Business gives back to Haiti

Days before the deadly earthquake that struck Haiti in January, a collection of craft work was exported, representing some of the last pieces of a then-growing industry before much of that country's infrastructure came to a crashing halt.

"The latest shipment came in just before the earthquake," Northwest Nature Shop manager Marie Uhtoff said. "Now all the shipments have stopped."

After the Jan. 12 quake that toppled buildings, destroyed roads, killed more than 200,000 and left countless others homeless, Uhtoff quickly decided that all of the profits from the store's products created there should be used to benefit the artisans who made them.

"They're living in tents and tarps," Uhtoff said. "Anything we can do to get them back on their feet is important."

The importer that provides the shop with the goods from Haiti, Beyond Borders, is likewise donating all its profits from the Haiti sales to benefit the craftsmen.

Beyond Borders is a member of the Fair Trade Federation, which seeks out products produced by people in their native, often underdeveloped, countries and connects them with buyers in developed countries. By doing so, workers are enabled to earn a living wage, work in healthy, safe conditions and operate in an environmentally sustainable fashion, according to Uhtoff.

The Haiti pieces available at the shop are made by a group that includes dozens of craftsmen who use the metal from recycled 55-gallon oil drums to create sculptures and wall hangings. The metal is flattened into sheets upon which the artist can sketch patterns with chalk. After that, the sculptures are punched out using a hammer and a nail, and a layer of lacquer is applied.

Through her contacts with Beyond Borders, Uhtoff learned that the collection of about 50 metal artists in Haiti has experienced its share of tragedy from the quake.

"One lost his wife, another lost his children and many others lost their houses," Uhtoff said.

The artwork ranges in size from 9-inch-tall pieces to 35-inch pieces, limited only by the size of the barrels and the artists' imaginations. Circular works are cut from the barrel lids, while the sides are used for more rectangular creations. Prices range from $15 to $95.

Finished pieces are dark, laquered intricate designs drawn from nature — birds, fish, animals, trees — or scenes from everyday life in Haiti, such as a stylized bicyclist in a marketplace on display at the Northwest Nature Shop.

The shop has carried similar Haiti work for about two years, in keeping with the shop's theme of education, science and sustainability with a focus on children. Uhtoff searches for items from the U.S. and around the world that fit with the store philosophy and with Fair Trade tradition.

"I always ask how is this made and where is this made," Uhtoff said.

"I feel so lucky we live in Ashland and have the lifestyle we have. I want to do something to help other people have that."

The shop was opened 25 years ago by Marie Uhtoff's parents, Kathy and Mike Uhtoff.

Myles Murphy is a reporter and an editor for the Tidings. Reach him at or at 541-482-3456 ext. 222.

Share This Story