature flowers, fruits, and birds inspired by the nature of surrounding Croix-des-Bouquets.

    Bruno’s work is currently for sale in the Marketplace. We hope it inspires you to reimagine how items in your community can be recycled and reformed into something both functional and decorative.

    Eugenia Lollini is the outreach assistant for the Festival Marketplace. She studied anthropology and Romance languages at the University of Oregon and is from Bologna, Italy, and Eugene, Oregon.

    Annabella Hoge is an intern with the 2022 Folklife Festival’s media team. She is a rising senior at Georgetown University studying American studies, anthropology and journalism and hails from Los Angeles, California.

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