Dianne Coyle has a mission, and she’s carrying it out by using art: To inform people that “Haiti is people, and people have faces.”
An exhibit of Coyle’s work at Clare Gallery in Hartford, “Faces of Haiti,” is 20 oil-on-board paintings of Haitians enduring hardship after the 2010 earthquake. It will be up until mid-October.
“I want to help people understand what people have experienced, the size of the catastrophe,” said Coyle, of Madison.
Coyle started her project by contacting Kyn Tolson, the programs administrator for Outreach to Haiti, a humanitarian relief organization under the auspices of the Catholic Archdiocese of Norwich. Tolson has been travling to Haiti for her job since the mid-90s. After the quake, which occurred on Jan. 12, 2010 and killed about 300,000 people, she flew down and took hundreds of photos of collapsed buildings, tent cities, temporary hospitals, makeshift school buildings, rubble and the people who lived among the wreckage.
“People were at best dazed, confused and shocked. ... But Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The earthquake was nature dealing a catastrophe to man, but mankind, had certainly already dealt Haiti catastrophe upon catastrophe before that,” Tolson said. “All the foundations were laid by the misery that existed and the terrible construction. ... When you’re living on the edge to begin with, there is not really any margin for error.”
Coyle met Tolson through a mutual friend and Tolson agreed to let her paint some of her photos. Out of 1,500 photos, Coyle chose 20 that showed people against destroyed backgrounds.
When Coyle was half-done with her project, she arranged for the exhibit at Clare Gallery, a gallery focusing on spiritual and social-justice themes located in St. Patrick-St. Anthony Church in Hartford. St. Patrick-St. Anthony has a sister parish, St. Genevieve, in Zoranje, Haiti.
The Haitians in the paintings are babies, children, teens, young adults and elderly men and women. Coyle knows the names of only one: Madam Samson, an old woman legendary in her neighborhood for her generosity.
For the others, Coyle chose titles for her paintings, reflecting their lives or personalities. “Holding the Future” shows a father and his baby standing near a hastily built dwelling. “This Won’s Hurt” shows a child amputee getting an injection. “Daydreamer” is a little boy playing on top of a rusted, broken refrigerator. “Lady Dignity” is an undernourished elderly woman with a regal air. “Rascal” shows an older man in a shirt that doesn’t fit him, tied on with a strip of cloth, and pants held up by a rope belt.
“After the Fire,” showing a Haitian fireman, doesn’t look as dire, until one sees the caption about the fires he just doused: “They put out fires in expanses of concrete rubble, often piled tens of feet high. Most of these fires were intentionally started by people to burn the remains of loved ones and friends whose bodies were trapped in the ruins.”
Coyle and her late husband, Ray Coyle, ran the Ray Coyle Gallery in Madison, before retiring 10 years ago. Her entire career she helped other artists become known. She didn’t start painting until late in life.
“My husband gave me an easel for Christmas,” she said. “I said why did you give me that? I don’t know how to paint. He said ‘yes, you do’.”
“FACES OF HAITI: PAINTINGS BY DIANNE. G. COYLE” will be at the Clare Gallery at Franciscan Center for Urban Ministry, St. Patrick St. Anthony Church, 285 Church St. in Hartford, until Thursday, Oct. 17. Six of the works are in the conference room behind the gallery. A 10th anniversary celebration for the Clare Gallery will be held Thursday, Oct. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. Regular gallery hours are Monday to Thursday 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 9 to 11:30 a.m. Details: http://www.spsact.org.