“What they paint seems to affect their reality and somehow improve it,” said Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School senior Max Reynolds. “It’s almost as if the artists are closing their minds and opening them at the same time to create a brilliant interpretation of their existence.”
Max was reflecting on his experience as a Student Ambassador for Myke Joseph Surpris and David Thebaud, Haitian artists and founders of the ELT Art School in Haiti. Students in RFH French and Art classes were treated to an open dialogue and a close-up look at the work of the artists and their students on October 2 and 3.
RFH French teacher Christine Berg, who was instrumental in arranging the visit, made a connection with the artists and the ELT School — which they founded in 2002 — through the Haitian People’s Support Project in 2009.
Surpris and Thebaud —who is well-known in Haiti as the artist “Tebo” — spent two full days at RFH. Max Reynolds and fellow French student Madeline de Quillacq, a sophomore, acted as Student Ambassadors/Translators for the French- and Creole-speaking artists’ visits to Art classes.
After school ended on October 3, Canvas Studio Art on River Road in Rumson hosted a reception for Surpris and Theobaud. The event, open to the community, featured 50 pieces created by the artists and by their students aged 12 to 18.
Surpris and Theobaud expressed appreciation for the opportunity to spread the word about the beauty of Haitian culture and the importance of the ELT School, whose full name in Creole — Espwa lavi pou Timoun — translates to “Hope for Children’s Lives”.
“We want to give a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to the RFH community for its support,” said Theobaud to Kate Okeson’s Art Studio students “You are helping us to achieve our goal, which is to bring something important to the world and leave it behind for others, just as the artist Michelangelo did.”
Surpris, who speaks three languages – French, Creole, and English –is improving his English speaking skills with an eye toward someday studying anthropology in the U.S. He stressed the importance of the ELT School, which provides children with hot meals and an outlet for expression as well as hope.
“One of our most talented artists is a 12-year-old-boy who once was a thief in the streets of Port-Au-Prince,” he said.
The students in all of the classes were dazzled by the beautiful creations and impressed by the positive attitudes of both artists about the future of Haiti, which has been devastated by political upheaval and by the 7.0-magnitude earthquake of 2010.
“Many of the intellectuals have left Haiti, and right now people are either poor or wealthy with no in-between — and there are many more poor than wealthy,” said Surpris. “We are working toward democracy and building a framework, we are just not there yet.”
In Rumson, both Thebaud and Surpris achieved the goal of leaving behind something that will always be remembered.
“I learned a lot about Haitian culture and art, and what it truly represents,” said RFH senior Ginger Wardell, who found both the artists and their art to be inspirational. “Since I am taking an upper-level art class, it was nice to be able to actually talk to successful artists.”
Go here for more information about ELT School or the Haitian People’s Support Project.