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?


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.”