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.