Haitian Art Aficionados, Take Note

March 15, 2009 — Haitian Art Aficionados, Take Note
Twice a year, Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford, Georgia conducts major on-site auctions of wonderful folk art, primarily done by U.S. artists. Stalwarts like the late Howard Finster, known for his Christian iconography and spiritual writing on his paintings and plywood figures, are featured in the upcoming March 28th auction. But this time, there are also a number of choice Haitian artworks, including paintings and superb Vodou flags, those hand-sewn sequined and beaded wonder works that carry so much of Haitian ancestral tradition as well as contemporary ceremonial weight. There is even a superb metal sculpture made from a recycled oil drum.
What does this mean for the cognoscenti, those in-the-know folks with a few dollars to spend on expanding their collections? Bargains, for the most part, if past Slotin Folk Art Auctions with Haitian art, including one with the holdings of film director Jonathan Demme, are any indication. This auction firm is different than most, in that there are no reserves on pieces. The low estimate may be $500 on a painting, but if it doesn’t get that high on the opening bid, the work could sell for $400 or $300 or even less. Obviously, this isn’t the optimal condition for sellers of artwork at the auction. On the other hand, it’s great for buyers who may get lucky.
Prefete Duffaut followers should take special note of a painting by the master of the fantasy landscape genre. Titled “Haitian Village” and measuring 29 inches by 24 inches, it is dated 1954. The painting is from an aerial perspective of a bay with sailboats, the rooftops of large buildings and the white towers of a seaside church. In excellent condition, the painting is estimated between $1,000 to $2,000, which seems under-priced considering the earliness of the work.
Gerard, also known as Gerard Fortune (though he only signs his first name on paintings), is represented by “Rooster,” an undated paint on board work measuring 25” by 25”. This charming primitive work shows a gigantic rooster with a rope around his neck, pulling a small cart in which ride two people. Extolled by the late scholar-author Selden Rodman as being one of the best primitive artists of his generation, Gerard is a prolific artist who has yet to gain the prominence that Rodman and others like myself thought he should attain. This beautifully balanced painting shows Gerard’s control of the subject. He shades his figures by putting them in between two trees with pink trunks. Amazingly, the estimate on this painting is $200 to $400. If it went for less, the buyer would be paying a price equal to what Gerard works go for in Port-au-Prince.
Bourmond Byron, another under-valued yet famous artist, has “Homage La Sirene” in the auction. Measuring 34” by 23,” this oil on board has a scratch in the lower left corner that an art conservationist could probably restore without difficulty. Byron pictures the mermaid in control of people who have anything to do with the sea in a small lake, with people standing on shore around her. It’s a serene masterpiece with an estimate of between $500 and $800.
If you like the paintings of Jasmin Joseph, who anthropomorphizes animals in his paintings, you may be the candidate to bid on Pierre Augustin’s “Rabbits Reading Little Red Book.” Estimated to have been painted in the 1960s, this sweet painting in oil on masonite measures almost 24 inches by almost 26 inches. The rabbits are perched on a rock in the forest for their reading session.
My personal favorite is an untitled painting with religious and voodoo icons by Gerard Paul, the under-sung painter who left Haiti many years ago to work as a hospital orderly in New York. What became of him I don’t know, which is why it’s a treat to see his paintings pop up now and then at auction. Measuring 44 inches by 34 inches including the frame, this superior work pictures Ogou Feraille or Saint Jacques le Majeur also known as the conquering hero on his white horse, the Virgin Mary holding a cross, and other Erzulie Danthor, the dark-skinned Virgin Mary holding her baby. Strong primary colors distinguish this painting, estimated at between $1,000 and $1,500.
Other painters featured in this auction are Leonel, Fernand Pierre, Charles Obas, Edouard Jean, Thermofils, and Louverture Poisson. Even if you don’t bid, the catalog is a keeper.
In the field of metal sculpture, look for Brierre’s “Lady Swan,” measuring 36 inches by 70 inches and estimated between $500 and $800. The unusual subject matter and burnished copper metal material make “Hog and Snake” by Liphete Lajeunesse worthy of consideration. It measures 71 inches by 34 inches. The estimate is between $500 and $800. The sassy fat pig holds its own as the snake hisses at its face.
Vodou flags, five total, are also included in the auction. None are identified by artist, but collectors like myself can figure out who did at least two. “Erzulie Dantor — Heart with Knife Through It,” measuring 30 inches by 30 inches, bears the intials S.J., which stands for Sylva Joseph. The estimate is between $200 and $400. “Small Dambala,” measuring 17 inches by 20,” features two green snakes of Dambala and his consort Ayida Wedo, against a pink background. The Estimate is between $100 and $300. “Man with Peace Doves and Large Knife,” measuring 35 inches by 30 inches, stylistically looks like the work of Georges Valris. The estimate is between $300 and $500.
Full-color, descriptive auction catalogs are free to anyone who calls 1-770-532-1115. Shipping costs are extra and spelled out exactly next to the artwork’s description. Absentee and telephone bids are accepted, which is how I became the winning bidder on an outstanding iron cross with heart designs by Georges Liautaud more than a year ago. I paid a little more than I wanted but I got an outstanding piece at a more than fair price.
–Candice Russell
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