A client wanted a large puzzle with not too many pieces for his wedding. He gave each guest a piece. They had to be large enough so that each guest could write a comment on “his piece”. I made a 24 x 30 puzzle with 154 pieces on it from a very good picture. The puzzle with comments is now hanging on a wall in a permanent frame.
What a beautiful place!
I designed the pieces on the sides and across the top bigger so the comments would not clash with the couple. Usually I do not like to put puzzles together only once. Of course this is an exception.
I had a nice wedding blog planned for this week but that changed because of the tragedy in Haiti. After the immediate needs of the people are met and after the infrastructure has started to be rebuilt, the character of the society will have to be addressed. My father used to say that we should not impose our system on others and I used to think that each society should take care of itself. Those that couldn’t should stew in their own juices. Now I know that in some cases that attitude is morally wrong and often bad policy in an increasingly interconnected world.
In the NY Times this morning Bob Herbert writes ” No matter how overwhelming the tragedy, how bleak the outlook, no matter what malevolent forces the fates see fit to hurl at this tiny, beleaguered, mountainous, sun-splashed portion of the planet, there is no quit in the Haitian people.” In today’s Wall Street Journal Kevin Rozario writes about natural disasters – Lisbon in 1755 and Chicago in 1871 among others – and the opportunities they present for new and better future: ” The lesson was clear, and it was one that would resonate down through the centuries: With the right intervention, catastrophies presented extraordinary opportunities to make improvements.”
Haiti has received much aid over many years and yet has little to show for it. The challenge is to take that refusal to quit and combine it with a desire to take advantage of the “extraordinary opportunities”. That’s the big job, bigger than helping the sick and rebuilding the bricks and mortar of the country. It means schools, it means competant government and law inforcement with less corruption, it means jobs and it means hard work. It means the transformation of society. I hope the Haitian joie de vivre as shown in its art does not get lost.
This blog is an altered reprint of a Fresh Ayer News article published in the fall of 1996. It serves as an introduction to several forthcomming blogs about Haitian puzzles. In the 1970s a friend began lending me his hand-made puzzles, one by one. They came by registered mail to be returned the same way. They were wonderful and a revelation to me since I was used to cardboard puzzles. I put togehter his dozen or so and looked around for more to buy. I quickly found I could not afford any good ones. Intricate, hand-made woden jigsaw puzzles were beyond my reach.
Years later I figured out how to cut wooden puzzles by machine. A two-axis computer controlled table could generate the shapes if only there were the equivelant of a round jigsaw blade that could cut in all directions. A waterjet did that job. Still it took more than a year of false starts and frustration to develop a reliable machine. Now it makes puzzles comparable to hand-cut ones at a fraction of the cost.
In the meantime, as fate would have it, my friend suddenly fell from wild success to failure. His collection of puzzles was lost in a fire and he ended in depression. I sent him some of my puzzles thinking the therapy would do him good. I got them back untouched. I decided to put together one of the larger Haitian hand-painted ones. As I started to lay out the pieces, my wife was in the next room watching the second presidential debate. She lasted through the whole thing which I thought was a heroic exercise in masochism. I had the better deal: I could get the gist without watching or paying attention.
Hand-painted Haitian jigsaw puzzles are really great for a number of reasons. First of all there is the patina, the feel of paint on wood, sometimes with the grain showing underneath the paint. Secondly, though the kerf is the same width, the paint obscures the cuts almost completely so they seem to disappear. Finally there is the exclusivity; each is unique. However, they are delicate. The edges tend to chip so the puzzles have to be handled with care. The art, though lively and colorful, is nothing to write home about. Good art is reproduced, not cut up. Some examples of good Haitian art reproduced in puzzles are shown in previous blogs.
Here is a wooden jigsaw puzzle hand-painted in Haiti. Note, there is a piece missing. With Gracie running around, one has to be more careful than I. Pieces dropped on the floor often get hidden away or chewed. Gracie is our West Highland Terrier – see blog dated May 15th, 2009.