A Little Bit Of Haiti In Chicago
Special museum highlights the cultural contributions of Haitians
Ernst Guerrier is co-founder of the Haitian American Museum of Chicago, which opened officially in November to educate visitors about Haiti's culture. The museum's current exhibit includes a variety of Guerrier's paintings and sculptures.
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WHEN Ernst (not Ernest) Guerrier came from Pétionville, Haiti, to the United States in 1969, he brought with him a special gift that, amazingly, he didn’t discover until 36 years later.
While being treated for a serious illness in 2005 at a Chicago hospital, Guerrier noticed a copy of a Monet painting on the wall and asked a nurse to give him a pencil and some paper to draw the image that had gotten his attention. It was then that he realized he had an unexpected talent that, over the years, has allowed him to create a varied collection of colorful paintings and intricate sculptures. “I have been given a huge gift from God. I never went to school for formal training; the ideas come and I work on instinct,” he says. “When a vision comes in front of me, I act on it right away. The path is already there. What I paint is not necessarily from my sight. There are so many things in our surroundings that we don’t see, so I use my ‘sixth sense’ to go further.”
Going further has included the creation of the Haitian American Museum of Chicago at 4654 N. Racine, where Guerrier is co-founder, curator and the artist whose work is on display as part of the museum’s inaugural exhibit. He and co-founder Elsie Hernandez (who left Haiti as a child) officially opened the museum on November 17, but––since June––visitors have been frequenting what is believed to be the Midwest’s first and only museum that focuses specifically on Haitian culture. The founders’ commitment is to highlighting and preserving Haiti’s culture and heritage by providing a place where individuals can come to enjoy Haitian art and other parts of the culture. In addition to the paintings, there are artifacts, musical instruments and other elements that reflect Haiti’s history, including a special section that focuses on such legendary Haitian figures as Toussaint L'Ouverture, Henri Christophe, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Alexandre Pétion and Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable. Already there is the thought of expanding the collection, plus there’s the hope of eventually offering visitors other forms of Haitian culture, including classes to teach creole.
Guerrier, who studied accounting and previously worked as a draftsman, says he has a deep love and respect for Mother Nature, and that level of affection is represented in his art work, which features various landscapes that are awash with vibrant colors. “I created all of these pieces, over 100 of them, in one year,” says Guerrier, who is inspired by the works of Monet and Van Gogh. “These paintings are a reflection of me. My work is alive because nature is so alive.”
Guerrier, who describes his art as "universal" because much of it focuses on nature, uses bright colors in such paintings as A Tropical Picnic (above) and The Tree Of Life (below), one of his first artistic efforts.
Admission is free to the Haitian American Museum of Chicago, located at 4654 N. Racine. It’s open from noon to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Entry is by appointment on weekends. Call 773/213-1869. www.hamoc.org