By Candice Russell
It is possible, as an art collector, to be drawn to the same subject or artist multiple times. Who knows why these affinities develop? It happened to me in the summer after I broke my ankle. Part of my recovery to full walking health was strengthening my ankle by swimming in my backyard pool. When I went to Haiti in August with a friend, our buying trip caught the notice of one gallery owner who remarked that I seemed to be drawn to images of La Sirene, the Haitian Vodou lwa whose domain is the sea. She works as a benefactor for people in trouble on the water — swimmers, fishermen and voyagers. No wonder I liked La Sirene.
In the case of another sub-category in my Haitian art collecting, I was more conscious. I love artwork that depicts Santa Claus, generosity, the Christmas tree and all the lights and glitter associated with the season. I own a two-foot-tall papier-mache Santa Claus, a painted metal Sant Claus and a Jacques Valmidor painting of Santa and a snowman, measuring 20 inches by 24 inches.
These are happy paintings celebrating a happy time. At Slotin folk Art Auction, I bought an 8-inch by 10-inch painting of Father Christmas by the great Alexandre Gregoire. It’s not as overt as my other Haitian Christmas pieces, but I love it all the same.
I also have a Saincilus Ismael of Joseph leading Mary and the baby Jesus as they ride on a donkey. One of my favorite is a 30-inch by 40-inch painting by Wagler Vital, pictured in my book “Masterpieces of Haitian Art.” It’s a village square with a stunning centerpiece of a beautifully decorated Christmas tree. I don’t know if this is how Haitians celebrate the holiday, but this festive painting makes me hope that there are public acknowledgments in town squares with lights and colors and tress (and maybe even a gift-giving Santa).
But the sweetest Christmas work is in my bedroom year-round because it is too nice to put away in January. It’s a painting by Jacques Richard Chery, ten inches tall and eight inches wide, of Santa Claus handing out presents to children. He carries a satchel of gifts and the children are beyond delighted.
My friend, Dr. Carlos Jara, an art dealer in Haiti and psychiatrist by profession in his native Chile, had a collection of crucifixion paintings, which he carefully amassed. These are even harder to source in Haiti, years ago and especially now.
What ever you decide to focus on, make the journey fun. Go to Haiti, if you can and visit galleries. Talk to people on the street. Even buy art from the street, if you feel confident to tell the good art from the bad art.
The beauty and wonder of Haitian art are seemingly limitless. Bossou, for example, when on Vodou flags, is either just the head with two horns or the full-bodied beast, usually tied up. Many different representations in visual form of the same Vodou spirit means a wealth of very different images by a variety of artists. There’s no better time to collect than now.