I believe it was in the spring of 1996 that I first met artist Tina Girouard in person. Some months prior to that I had bought her small book entitled The Sequin Artists of Haiti from a gallery in New York’s Soho. I was just beginning to sell Mexican “folk” art with the notion of opening a small gallery. I had purchased a couple of sequined Haitian Vodou flags in Miami and learned a bit about them then. But upon reading Tina’s book I became absolutely smitten.
I managed to get her phone number in New Orleans from Michael Swindle of the Contemporary Arts Center. Tina wasn’t very welcoming when I called hoping to arrange a visit. I learned later that she wasn’t well and was scheduled for surgery. But I kept calling from time to time and finally, apparently convinced I was sincere and recovered from her surgery, Tina extended an invitation to visit. I remember staying at the Mazant, a really cool boarding house, in the Bywater neighborhood where she lived.
We met for dinner and set a time for the next afternoon to go over her collection. I remember she was disappointed that her good friend Dr. Jacques Bartoli from Port-au-Prince had left town because she really wanted me to meet him.
I couldn’t believe the stacks of flags she had. Not only flags but sequined bottles and most intriguing assembled sculptures of Vodou spirits made of old dolls, fabric and general detritus by an artist named Pierrot Barra. I did buy a number of flags and Tina generously “consigned” some along with a couple of small Barra pieces. I flew home with my treasures knowing something big was happening to me.
I had planned an exhibit of Haitian sequin art with photographs shot in Haiti by photojournalist Michelle Frankfurter at my local library for August, but my father had died in July and I needed to help with my mother. I rescheduled for the following February 1997. Tina and I kept up an occasional communication that winter.
At some point she called to tell me that I had to come to Haiti for Carnival. It was going to be the biggest Carnival since the end of the military dictatorship in 1991. Her friend Jane Crawford was coming and we could stay at the Hotel Oloffson, not far from where she was staying with her friend Jacques Bartoli in Pacot, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. I couldn’t resist that opportunity. I managed to hang my exhibit at the library right before I left.
Noel came with me for the first few days and we managed to make our way to Jacmel and back. We even visited Pierrot Barra at his booth at Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. Noel left and Jane became my roommate at the Oloffson.
With significant help from Jacques, Tina had planned a full agenda — an excursion to Croix-des-Bouquets to see the steel drum artists like Serge Jolimeau and Gabriel Bien-Aime, visits to the workshops of several flag makers like Georges Valris (conveniently located in one of Jacques’ apartments), Yves Telemac, Edgar Jean Louis, Eviland Lalanne. We even paid a visit to the painter Andre Pierre bringing him the obligatory bottle of 5-star Barbancourt Rhum.
Between Tina and now my new friend Jacques I had been about as immersed in Haiti and its arts as one could be in two weeks. I can never thank her enough.
Tina and I stayed in touch over the years. We’d link up at Jacques’ from time to time. I helped her with presentations on the Vodou flags in New Orleans and Waterloo, Iowa, when the Haitian Art Society called on her expertise. I met some of the most amazing people through her. She stayed with Noel and me twice in Chicago when she was honored for her ground-breaking performance work from the 1970’s.
The last time I saw her was in 2013 when the Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago put on an exhibit of the 112 Greene Street Years in New York City featuring Tina’s work and that of Gordon Matta-Clark and Suzanne Harris. I think we spoke on the phone and exchanged some emails after that. A few times she actually thought I was Laurie Anderson calling, not Laurie Beasley. That was flattering. She enriched my life immeasurably and she educated a lot of people about Haiti, its culture and its amazing artists.
Mesi ampil, che zamni