The Hewitt Haitian Art Collection, one of the largest of the special collections housed at African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, contains a wealth of items, many of them highly valued for their artistic merit and rarity.
John and Vivian Hewitt were newlyweds when they bought their first piece of art, a Picasso reproduction; in 1960, they purchased their first original painting purchased while on vacation in Haiti, and added to it, one painting at a time, over the years, commemorating special occasions in their lives with art.
"It was of three Haitian women, and it was by Lucner Lazard," Vivian explained in a 2002 interview. "Our son was with us when we bought it, so he will inherit that one."
While the Hewitts' budget was limited, their love for art and adventure was not; as their life together took them on travels throughout the world, they commemorated each vacation and memorable moment in their life with original art.
Art critics recognize the Hewitt Haitian Art Collection has one of the nation's most significant collections of Haitian art, with an emphasis on the Caribbean-infused art of Haiti.
"Our collection…until 1960, it would be called eclectic," Vivian stated. "John decided we should be more focused. For 15 years, we focused on Haitian art. (Later) my husband said, 'We know most of these African-American artists. We had better back up and collect some from our own culture, while we can afford them.'"
Over the years, the collection grew as the Hewitts' purchased more and more art from African-American artists, many of whom were the couple's friends. The Hewitts also had relatives in the art community, most notably John's sister, Adelle Glasco, who was the proprietor of a Harlem art gallery in the late 1950s and early 1960s. ("We met a lot of artists through her," explains Vivian.) Vivian's cousin, J. Eugene Grigsby, is an artist and internationally acclaimed art educator who also introduced the couple to numerous artists, many of whom wrote personal inscriptions or notes on the pieces the couple purchased, increasing their value both monetarily and sentimentally.
The collection comprises numerous works of art, most of them paintings, in oil, watercolor or mixed medium and collage. The Hewitt Haitian Art Collection is available for viewing by the public; contact the Special Collections Office at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center at 954-357-6217 schedule an appointment.