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"We had 12,000 to 15,000 paintings here," says Georges Nader Jr., with a Paul Tanis work at the remains of his family's house and museum near Port-au-Prince. (Alison Wright)

In Haiti, the Art of Resilience

Within weeks of January's devastating earthquake, Haiti's surviving painters and sculptors were taking solace from their work

Though tourism waned, the galleries that sponsored Haitian painters and sculptors targeted sales to overseas collectors and the increasing numbers of journalists, development workers, special envoys, physicians, U.N. peacekeepers and others who found themselves in the country.

“Haitians are not a brooding people,” said gallery owner Toni Monnin, a Texan who moved to Haiti in the boom-time ’70s and married a local art dealer. “Their attitude is: ‘Let’s get on with it! Tomorrow is another day.’”

At the Gingerbread gallery in Pétionville, I was introduced to a 70-year-old sculptor who wore an expression of utter despondence. “I have no home. I have no income. And there are days when me and my family don’t eat,” Nacius Joseph told me. Looking for financial support, or at least a few words of encouragement, he was visiting the galleries that had bought and sold his work over the years.

Joseph told gallery owner Axelle Liautaud that his days as a woodcarver, creating figures such as La Sirene, the voodoo queen of the ocean, were over. “All my tools are broken,” he said. “I can’t work. All of my apprentices, the people who helped me, have left Port-au-Prince, gone to the provinces. I’m very discouraged. I have lost everything!”

“But don’t you love what you’re doing?” Liautaud asked.

Joseph nodded.

“Then you have to find a way to do it. This is a situation where you have to have some drive because everyone has problems.”

Joseph nodded again, but looked to be near tears.

Though the gallery owners were themselves hurting, many were handing out money and art supplies to keep the artists employed.

At her gallery a few blocks away, Monnin told me that in the days following the quake she distributed $14,000 to more than 40 artists. “Right after the earthquake, they simply needed money to buy food,” she said. “You know, 90 percent of the artists I work with lost their homes.”

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