By Candice Russell
Haitian art lover Ingrid Furlong of Fort Lauderdale, Florida took her first trip to Haiti with the Haitian Art Society last January. The week-long sojourn included a stay at the newly rebuilt Hotel Montana. “The hotel was wonderful,” says Furlong. “It was very well-kept and clean. The staff was helpful and the food was good. It was beyond my expectations.”
What were her impressions of the people and the place? “I just love Haiti and Haitian culture,” says the visitor. “The people were so warm and courteous. Port-au-Prince continues to be a mess. There are too many people in small or makeshift housing. We would look at these places as improvised with corrugated roofs. We didn’t spend a lot of time in Port-au-Prince; it was tough to get around, though the rubble (from the 2010 earthquake) is gone from the streets. We only saw two road crews the whole time.”
And the art? “We visited the Bourbon-Lally Galerie, the Monnin Galerie, and the gallery of Axelle Liautaud,” says Furlong. “We also went to the artisans with galleries in Croix-des-Bouquets. We visited an ironworks in Port-au-Prince and the Grand Rue, where people make artwork from tires. We wandered around the pathways in Soissons-la-Montagne (where the Saint Soleil artists have a compound). We also went to the Hotel Oloffson to hear (the musical group) RAM, which was great fun.”
Though not a fan of the Vodou-inspired Bizango art, Furlong was able to capitalize on her interest in Haitian Vodou flags on this trip: “I met Lherrison, who makes Vodou flags with buttons and baby dolls. I arranged a meeting with Yves Telemaque because I wanted him to make me an Erzulie Danthor flag. I was excited to meet Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph. I have a number of his Vodou flags. One piece was incredibly abstract with Vodou symbols on it. He is growing internationally as an artist. I met Mireille Delice.”
Not just a browser but a buyer, Furlong says she also met painters Richard Nesly and Onel. “I thought all the prices were very fair,” she adds.
My own first trip to Haiti in 1985 was done solo. Call it brave or reckless, but I figured I could accomplish my goals with a plan in mind. This was a big mistake, as communication with the people I met was a problem at the airport upon my arrival and at the bus station in Jacmel. There were many revelations on that trip so, in retrospect, I’m glad I took the plunge alone.
Is it a good idea to travel independently to Haiti? Furlong says, “I don’t know. Travelling together on a bus, I felt quite secure. Everyone should go to Haiti for the art. Arrange a small group of people. I wouldn’t go around alone as a woman. But we did go to Jacmel (a seaside town on the other side of the island from Port-au-Prince) and wandering around there was fine.”
Tourism officials in Haiti will hang on the response given by Furlong to my last question. Will you return to Haiti? “For sure,” she says. “I could arrange a car and a driver through the Hotel Montana.”