Monthly Archives: November 2014

“Time for New Collectors of Haitian Art”

By Candice Russell

It is a great time to begin collecting Haitian art. Without ever having to leave your house, you can begin buying substantial pieces of Haitian art via legitimate web sites like my own,, and several others. Another way to dip into the market is to get the twice-yearly free, full-color catalogs from Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford, Georgia, near Atlanta. There is usually a small, select group of Haitian pieces in every auction. The auctions occur every spring and every fall and you can pre-bid, bid online or by telephone during the event, or attend the auction in person to bid in the room.

I admit to buying some wonderful works of Haitian art this way. In fact, I couldn’t resist last weekend’s auction. I had my eye on several wonderful paintings by the under-sung artist Montas Antoine. Only a couple were in outstanding condition, however, so I saved my bids for them. But, as all old auction hands will advise, once the bids went over my budget, I opted out of the process and let others compete for the paintings.

There were two very interesting sculptures from recycled metal oil drums by Murat rierre and Gabriel Bien-aime. True to my old tendencies, I wound up as the successful bidder on number 964, a Vodou flag called “Heart Face with Matching Snakes” by an unknown artist. My winning bid was $150, but with a buyer’s premium and shipping costs, the total is $222. The estimate in the catalog was $300 to $500 so I feel lucky I wasn’t outbid. The previous flag in thet auction, “Pink Heart with Snakes,” with water stain and some loss of embellishment, went for $350. Before that, “Queen of Hearts,” another Vodou flag, brought $400.

Other notable bids — $700 for an unsigned Pierrot Barra doll constructiono called “Cabbage Patch Cross.” I really wanted the 12 molded clay face busts by Louisiane Saint Fleurant, which you never see for sale anywhere — and certainly not in such a large grouping. But with bidding that began at $650 and skyrocketed to $1,800, I was shortly out of the runniing. Congratulations to the dealer or collector who got a real treasure and a bargain. I’d say they are worth, conservatively  more than $3,600.

The Saint Soleil-ish “Four Sisters,” a 28-inch by 28-inch painting by Roland St. Hubert, brought a winning bid of a modest $350.  Two nice works by Wilson Bigaud were in the first day’s auction.

Personally, I loved Gabriel Leveque’s pretty-pretty painting “Angels in the Flowers” from the 1960s that went for a very low $400.

Peruse the auction results online, read Haitian art books, look at web sites and get in on the action at the next auction in April. Set your price and try to stick to it. And if you go a little over, you will have piece you truly love and admire, along with a story about how it wound up in your possession.

Haitian art is addictive. You may start out only with paintings, then move slowly into the tactile favors of Vodou flags and the magnificence of sculptures in wood, papier-mache and various mixed media. Haitian art is an adventure, so jump in.



“A Story on Haitian Art”

In this month’s, November issue, of Fort Lauderdale Magazine, devoted to ethnic subject, I have a two page, copiously illustrated storyon Haitian art titled “Romancing the Art: One women’s ongoing fascination with Haitian paintings.” Edited by Tom Swick and laid out by graphic designer Greg Carranante, who used images supplied by Schiffer Books from my book “Masterpieces of Haitian Art,” including two paintings by Anold Etienne and gelin Buteau, and a Vodou flag by Clotaire Bazile, along with the cover of teh book with a painting by Andre Normil. This is what I wrote:


“Call it a seduction by color, an infatuation with form. How else to explain my decades-long love affair with Haitian art?

“It began in 1983 when I went to a restaurant in Washington,  D.C.  that was decorated with paintings of people working in fields, sailing on serene seas, riding imaginatively painted buses. all the colorful artwork, the owner told me, was from Haiti.


“Back home in South Florida, I found a gallery in Coconut Grove that sold Haitian art. I became transfixed by paintings of green-skinned men by La fortune Felix.

“After a period of several months, I bought one — “Ceremony,” an irresistibly mysterious two-foot by two-foot depiction of a ritual Vdou drama. It cost $300. I couldnn’t get to the bottom of the painting’s exocit narrative or walk away from its soothing palette reminiscent of Gauguin.

“Years later, I was offered $10,000 for the painting by another collector. For more than sentimental reasons, I still own it.


“In 1984, I traveled to New Jersey to visit Selden rodman, the world’s leading authority on Haitian art, as his homethat doubled as a gallery. I returned to south florida with paintings by La Fortune Felix and Gerard Fortune.

“Finally, l went to Haiti, a few months before the coup that toppled Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalie and ended a generational dictatorship of almost three decades. In Port-au-Prince, every cab driver knew where all the major artists lived and gladly took me to see them.

“Imagine a foreigner coming to New York and, on request, being taken by cabbies to the studios of major American artists. It would never happen. But in Haiti, the weird, wonderful and unexpected are commonplace.

“A chance meeting at my Port-au-Prince hotel with an American, Virgil Young, led to a visit to the home of an art broker who pulled a suitcase out from under his bed and opened it to reveal gorgeously festooned squares of cloth.

“Hand-sewn with sequins and beads, these Vodou flags are used to summon the spirits during Vodou ceremonies.

“My cab driver called Montas Antoine, who met us on the street with several just-finished paintings. Antoine was famous for lush scenes of rural life in primary colors. I bought the largest one and, later, kicked myself for not buying the other two. At the time, i didin’t know how much antoine paintings commanded in he U.s., or how lionized the artist was in books and museum shows.

“Gradually, I learned about the stylistic divisions in Haitian art. The Cap-Haitien school is made up of artists from the north whose work is characterized by scenes from Haitian history as well as contemporary daily life. In their paintings, you’ll often see people walking past coloinial-era building in ice ceam colors. Philome Obin was the original Cap-Haitien artist; generations of his family have followed in his steps, joined by artists like Jean Baptiste Jean.

“Haitian art devoted to jungle animals and fantasy landscapes has enormous universal appeal. Perhaps tapping into African racial memory, artists like Racine Milhomme create canvases populated with giraffes, lions, tigers, elephants and other animals never seen on the island of Hispaniola. Mario Montilus, Juoel Lucien and Serge Labbe are known for thie fantasy landscapes — exquisitely precise, dream-like visions of an idealized Haiti.

“Other artists gained their reputations by focusing on Vodou. Chief among them is houngan/Vodou priest Hector Hyppolite, discovered in the 1940s, whose simplistic renderings without perspective attracted foreign collectors during his meteoric career. The late Andre Pierre and La Fortune Felix painted Vodou spirits, ceremonies and ritual preparations exclusively.


“The Saint Soleil group workedout of a ocmpound in Soisons-laMontagne, high in the mist mountains above Port-au-Prince. Making up its core group are Prospere Pierre Louis, Lveoy Exil, Dieuseul Paul, Louisiane Saint Fleurant and Denis Smith. this Vodou-based philosophy has certain tenets, such as woman as the source of creation and the myseriousness of life’s beginnings.

“When roman published his book “Where Art is Joy: Haitin Art: the First Forty Years in 1988, he asked if I knew of any museum that might be interested in putting on an exhibition of the artwork in its pages. I suggested the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, and eventually co-curated the show.

“Then Last year My own book “Masterpieces of Haitian Art” was published.

“It is an homage to the art I have loved for so log and to the country that produces it. No other country in the Caribbean — in fact, few countries in the world — can compete with Haiti and its rich visual heritage.”

“Wonderful Fantasy Landscapes”

By Candice Russell

If I could be a global agent of change to spread the word about Haitian art and only had one genre of painting for this purpose, I would pick fantasy landscapes, those idealized visions of a perfect Haiti with billowing clouds, placid seas, harmonious colors, and a profusion of nature’s bounty that is ridiculously abundant and beautiful. Is there a culture on earth that wouldn’t respond positively to such paintings? I cannot imagine one.

I write this in full view of a painting called “Three Women on Path” by the underrated Serge Labbe. Measuring 12 inches high by 16 inches wide,this acrylic painting on canvas on a wood stretcher has all the charcteristics of a wonderful fantasy landscape, including an orderly vision of nature, plus impossibly oversized orange flowers with bright pink interiors. The hills are green and blossoming. Sailboats are in the sea. All is calm and peaceful. A story could be written about the female field workers on the path who will enjoy their day in the sun.

The rain forests, wading birds and waterfalls painted by J.R. Bresil made him enormously attractive to Japanese collectors who came to Haiti in the early 1990s. And this kind of visual ambassadorship can be passed on to the works of Labbe, his peers and followers.


People who think they know about Haitian art are inevitably surprised by the wide range of artistic expression coming from the country. The universality of fanasy landscape paintings can excite people from other countries and continents to also appreciate Haitian art.


I encourage other art collectors and academics to become unofficial missionaries for the cause of Haitian art. Soon it will be the fifth anniversary of the terrible January 12, 2010 earthquake. While much has been done to rebuild, there is much left to be done. The Toussaint Louverture Foundation is doing its best to rebuild the Haitian Art Museum in Haiti. But why not cast a wide net to art lovers living far and wide away from Haiti, who may not know much about the country’s incredible artistic output and legacy, a lot of which this natural disaster destroyed?


Hang Haitian art in your office, not just your home. Get people talking about it. Give Haitian art as a gift, rather than a bottle of wine or flowers that will die in two days. Explain how resourceful Haitian people are, working with discards and repurposing metal oil drums by hand-carving them into works of sculptural art. They use what they have.

People are also incredibly impressed by the beauty and workmanship of Haitian Vodou flags, and that’s before they know the whole story behind their ceremonial function.  These are richly historical sacred textiles with aesthetic roots in Africa.  Maybe interest the curator at your local college’s gallery to do a show on Haitian art. We all have a part to play in diseminating the wonders of it to others. So start November with a bang and get involved. Make a difference to the wonderful artists of this country. It’s a way of giving back without going to Haiti and building houses or just sending a check.