All posts by Candice Russell

“A Great Fictional Book About Haiti”

By Candice Russell

The following is an article I wrote that was  originally published on September 20, 1998 in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It is my review of a novel by Haiti’s best-known literary export, Edwidge Danticat. “The Farming of Bones” (Soho Press, 312 pages) is a fictionalized story set against actual historical events. It is the kind of compelling drama that would make a terrific film adaptation. Directors in Hollywood — are you listening?

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Every country has at least one literary torchbearer, someone whose perspective on folkways and history resonates with a foreign audience. For Haiti, that person is Edwidge Danticat, a young woman with a formidable reputation after writing two books — the novel “Breath, Eyes, Memory” in 1994 and the short story collection “Krik? Krak!” in 1995.

Danticat, 29, left the beleaguered island that is both Haiti and the Dominican Republic when she was 12. A graduate of Barnard College and Brown University, she presents her view of a little-known event in Haiti’s recent past in “The Farming of Bones,” a forceful, evocative fictionalization that should win her new fans.

She personalizes what can be called a holocaust against Haitians — the torture and massacre of 20,000 Haitians in the Dominican Republic in 1937. The narrator is Amabelle Desir, an orphaned Haitian child found by the river and put to work in a Dominican home as a maid. It is salvation that puts a price on her freedom.

By age 25, Amabelle is still an innocent, a trusting woman who asks little for herself in service to Senora Valencia. Her lover, Sebastien, who crossed the border from Haiti to the Dominican Republic in search of work, labors in a nearby sugar cane field. He wants a way out of this hard life, even before rumors circulate that they are in danger.

Signs and portents prefigure what’s to come. Senora Valencia gives birth to twins, a short-lived occasion for joy. When her army officer husband drives hurriedly home, he accidentally kills a man on the roadside, Sebastien’s friend from from the old country. Soon after, one of the twins dies.

The long, impossibly hard journey of Amabelle away from the home she has known, her separation from Sebastien, and surprising rescue are meticulously detailed. These passages are almost painful to read because the suffering and grief of so many are so great. Like Stephen Crane in “The Red Badge of Courage,” Danticat puts the reader in the depths of circumstances where survival is unlikely.

How or why Dominican President Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo sought to systematically exterminate Haitians is not explained here. They had lived in the country for decades, doing the dirtiest work. Some Haitians had even become prosperous.

This isn’t a book about political statements, troop movements, and peace treaties. It’s about the fallout of the unexplainable on people without a chance. A Haitian could be killed for the transgression of a simple mispronunciation of the word “parsley.”

This cross-cultural tale of bravery is infused with belief in mystical connections, superstition, and dreams. Strong characters are delineated in a few words.

Spanish-born Papi, the guilt-wracked grandfather of the twins, thinks there is a link between what he did in war years ago and his own domestic losses. Kongo, a respected Haitian elder, is a voice of reason among young men bitter about their persecution in the cane fields.

The aftermath of the holocaust follows Amabelle to a new life with Yves, her companion in escape, in her birth city of Cap-Haitien. It is an existence filled with regret and pain, as if the juncture of hope were irrevocably crossed and forgotten.

The title refers to the brutal labor of the cane fields. It is also something more, as Amabelle persists in her search for Sebastien and a figurative vestige of her parents, who drown in a river on the wrong side of the border.

In the fractious history of Haiti, the world first independent black republic, the country has found a powerful voice in Danticat.

 

 

“A Symbolic Haitian Vodou Flag”

By Candice Russell

Have you ever noticed how some Haitian artworks crystallize the essence of the Vodou spirits they represent, but also do much more? Such is the case with a stunning small flag by a master of the medium, Jean Baptiste Jean Joseph. “Twins Joined,” measuring 17 inches by 17 1/2 inches, pictures two figures — neither male nor female — joining together with raised hands. Their outer arms become one in an exagerratedly large arch over their heads.

Yes, the flag portrays the Marassa, the divine children of God, known for their mischievous personalities. But symbolically, it is about people coming together, a celebration of union and compromise. It could be an image in an ad for political compromise between U.S. Congressional rivals or a televised public service announcement about marital togetherness.

Joseph, who is perfectly capable of adding gender-specific facial features to his subjects on flags, chose not to do so in “Twins Joined,” with successful results. The figures’ anonymity means one could interpret them as a man and a woman, sisters, a gay romantic couple, or any other combination of humans. The addition of a four-leaf clover design outlined in turquoise has another intended effect of balancing all the elements. The artist repeats the clover design three times. These forms are colorful, abstract, and echo the curvaceous shape of the androgynous twins.

From a Vodou standpoint, the twins in this flag have significance. According to the late painter Andre Pierre, whose subjects on canvas were exclusively Vodou spirits, “The twins guide all spirits.”

In her excellent book “Veve,” Nany Turnier Ferere says the Marassa are known for having “a voracious appetite.” To that end, special meals are organized in their honor. Those who follow the Marassa are constantly eating. These adherents also behave like spoiled children and are easily prone to cry.

Known for his use of luxurious materials like velvet and expensive satin, Joseph is also reputed as a colorist. He is unerring in his combinations, which are striking and unique. This flag uses the “scattered grain” technique, so named and pioneered by fellow flagmaker Clotaire Bazile. By this method, Joseph lets the background cloth (a felt-like material) in a deep sand color become a vital element.

One of the most imaginative flag makers, Joseph is the first person I know of to put domestic felines on flags. These aren’t the cuddly, well-fed versions of cats beloved in other countries, but their arched-back, skinny cousins — symbols of survival in a country where most people scramble for their next meal.

Another animal starring in a Joseph Vodou flag is his version of a deer or antelope with a preposterously long horn. Just like the zebras and elephants in fantasy landscape paintings, this creature doesn’t exist in Haiti.

Though Joseph is an ardent Vodouist whom I have seen vociferously defend his own visions of spirits to non-believers, he isn’t exclusionary when it comes to what he portrays on flags from other religions. In fact, he portrays angels with a fidelity that would make art curators at the Vatican proud. What inspires this flagmaker’s use of Christian iconography can only be suspected. Perhaps he is trying to appeal to the marketplace. Or maybe he is paying homage to Vodou’s incorporation of Christian symbolism in multiple ways. –

Part 2: “Interview with Haitian Art Collector Carole Cleaver”

By Candice Russell

This is the second and final part of an interview conducted by me and printed in the short-lived publicationn “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-wrote “Spirits of the Night: The Vaudun Gods of Haiti.” At the time of the interview, she lived in Oakland, New Jersey.

Where do you go to buy Haitian art?

“Mostly in Haiti, but also the Eye Care auctions. I bought a beautiful Damien Paul metal sculpture at a Sotheby’s auction in New York. We tied it to the roof of the car and were nervous driving across the George Washington Bridge, thinking that the wind would blow it off!”

How many works are in your Haitian art collection?

“500.”

If you had unlimited money, what would you buy?

“It might not be available. There’s a painting in a museum in Haiti — ‘The Three-Eyed King’ by Hector Hyppolite. I almost bought it on my first trip to Haiti when Issa (gallery owner Issa el-Saieh) had it. Selden advised me against it. I loved this painting on first sight.”

How do you live with, display and interact with your Haitian art?

“It’s definitely all around me on every wall. But if art is on the wall a long time, you tend not to see it. So I move things around.”

Is there something missing in your collection?

“I’d like to get a better, earlier Wilson Bigaud and a good Castera Bazile.”

If a fire forced you out of your home and you could only take one piece of Haitian art, what would it be and why?

“It’s a very large painting by Gerard (Fortune) called ‘The Celestial Part’ with a bathing beauty only wearing the bottom of a bikini. In the foreground are two market women on their haunches gossiping about her. It’s beautiful and amusing.”

How has Haitian art enriched your life?

“It’s wonderful to be surrounded by beautiful things. Haitian art is very colorful and the paintings are generally happy. Selden named one book ‘Where Art is Joy’ for that reason. We lived in Haiti fourteen years and met a lot of wonderful Haitian people. I appreciated their resilience and sense of humor. They were never oppressed by poverty. It was a wonderful environment.”

What advice do you have for beginning collectors?

“Look at a lot of things before you start to buy. Really follow your instincts. Buy what appeals to you and don’t go by name interest or what’s a good investment. Buy art because you love it.”

What does Haitian art need to gain academic acceptance and appeal for a larger number of people?

“It needs to be publicized more. Haitian art has fallen into decline because the political situation is so bad. People aren’t going to Haiti and Haitian artists aren’t painting because they can’t afford to buy materials.”

Do you plan to donate your Haitian art collection to a museum, sell it, or keep it in the family?

“We have donated the lion’s share, between 300 to 400 works, to Ramapo College, where the Selden Rodman Gallery was built to house it. There is more art than they can display at one time.”

 

 

 

“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.”

 

“An Art Lover Visits Haiti for the First Time”

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.”

“The Art Gallery of Dr. Carlos Jara”

By Candice Russell

The Saturday afternoon salons of Dr. Carlos Jara at his home in the Debussy section of Port-au-Prince during the 1990s were legendary. Whether you came to Haiti as an adventurous traveler like myself, a diplomat, a charity worker, or a missionary, it is likely you knew about these regular events — a highlight in cultural arts circles. Always with coffee and drinks, sometimes with lunch, the salons were informal get-togethers of disparate people in the know, coming together at the behest of a man with a varied and esteemed reputation.

Jara was a psychiatrist in his native Santiago, Chile. He came to Haiti as a diplomat, working for the Organization of American States, and settled there with first wife, Marie-Isabelle. Following their divorce, he married Emeraude Michel, the sister of popular singer Emeline Michel. With an eye for art and an intuitive understanding of people, the gentle Jara made a name for himself in the competitive art scene. People — collectors and artists — gravitated to him for his spirit, stories, sense of humor, and impeccable taste. I was one of them.

From our first meeting on a Friday night at the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, I knew there was something extraordinary about Dr. Carlos Jara. He wore a traditional outfit for the tropics — white pants and a white guayabera shirt. After introducing himself to me in the lobby, I agreed to visit his gallery the next day.

The Saint Soleil original five — Prospere Pierre Louis, Levoy Exil, Dieuseul Paul, Denis Smith and Louisiane Saint Fleurant — were prominently featured in Jara’s large selection of paintings. But so were other artists whose work I found scarcely, if at all, in the city’s other galleries, like Abbot Bonhomme, the creator of sylvan rain forest scenes with parrots, and Phelix Brochette, whose plump people compared favorably to the paintings of the much more expensive Saint Louis Blaise.

Jara also had the largest selection of paintings by Stivenson Magloire, the troubled adult son of Louisiane Saint Fleurant, I had seen anywhere. Many of the works seemed to have been created in haste, as if the artist were in a fury of getting them off his mind and into the world. For that reason, Magloire could be called as prolific as the fast-working Gerard Fortune. But also, unfortunately, Magloire was producing only a handful of great works amid dozens of simply good ones in all sizes. And, of course, collectors want the paintings of outstanding quality.

Little treasures could be found at the Jara gallery, including paintings by Gerard Valcin, measuring eight inches by ten inches. Arranged in the living room were metal and forged iron sculptures of all description by Georges Liautaud, the pioneer of this medium. Or so it seemed. There were crosses, devil bulls, and market women among the sculptures. Jara would challenge visitors to guess which ones were by Liautaud imitators and which ones were fakes. It was impossible to tell, even down to the signature. But our host distinguished the bogus ones by tying tiny red scarves on them. He made his point. Buy only from a reputable dealer for the genuine article.

I bought my first Roger Francois painting from Jara, a proud bird that filled the canvas — “The Owl.” Only later did I come to appreciate how magnificent a painter Francois was.

Jara’s favorite artist of all was La Fortune Felix. He owned untold hundreds of his paintings, a portion of which were once kept in a separate home in Petionville, blocks from his own domicile. In Jara’s view, no one else could compare with Felix’s Gauguinesque palette and innovative portrayals of Vodou officiants and personages. “He never repeats an image,” Jara told me. This is true. Felix doesn’t do static variations on the same theme, but distinct and different narratives every time.

To make things easy for his customers, Jara had special wood units made to house paintings of the same size. One could stand and thumb through these, neat, clean stacks and choose accordingly. In an enclosed area adjacent to the dining room were more wood bins for larger paintings on masonite. I always wound up buying more from Jara than I intended and never regretted a purchase.

From Jara, I learned to appreciate Etienne Chavannes, Gelin Buteau and Wagler Vital, among many other artists. I appreciated the education I got from him about art and artists, because he was always generous with his time to share his experiences. Haiti benefitted greatly from his all-too-brief illumination of the art scene.

“Influential Haitian Painter Garoute”

By Candice Russell

This is an obituary of a famous Haitian painter that I was asked to write as a special correspondent  by the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was published on December 17, 2006.

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Haitian-born artist and educator Jean Claude Garoute, known to the art world as “Tiga,” died Thursday of liver cancer in a Fort Lauderdale hospice.

Before his death at age 71, four days after his birthday, Tiga hosted a steady stream of visitors to his bedside, including artists such as Patrick Gerald Wah, who traveled from New York to see him. A televised tribute aired on New York television last weekend and was seen by the ailing Tiga, friends said.

Another visitor was Levoy Exil, a painter in the Saint Soleil movement, known as the avant-garde of Haitian popular art. This movement was started by Tiga in 1982 in Soissons-la-Montagne, with five core artists: Exil, Prospere Pierre Louis, Louisiane Saint Fleurant, Dieuseul Paul, and Denis Smith. Only Exil and Smith are still alive. (As of 2014, Exil is the last survivor of the original five).

Saint Soleil paintings are characterized by explosive color, semi-abstract figures, doves as symbols of peace, and women as the source of creation. Connected to the dominant religion of Vodou, or Voodoo, as it is often spelled, Saint Soleil also connected to a larger sense of sacredness, according to the writing of Tiga, who based it on four key words — dream, possession, creation, and madness.

In visiting from his home in Thomasaint, Haiti, Exil expressed gratefulness to Tiga for giving him the freedom and education that changed his life. “My relationship with Tiga is very spiritual,” Exil said after visiting him in the hospice. “He gave me three brushes and told me to do anything I felt like doing. President (Rene) Preval has great regard for Tiga and inquired after his health. He sees him as an icon or master of Haitian art.”

Carnival in Haiti next February will be dedicated to Tiga and the Saint Soleil movement. Exil and (fellow Saint Soleil artist Denis) Smith are working on the floats for the parades in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, as well as their costumes. Tiga’s daughter Pascal Garoute will lead the parade.

French writer Andre Malraux became impressed with Saint Soleil during a 1976 visit to Haiti and wrote in the book “L’Intemporel” about the movement as “the most striking and only controllable experiment in the magic world of painting in our century.”

Haitian art collector Reynolds Rolles of Plantation said, “His Saint Soleil movement put Haitian art on the map internationally and made art lovers see differently things they never saw before.”

Tiga’s art was featured in a benefit for the ACTION Foundation, a Broward County-based nonprofit organization promoting Creole art and culture, several years ago. “The contribution of Tiga is immense, not only at the level of visual art, but at the level of culture,” said Eric Boucicaut, the foundation’s president. “He had a theory of artistic rotation, which entailed the use of many different media almost simultaneously. It worked with adults, as well as young children and the mentally challenged, who were his students.”

Susan Karten, an American clothing designer and Boca Raton resident, studied art with Tiga years ago when she lived in Haiti. “He was very intense in a quiet way,” she said. “He only let us use three colors — red, yellow, and blue — because he said from these you can make anything.”

Funeral arrangements for Tiga are pending in Haiti.

“Masks in Haitian Art”

By Candice Russell

As a category in Haitian art collecting, masks are wonderfully evocative distillations of a living creature’s essence. While I own masks from Mexico made from coconut shells and carved wood, my favorite masks are from Haiti in a variety of materials. These three-dimensional Haitian sculptures deserve a special place in my home.

Whether human or animal is the inspiration, Haitian masks successfully convey personality and character through line, form and color. On the artist’s part, the process of creation involves study and thought.

What are the must-have considerations in creating, for example, “Cat with Open Mouth” in papier-mache? Measuring 17 inches by 11 1/2 inches by 4 inches, this black and white-striped head by an unknown artist is a respectful exaggeration in size of a typical domestic feline. Its green eyes are impossibly slanted for dramatic emphasis.

But it is the long pink tongue and jagged teeth of the cat that give it a fearsome appearance. Red ears and bloodshot eyes indicate the animal’s devilish intentions, as well as its genetic tie to much larger jungle cats like panthers and jaguars. All the same, there is a mischievous, even playful side to this mask that makes it collectible.

Also in papier-mache, “L’Ange Exterminateur” or “Exterminating Angel” made in 1995, is titled and initialed by the artist Lionel Simonis. As one of the top tier exponents of this medium, he makes the mask not just for display like “Cat With Open Mouth,” but also for wearing (it’s certainly lightweight enough). It is the size of a human face with holes for the wearer’s own eyes. This mask is a pretty woman with large red hoop earrings and a colorful headdress worthy of a Taino or an Arawak princess, in reference to the island’s first inhabitants. With her high cheekbones and coquettish eyelashes, she is a seductive reveler ready to let loose at the Carnaval.

The painter Roi David Annisey turned from canvas to coconut shell in creating “Green Face Mask,” an acrylic on coconut shell, measuring 13 inches by 10 inches. Shades of the verdant color enliven the head of what could be a Vodou (voodoo) spirit. The creature’s hair is bush after bush, punctuated by yellow, laverder and red leaves. Its nose is a cracked tree trunk, out of which emerge five red flames suggesting a passionate, even fiery disposition. A few tiny lavender teeth are seen in the open mouth, across which is an orange-red fern.

Is the mask Annisey’s version of Grand Bois? This Vodou spirit is known as a leaf doctor, concocting remedies from nature found in the forest. The mask is signed with the artist’s full name in its bushy hair.

In the realm of Haitian metal art, “Mask: Male with Flying Hair” by an unknown artist, is a standout. Measuring 31 inches high by 5 inches wide, it is painted in shades of green, blue, orange, and gold. The nose, nearly a foot long, has a raised surface due to numerous emphatic circles nearly punched through from the other side.

But it’s the hair — straight up and wavy, as if the figure were caught by surprise while underwater — that gives this mask a sense of amusement. Did he see a whale while fishing? Is he in the midst of a Vodou possession, letting a commanding spirit have its way with him? Masks can take different forms and transmit different personalities, but they all have a story to tell.

If you wonder how to display Haitian masks, I run to two schools of thought. Interior designers recommend groupings of like things, even masks of disparate materials. And groupings do create a graphic punch on a wall, becoming a room’s focal point. But don’t forget the comfort and joy of putting a cherished mask above your bedroom door as a guardian spirit.

“Haitian Art Auction Results”

By Candice Russell

The April 26 and 27 spring event at Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford Georgia proves once again that it is very much a buyers’ market when it comes to Haitian art. Of course, this may change in the future, once collectors tune in to how little money it takes to build a worthy collection. At Slotin, informed collectors found bargains among the small, select group of Haitian pieces in all media (but primarily paintings).

Two large paintings by the esteemed Wilson Bigaud — “Village by the River,” which went for $660, and “Washing in Town’s River,” which went for $720 — brought surprisingly low bids, both well under the low estimates of a mere $1,000 in each case. Congratulations to those buyers.

Yet “Village Day” by Adam Leontus, measuring 36 inches by 24 inches, only achieved a winning bid of $360. It deserved to command a much higher price, in my opinion. This superior painting by an artist rarely seen at auction or for sale anywhere generated less interest among bidders than the similar-sized, formulaic painting “Haitian Couple in White” by E. Louisius, which commanded a top bid of $540.

Also perplexing is the small amount of $240 for “Fantasy Animals” by Fritz Dominique, a framed painting measuring 28 inches by 34 inches. The low estimate was $800 and it sold for a little more than a quarter of that. Go to Port-au-Prince now and that is what you would pay for a Dominique painting in a gallery, if could find one. He is known for anthropomorphic animals in fascinating scenarios, just like the much more famous Jasmin Joseph.

Bourmond Byron’s two paintings presented an interesting case. His “Fruit Tree Over Fish Full River,” a tribute to Haiti’s natural bounty, brought a very respectable $1,800 — $300 more than the high estimate. But then the same artist’s much smaller painting, the framed “Long Winding Road,” only brought a victorious miniscule bid of $150, sadly under the $400 low estimate.

Bargains aplenty were to be had at the Slotin Folk Art Auction. Can you imagine paying a laughable $30 for “Cap Beach,” a seaside scene with people at leisure under palm trees? And this 16-inch by 21-inch painting in excellent condition is framed.

The large, evocative “Voodoo Snakes” by Paul Jean Pierre commanded just $540, a little more than half its low estimate of $1,000. While I’m not familiar with the artist, the painting itself is outstanding and certainly worth more than the winning bid.

Imagine taking home an Obin painting called “Planting Season” in the characteristic tidy style of this family of artists for just $300. Or a very respectable 1985 painting by La Fortune Felix — balanced and theatrical — for $660, undercutting the low estimate of $800.

Consider the case of another name artist working as a sculptor. An intricate Nacius Joseph wood sculpture called “Eve with Snake and Apple” was taken home by a lucky someone for just $30. Yet the high estimate for this one-of-a-kind piece (no template used here) was $400!

Several fine paintings by Gerard Fortune were also steals at the auction. The most impressive was “Voodoo Man,” measuring 40 inches by 30 inches. The winning bidder only shells out $450 for this notable treasure.

What does this mean for buyers in the future? Get on Slotin Folk Art Auction’s mailing list for its November event. The web site is www.slotinfolkart.com. The phone numbers are 770-532-1115 and 404-403-4244.

My feeling is that the more people know and love Haitian art, the better. So spread the word.

 

 

“Meeting Andre Pierre” — Part Three

By Candice Russell

This is the third and final installment of a story that I began to write on this blog on April 12. Originally published in City Link weekly newspaper in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on December 16, 1998, it describes encounters with Andre Pierre, Haiti’s most famous living artist, at that time. I appreciate the kindness he always extended to me on my impromptu visits.

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As for his own legacy, he leaves it to others. High praise has come Pierre’s way for decades. French writer Andre Malraux called him “the greatest naive alive” in the 1976 book “L’Intemporel.” Selden Rodman, author of several books about Haiti, felt that Pierre deserved a full chapter in “Where Art is Joy: Haitian Art, the First Forty Years” (1988). Pierre’s paintings were featured in the recent travelling exhibit “Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou,” organized by UCLA.

When Lighthouse Point resident John Fulling discovered Pierre’s genius in the late 1980s, he set about the task of trying to own more of his paintings than anyone else. He also befriended the artist, commissioning him to do his largest and most elaborate works yet. With the hope of publishing a book, Fulling provided Pierre with a tape recorder and a translator so that he could explain the meaning of his symbol-infused paintings.

Nothing unrelated to voodoo ever appears in his paintings, which are rich in the complex history of the spirits. According to Ute Stebich in her 1978 book “Haitian Art,” “It does not bother Pierre that most of his work is bought by foreigners and nonbelievers. Relying on their special power, he sends his paintings out into the world to spread his mission.”

His only worries relate to the recent flooding from Hurricane Georges that destroyed his crops. “It’s a difficult time for the world,” Pierre says. “But while it’s bad for the world, it’s worse for Haiti because people don’t want to work the land. They want to go abroad.”

Under President Rene Preval’s brand of democracy, jobs are scarce and millions of people barely survive on a daily basis. But Pierre credits the exodus of boat people to something else: “Haitians never think of Haiti as a fatherland. They are imported people. When black people get some money, they want to get out. The real inhabitants, the real children of Haiti are the (Arawak) Indians. The Spanish and the French who came here killed the Indians to get their gold. When they wanted people to work for them, there were none, so they imported blacks from Africa.”

A philosopher as much as an artist, Pierre relates the story of the time he offered cups of coffee to American visitors, who commented that it was “good black coffee.” Pierre, jumping to the challenge of an argument, asked them to define the term “black,” which led to further discussion about God, man and the color of a shadow. Pierre’s point? “Everything natural has some black,” he says. “The first manifestation of God is black.”

Pierre can’t forget where his people came from or the values they taught him. “The memories of the people who died are your true wealth,” he says. “Through the sacrifices of voodoo, you remember the dead. I go to church twice a year but to the cemetery twice a week because all the people from your race live there.”

When asked if he fears his own death, Pierre smiles broadly and says, “I have not the right to be fearful about death because you have to leave everything and everything will leave you.”