“Interview with Haitian Art Collector Carole Cleaver”

By Candice Russell

This interview, which will appear in two parts,  was conducted by me and printed in the short-lived publication “Haitian Art Views,” a monthly newsletter devoted to Haitian art. The publication date was October, 2007. The subject is Carole Cleaver, widow of Selden Rodman, co-director of le Centre d’Art in the late 1940s and writer of books and articles about Haitian art. Cleaver and Rodman co-authored “Spirits of the Night: The Vaudun Gods of Haiti.” She lives in Oakland, New Jersey.

What is the first piece of Haitian art you bought and do you still own it?

“It was a painting by Antoine Obin. I got it directly from him in Cap-Haitien of a scene with women washing clothes in the river. It was my first trip to Haiti with Selden (in 1961). He bought a painting I liked a lot, but he had first pick. I asked his advice. I don’t have the painting because my house burned down.”

When and why did you begin collecting Haitian art?

“I came to interview Selden Rodman about his art collection. Three years later, we got married. He taught me a lot. I continue to collect. Generally, we agreed, since he was the one to hone my taste. I still buy things.”

Was it easy to find what you wanted in Haitian art?

“Oh, yes. We went to Haiti every year and visited very good galleries — Issa (el-Saieh), Carlos Jara, the Lallys (Christiane and Reynaodl), and Roger Coster, who ran  the Oloffson Hotel in the 1950s. Roger knew a number of artists, especially the Saint Soleil artists. He lived on the Kenscoff Road above Petionville and the artists would stop there on their way to other galleries. We bought a lot of Saint Soleil from Roger.”

Name the artists prominently represented in your Haitian art collection?

“We have given art to Ramapo College (nearby to her home in Mahwah, New Jersey). I think it’s important to give a variety and not one painter. I’ve been selling a number of things. I may move to smaller quarters. I try to have not more than one by each artist. The exception is Gerard (Fortune).

“I have a Hyppolite, a Philome Obin, a Seneque Obin, a Wilson Bigaud, a Salnave Philippe-Auguste, a La Fortune Felix, a Pauleus Vital, an Andre Pierre, a Louisiane Saint Fleurant, a Levoy Exil, a Prospere Pierre Louis, a Thialy, and a Celestin Fausin, a very early one. It’s the building of the Citadelle with little flowers, nothing like he did later on.

“I have a Ramphis Maloire. I sold all the Stivensons (Stivenson Magloire: he and Ramphis were the sons of Louisiane Saint  Fleurant, one of the original five Saint Soleil artists). He was one of Selden’s favorites, but not mine. I have an Edgar Jean Charles about the American invasion and a lot of (Serge) Jolimeaus (the renowned sculptor working in the medium of unpainted metal). He comes to visit me every year. I have two (Georges) Liautauds (the pioneer of the metal medium), very small sculptures by Georges Laratte (who works in stone), and a few Vodou flags.”