From 1972 to 1976, when her husband, Harry Hughes, was a Public Affairs Officer for the American Embassy in Haiti, Mary Lou Vansant Hughes developed a deep admiration for the nations art. During their time there, the couple met and befriended many of the artists, eventually establishing a collection of nearly 100 Haitian works. Now, 40 years after they first arrived in Port-au-Prince, the Hughes, both of whom are University of Kansas alumni, have given their collection to KUs Spencer Museum of Art
It is with great pleasure that the Spencer has accepted stewardship of such a significant and beautiful collection, says Susan Earle, SMA curator of European & American art. Much first- and second-generation Haitian art was lost or damaged in the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, making the Mary Lou Vansant Hughes Collection even more significant in its breadth and scope.
The collection includes many of Haitis leading painters and sculptors, including Rigaud Benoît, Wilson Bigaud, Murat Brierre, Célestin Faustin, Jacques-Enguérrand Gourgue, Jasmin Joseph, Adam Leontus, Philomé Obin, Salnave Phillipe-Auguste, André Pierre, Ernst Prophète, Robert St. Brice, and Bernard Séjourné.
"We cannot tell you how pleased we are that the Spencer will have the collection," Harry Hughes says. "KU is our alma mater. It is where we met, and Mary Lou was a docent at the Museum for a long time, too."
"It was important to us to keep the collection together," Mary Lou Hughes says. "You can really see what was going on for a person when you look at it all together. You can see what was important then, and how it connects to now."
Works from the Hughes Collection have been previously shown in exhibitions at the Spencer (a 2007 exhibition of about 40 works); the Musée d'Art du Collège Saint Pierre in Port-au-Prince; the Brooklyn Museum; the Milwaukee Art Museum; the Ramapo College of New Jersey; Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria; the Davenport Museum of Art in Iowa; the New Orleans Museum of Art; the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Berlin; and at the City Hall in Washington D.C. A number of works have been reproduced for publication as well, including in such important texts as Ute Stebichs Haitian Art, and Seldon Rodmans Where Art is Joy, Haitian Art: the First Forty Years.
Already the collection has generated much interest on the KU campus. A work by Edith Stephane was shown this spring as part of the February Sisters-inspired exhibition Then & Now: Women Artists in the Spencer Museum of Art, and this summer, the Mary Lou Vansant Hughes Collection will be the focus of a session of the Universitys popular Mini-College program. Currently the Museum is selecting the first of several works that will go on long-term display in the Spencers galleries.