Haitian Project 2013
Haitian Vodou Bottles, Flags and Vévé”
September 20, 2013 through January 5, 2014
Location: Museum of American Glass
This exhibition is one of a series of major presentations of Vodou arts at arts and cultural institutions around the world that aim to overcome the misconceptions and misinterpretations of the Haitian arts and culture and to inspire understanding and appreciation of Haitian creativity and artistic expressions.
Vodou arts reflect the memories of Ginen, the African homeland and the spiritual abode of the ancestors, thus creating a sense of cultural identity, shared aesthetics and social cohesiveness among the Haitian people. Vodou arts are integrated into the Vodou ceremonies, but the Vodou lwa (spirits) also serve as muses inspiring Haitian artists to create vivid art works that relate to universal human values and join us all in a dialogue about the meaning of the past in the present, harmony and balance, life, hope, and possible future.
Major focus of the exhibition is on the artworks of the Haitian artist Kesler Pierre. Kesler is a contemporary artist who creates the sacred bottles that adorn Vodou altars, the ceremonial rattles (ason) used in Vodou performances and the elaborate vèvè designs that derive from cosmograms traced on the floors during Vodou rituals.
Each of Kesler’s bottles is designed to incorporate the physical representation and/or the vèvè associated with the individual lwa for whom it is intended. Kesler uses paint to present a contemporary artistic vision of the traditional beaded bottles. But he also uses glitter to achieve a sparkling effect similar to that provided by the use of beads. The exhibition also includes displays of traditional beaded Vodou bottles that offer a comparison of techniques and designs. Some are created by the Haitian artist Lina Michel. Others came from the private collections of Lois Wilcken and Angus Kress Gillespie.
The displays also include several painted-on-glass sacred rattles (ason)created by Kesler Pierre. Ason (sacred rattle) and bells (klochèt) are also used in rituals. Ason is traditionally made of gourds and adorned with beads. Like to the bottles, the painted-on-glass sacred rattles (ason) present contemporary interpretations of this art form as deemed appropriate by the artist. They were created in partnership with the WheatonArts’ Glass Studio where the glass rattles (ason) were made and later painted by Kesler in preparation for this exhibition.
The vèvè designs created by Kesler are symbolic representations of individual lwa (spirits). The shape of the vèvè reflects the character of the lwa for whom it is created.
Displays of Haitian Vodou flags (drapo) complete the exhibition design thus providing a more comprehensive understanding of the Vodou ceremonies and their meaning as reflected in the art works of the Haitian flag makers. The flags in this exhibition are a valuable part of the private collection of Nancy Josephson and Ted Frankel.
Photographs of Vodou rituals made by Kesler Pierre and additional explanatory panels provide the necessary cultural context for symbolism and artistry thus contributing to the overall experience of the Haitian culture and artistic expressions.
Our Collection of Folk and Traditional Arts
The permanent collection of the Education/Folklife Center began 15 years ago with several items still regularly displayed. Among the folk art and crafts items are examples of oak strip basket weaving by Alexander Gustavis; the “Monkey Bar” – a diorama depicting a New Jersey roadhouse populated with figures made from carved peach pits that was made in the 1930s or early 40s, perhaps by a convict; a carved, limited-edition presentation piece statue of the Jersey Devil; and a quilt depicting a local landmark, the East Point Lighthouse, that was made by Merry May, a member of the center’s advisory board. The quilt is also depicted on the cover of a special publication featuring New Jersey traditional arts – “Folklife in New Jersey.”
Several cases feature ethnic traditions of communities residing in South Jersey. Early ethnic displays include a case of Native American artifacts made or donated by members of the local Lenni-Lenape community at the center’s entrance and, in the octagonal window on the entrance’s other side, a display of origami samples that represent traditional arts of the Japanese Americans who were sent to this part of South Jersey as interns during World War II to work at Seabrook Farms (home of the first frozen foods) and who later stayed on. Another early ethnic acquisition was a small collection of pysanki, the Ukrainian Easter eggs decorated with brightly painted stylized patterns.
A major source of additions to the permanent collection was the 2005 exhibition, Splinter Movements: Woodworking Traditions in Down Jersey. Several of the pieces loaned to the exhibit were later donated, including a carving of a Kankle, a type of Lithuanian zither – made and then donated by Rimgaudas Pranckevicius; a Tibetan grain holder and offerings table both donated by the artist Dholak; and a wooden bowl, made of sassafras and turned on a lathe by Sam Cristal and a wood panel by Albert Weisser.
More loan items were donated to the center at the end of the fall 2005 exhibition, Apprentice Wizardry: Mastership/Apprenticeship in Folk Arts, which exhibited a number of items made by apprentices and the masters who taught them under the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Out of that show came a piece of low-fired earthenware Jamaican pottery made by Merilen Rhoden and donated by pottery apprentice Althea Meade Hajduk; a Guatemalan weaving made by Armando Sosa; a Finnish Ryja Rug made by Elise Uiga; Chinese folk art samples such as Temari hand balls made by Wenning Wang Han and Chinese knotting by Mann-Lih Huang; Ukrainian weavings and embroidered pieces made by Eudokia Sorochaniuk and Vera Nakonechny; Philippine Baybayin Writing by Ameurfina Nazario and Japanese kime-komi dolls made by Fusaye Kazaoka.
Other additions to the permanent collection have come out of the Creative Community Connections series of biennial salutes to various local ethnic cultures that began in 2004 with Native to Neo: Mexican Folk Arts from Oaxaca. It celebrated the cultural heritage of Oaxaca, the Mexican state where most local Mexicans originally came from. A painted red ceramic now in the collection titled “Mind and Death” and depicting a skeleton posed as Rodin’s “The Thinker” sitting on a skull was made for “Native to Neo” by Demetrio Garcia Aguilar. Several ceramic skeleton figures made by Karlomagno Pedro Martinez, an Oaxacan weaving by Antonio Ruiz Gonzales and a woodcarving by Jesús Sosa Calvo were also added to the permanent case of Mexican folk arts.
The 2006 Creative Community Connections program celebrating the Italian-American community, added other items to the collection after the exhibition (Artigianato Popolare: Italian Folk Arts and Crafts) was closed. They included bobbin lace samples by Laura Friesel, majolica ceramics by Roberto Paolinelli, tatted pieces by Sister M. Assumpta Ferrara and a Sicilian marionette depicting the medieval hero Orlando. Two years later, Living Traditions Portrayed: Indian Folk Arts and Crafts exhibition produced more additions including paintings on palm leafs, embroidery pieces, Bengali katha quilt sample and a sandalwood carving of the elephant god Ganesha donated by private collectors.
A series of thematic exhibitions such as Weaving Cultural Heritage: Romanian Rugs from Oltenia, Maramures and Moldavia Regions and Understanding Others: Philippine Traditional Arts and Culture featuring the private collections of Margaret Mukherjee (Romanian Rugs), Ameurfina Nazario and Mirinisa Myers (Philippine Folk Arts) added invaluable pieces to the permanent collection due to the generous donations of the collectors.
Sometimes private collectors contribute to the permanent collection even when a certain cultural group is not currently featured by a special program. Their knowledge of the center’s mission provides them with confidence that all exhibited items would be properly displayed and adequately interpreted within the context of each cultural case. That is how we acquired valuable items featuring Mexican traditional arts from the collections of Mariann E. Schick, Esq. and Arlene Love at the end of 2009 and the dolls made by the South Jersey artist Mary Resnik and collected by Rose Goldenberg over a number of years.
Currently, there are several hundred items in the collection, which provides us with the opportunity to showcase several traditions at a time and rotate exhibits throughout the year. It is a study collection, which gives our visitors cultural orientation and better understanding of folk and traditional arts of the South Jersey communities. As the list of the folklife center’s successfully completed exhibitions grows, so too, we hope, will the size of its permanent collection.