Waterloo art center to host Haitian art conference

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A report by Melody Parker for The Courier.

The Waterloo Center for the Arts is hosting the annual Haitian Art Society, Sept. 23-28, featuring special presentations, exhibitions, gallery talks and tours of museums and private collections in Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Dubuque, Milwaukee, Chicago and Davenport.

Waterloo is far from the island nation of Haiti, but it is the repository of the world’s largest and most significant public collection of Haitian art.

“There’s no more concise way of saying it than that,” said Chawne Paige, WCA curator. “As stewards of this prestigious collection, it’s important to celebrate and show how we’re interpreting the works and playing respect to the artists and work.”

The collection includes colorful paintings by Haitian masters, metal sculptures, beaded and sequined banners and other artwork from Haitian culture. Rather than hang an art-salon style show “which isn’t that effective in telling their story,” Paige has coordinated a number of curated shows and private collections.

WCA last hosted the society’s conference in 2008. “In those nine years, we have drastically changed the scale and scope of our collection. It has grown by leaps and bounds. We’ve made multiple trips to Haiti to bring back new pieces for the collection,” Paige explained. Also, some of the artists have died and pieces in the collection represent some of their last works.

More than 100 scholars, collectors, artists, gallery owners, enthusiasts and the public are expected to attend. Participants are coming from throughout the United States, Europe and the Caribbean.

The annual conference begins Sept. 23 at the WCA with an official welcome, followed by presentations on the current state of the WCA Haitian Collection and programming and a collectors panel discussion. Lunch will take place at WCA’s Laughing Tree Café.

Pascale Monnin will present “A Look at Gerard Fortune.” A noted artist herself, Monnin has recently published a book on Fortune, and the WCA has a large collection of Fortune’s work. There will be a tour of the WCA’s vault, and an opening reception for an exhibition of Monnin’s work, “The Birth of the Hummingbird and Other Marvels.” She will give a gallery talk, as well.

On Sept. 24, participants will visit the WCA Galleries for a presentation, “Tourists Turned Connoisseurs: Collection Histories of Haitian Art in the United States” by Peter Haffner, Ph.D., and “Contemporary Young Haitian Artists from Chicago: Alexandra Antoine, Jean Yves Hector and Sabrina Greig.”

WCA also will exhibit “Ted Frankel’s Over-stuffed Suitcases of Flags from Haiti, “Gérard Fortune: Selections from the Haitian Collection,” “Works from the Saint-Soleil School,” metal selections from the Haitian collection and more.

After lunch at the Laughing Tree Café, Alfredo Rivera, an associate professor at Grinnell College and Edouard Duval Carrie will make presentations. In the evening, former WCA director Cammie Scully will host the group at her home to view her collection of Haitian art.

On Sept. 25, the University of Northern Iowa Gallery of Art will be the focus. Darrell Taylor, UNI Gallery director, and WCA curator Paige will present “Objects of Power from the WCA Haitian Collection.”

“VEVE Spiritual Symbols of Haiti featuring Haitian flags from the WCA collection will be featured in an exhibit at the UNI Museum at the Rod Library. The day will include a tour of Bob Coyle’s collection and Paco Rosic’s studio in Waterloo.

On Sept. 26, the group will travel by bus to Dubuque and Milwaukee, including an exhibition tour at Gallery C in downtown Dubuque and a visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Haitian collection.

In Chicago on Sept. 27, visits are planned to the Haitian American Museum of Chicago, the Intuit Gallery, the DuSable Museum of African American History and several private collections.

On Sept. 28, the group travels to Davenport’s Figge Art Museum before heading back to Waterloo.

The public can register to attend sessions in the Cedar Valley, as well as for the road trip, Paige says. Registration is due Sept. 15. For more conference details, fees and registration information, visit www.haitianartsociety.org.

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