Repoussé South Bay

By Stephanie Kohler

Students will learn Repoussé and chasing (metal relief engraving) to create a form of Haitian art - South Bay style! They will start with a piece of copper-colored alloy and use various tools to add dimension and texture and finish with paint resembling enamel.

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Repoussé is a form of bas relief sculpture that dates back to antiquity. This technique is oftentimes used with gold or silver for small works and done with copper, bronze and tin for larger sculptures. The Greeks in the 3rd century B.C. made armor breast plates from bronze using the repoussé technique.

The Great Plate of Bacchus, from the Roman Mildenhall Treasure in the British Museum, via Wikimedia Commons (4th century).

The word repoussé comes from the French meaning “to push up.” The sheet of metal is worked from the backside with a hammer and various tools, and the shapes are pounded into the sheet metal. Then the metal is turned over to the front side and the shapes are refined, using a technique known as chasing.

Chasing is a technique which creates a scribed line in the surface of the metal, further refining the shapes, as well as creating linear designs. Chasing is usually done with a hammer and chisel-like tools. The sequence of working the front side, then the backside, is done many times to complete the sculpture.

Haiti is famous for its relief metal art work. The art form originated in the work of a simple blacksmith, George Liataud in the 1950s. In his small shop, he made and repaired tools and created primitive crosses for the graves in the Crois-des-Bouquets cemetery.  Today many metal workers is the Crois-des-Bouquets neighborhood make decorative metal scuptures from old oil drums.

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