Haitian Art Conference in Waterloo (yes, Waterloo), Iowa

Treasure trove
By MELODY PARKER, Courier Arts / Special Sections Editor

WATERLOO — One might expect the largest public collection of Haitian art in the United States would be tucked away in an art center in New York, Chicago or other big American city.

Not in Iowa.

For the past 30 years, the Waterloo Center for the Arts has had that distinction, housing colorful paintings, metal sculptures, beaded and sequined banners and other art work that celebrates Haitian culture.

“The collection is known throughout the world as being one of the most significant collections, but it doesn’t get the recognition locally and statewide as it does elsewhere,” says Cammie Scully.

That may change when about 100 scholars, collectors, artists, gallery owners and other members of the Haitian Art Society gather for the Haitian Art Conference, Sept. 26-28, at the WCA/Phelps Youth Pavilion. There will be exhibitions, performances, a symposium, dinner and bus tour to visit other regional collections. The conference is open to the public. Registration fee is $65 per person and $25 for Haitian Art Society members. The Caribbean dinner banquet is $35 per person. Registration is due Friday.

Participants will explore Haitian and other Afro-Caribbean art from its African roots to current trends.

The event also marks the 30th anniversary of collecting, presenting and interpreting Haitian art. A building-wide exhibition will feature the collection, and beyond the center’s walls, exhibitions are traveling to the University of Iowa Gallery of Art in Iowa City, and Lowe Park Art Center in Marion.

“We want to serve multiple audiences, not just the Haitian Art Society. We want to explore different disciplines and aspects of Haitian art culture and to make those collections accessible. It’s frustrating to know how much wonderful art we have stored in the basement that we can’t share with visitors on a daily basis. This is an opportunity for the public to see things that don’t see the light of day as much as we’d like,” explains Curator Kent Shankle.

The center also will unveil an important new piece at the conference.

Scully and Shankle are co-chairing the Haitian Art Society, an organization they joined about five years ago. Contacts made through members and donors have helped the WCA Haitian collection nearly triple within that time. Scully said she met Janet Feldman, who recently contributed 500 pieces to the collection, “during a society conference, sitting on a bus with a gallerist from Pittsburgh who thought I’d be interested in talking with her. It was an amazing donation.”

Dr. and Mrs. F. Harold Reuling began the collection three decades ago in 1977 with their gift, which has been built through donor’s gifts. Ute Stebich, author of “Haitian Art,” helped interpret the artwork and is now helping build the center’s Mexican folk art collection.

“One of the reasons the Reulings donated their collection was to build a bridge between the art center and the African American community, and it has done that over the years through symposiums, seminars and exhibits. Ute has been a friend and mentor in every sense,” Scully said. The new Permanent Collection gallery has been named the Reuling-Feldman Gallery.

Shankle describes the center’s Haitian collection as a “treasure trove” of art in the Midwest, and to that end, conference plans have been ambitious. “Typically a conference doens’t include as many scholarly presentations but we felt the educational opprtunities were important for patrons who may love Haitian art but don’t have a background in it.”

In the new Phelps Youth Pavilion, a portion of the Junior Art Gallery interprets the collection through a child’s eye with a moving tap-tap taxi, kettle drum and other interactive elements.

Contact Melody Parker at 291-1429 or melody.parker@wcfcourier.com.