Haitian Steel Drum Art by Vertus Romens Fer Découpé of Mermaids
Fer découpé (French for iron cut out) artwork is created from steel petrochemical drums that are cleaned and pounded flat. After drawing the designs on the metal, the bòsmetal (bosses of the metal/metal sculptors) cut them out with hammers and chisels, punch tools and nails, with no welding done. Vertus Romens, the sculptor of this intricate work, grew up in the Noialles district of Croix-des-Bouquets, a village outside the capital of Port-au-Prince where this craft originated. Poverty inspired the salvage of materials for art; the use of steel drums was pioneered starting in the 1950's. Romens learned to sculpt at an early age and became a prominent metal craftsman.
The sirene, or mermaid, is one of the spirits of Haitian vodou; she represents beauty and wealth. One of the mermaids in this work is playing a saxophone; the sax is used in several types of Haitian music, such as Compas. Both of the mermaids have shimmering scales, are wearing bikinis and are accompanied by a large fish; they are standing on a base of waves and sea grasses, with a flower extending up between them. Vertus Romens signed this piece by incising his name into the metal on the lower right front.
This beautiful wall sculpture measures 17 inches high, 10 inches wide and weighs 1 1/2 pounds. The sculptor finishes his pieces with a coat of lacquer, so they can be hung indoors or out; a quick spray of clear enamel or lacquer once a year will keep it in shape if you choose to use it outdoors and don't like the rusty, weathered look. It's easily hung with nails at one or more of the points where there are spaces between the designs. This is a highly detailed, interesting work that is a tribute to the artist's talent for this art. It is not a perfunctory piece turned out for the tourist trade, but a one of a kind, true expression of Haitian culture.
Note: In the November 2011 issue of "Magic Haiti" Magazine there was a 2 page spread on Vertus Romens (although he was identified as Romens Vertus throughout the article). It's entitled "When Oil Drums Become Works of Art" and you can see it here: https://issuu.com/clarens/docs/magic_haiti_3_-_lite_version