Tin can crafts in Papua New Guinea

Aunt Bette and Lucy tin canning

Aunt Bette and Lucy tin canning

Yesterday we talked about using what you have. Here is a great example of that. Family friends Bette and Ron lived in Papua New Guinea and send me a story about using an available resource to build capacity in their community. Bette taught the local women to use tin cans to create crafts they could sell at the local market. She talks about creating their own tools, sharing resources and some roadblocks. Be prepared to be inspired!

Here is her story:

North Americans tend to spend money and use resources for hobbies, but tin craft is one hobby that recycles and can still produce some interesting folk art and ornaments.

When we were in PNG (many moons ago) I thought it might be interesting to teach some of the local ladies how to create things like candle holders, picture frames, little chairs, etc. These could be sold in the local market as a local product. They would be recycling the many tin cans left lying around and it would act as a source of revenue as well. (Pity I could not think of any use for the millions of plastic bags that blew around Port Moresby).

Books and tools for tin canning

Books and tools for tin canning

To do tin craft you need a pair of metal shears and some tin curling devices as shown in the picture. There was no getting around the sheers, they had to be purchased. The curling tools however can be home made by driving a nail into a stick, cutting off the head and using a hack saw to cut a groove in the end of the nail. We were able to make them locally and show them how it was done. Different sized nails give you different sized tools. Cost of tools is a big thing there as they just do not have the money to start with and if they did, convincing them to spend it on inedible tools that might make them more money is a pretty hard sell. So the more tools you can make locally the better. One set of shears can serve a group. You only need it for the initial cutting and all the curling is done with the home made tools. A pair of needle nose pliers is handy but not essential. Again, a shared item.

The beauty of this type of crafting is that no soldering or associated expensive equipment is required. You make your own connecting clamps. Once they got going on their own, one of my biggest concerns was getting them to wash the cans out cleanly as tourists are fussy about things like “tin mit” (Tinned meat) stuck in the corner of a picture frame.

One has to be careful, most tin can crafters cut their fingers and nick them a bit. I was invited to meet with the local leprosy group with the intent of getting them started on a means of revenue as well. I met with them, however many had little feeling in their fingers, and with leprosy your cuts don't heal well. Once it became apparent that they would end up with cuts and scratches, we had to cancel the program because the last thing we wanted was to make things worse. I felt bad, as I was looking forward to working with them but in this case tin craft was definitely not the answer. Just a cautionary note.

Annie, a good friend of Bette

Annie, a good friend of Bette

I still cherish many great memories of sitting under the cool of the house or on the shaded steps working with my neighbours. I am including a picture of Lucy and I doing tin can work and one of Annie, my friend and tutor from next door who taught me far more than I ever taught them. She is not specific to the tin craft, but a dear friend who helped me integrate. I thought I had a lot more pictures of us working, and some of the products laid out, but I am darned if I can find them now. It has been so long.

An interesting side note, I had an American tourist lady show up at my door one day wanting to meet “Aunty Bette” as the girls in the market had told her where they learned the craft and where I lived. She was noticeably disappointed that I was a Canadian and not a local – but hey, you cant win them all.