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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

La Sirene (The Mermaid) Chair

Mermaids have appeared in the legends and folklore of various cultures around the world and throughout time: especially among seafaring peoples.  The Egyptians and Greeks, Chinese, Western Europeans, and West Africans all have tales of this half–woman, half–fish mythical creature.  Protective yet dangerous, mermaids are depicted as beauties with long flowing hair capable of creating great storms to wreck ships or warning sailors of forthcoming disaster.

Historically, these mysterious creatures “have been subjects of art and literature.” In Haitian culture, mermaids are known as La Sirene and are also subjects in the work of artists and craftsmen.

The mermaid chair pictured above was carved by contemporary Haitian-American furniture-maker, Mecene Jacques.  It was included in the traveling exhibition America’s Smithsonian:  Celebrating 150 Years in 1996 and in Buried Treasures: Art of African American Museums at the DuSable Museum of African American History in 2013.  The chair is part of the Anacostia Community Museum permanent collection and was first exhibited in Black Mosaic: Community, Race, and Ethnicity among Black Immigrants in Washington, DC.

Mecene Jacques working in his studio (top) and the unfinished mermaid chair (bottom).  Anacostia Communit Museum Archives, Black Mosaic exhibition records,Smithsonian Institution. Photographs by Harold Dorwin.

Mecene Jacques immigrated to the United States during the economic and political turmoil that embroiled Haiti in the 1990s.  Like many other Haitian immigrants, Jacques brought to this country not only his craft and skills, but also a creative vision fueled by the folklore and vibrant cultural traditions of Haiti.

Jennifer Morris
Anacostia Community Museum Archives

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