Highland Park • Pittsburgh, PA 15206 • 1-412-661-1498
|Issa and his grandson Viktor, ca.1991. photo © Bill Bollendorf 1991|
|Issa el Saieh passed away early in the morning of February 2, 2005. Undoubtedly he had an amusing wisecrack for St. Peter about arriving at the Pearly Gates on Groundhog Day. He would have been 86 years old on February 22nd.
Issa was a pioneer in the world of Haitian art; he was the first ( or second, depending on who you ask) to sell the art in a commercial space after the Centre d'Art. He first sold it in his brother's restaurant, then at La Belle Creole, a department store in downtown Port-au-Prince in the early fifties and opened his own gallery a few years later on the Rue de Quai downtown. In 1964 he moved the gallery to his home on a mountainside around the corner from the Grand Hotel Oloffson where he did business for over 40 years until he passed. In all that time he never had a sign to indicate that the place was a gallery and since he didn't pay commissions, guides and taxi drivers feigned ignorance when asked about him. But people found him. In the 60's and 70's about a dozen artists painted together in his gound floor atelier. Some of the most important names in Haitian art painted there: Andre Pierre, Gourgue, the Bottex brothers, Sisson Blanchard, Jacques Chery, Gabriel Alix, Gesner Armand, Fernand Pierre, Andre Normil, The Saul brothers, St. Louis Blaise and many more. There was a long table in the studio where the artists discussed things while eating the lunch that Issa provided.
He was a complex character, a bundle of contradictions: He was exceedingly kindhearted, gracious and generous but could also be curmudgeonly at times, especially when discussing competing galleries or painters that he did not happen to represent. He had a marvelous sense of humor; nothing was too sacred to jest about and nothing was more fun than hanging out at his gallery interacting with him and the interesting characters who were drawn there to listen to his wonderful stories and drink the hot sweet coffee that his cook Josie would serve. Haiti has lost a major icon, a treasure. Godspeed, Maestro.
In a bittersweet coincidence, it happens that Issa's lifelong friend, Michelange Voltaire, had passed away 3 days earlier so it was fitting that they had a joint funeral and journeyed to the afterlife together.