Molière and Mahogany

July 4, 2010

by Paul and Joegodson

Back in 1995, when they were twelve years old, Joegodson and Molière attended the school Le Progrès in the Cité Lumière neighbourhood of Cité Soleil. Molière lived nearby. His single mother supported the family as a street merchant, selling produce that, like her, came from Plaisance in the Haitian countryside. Whenever he could, Molière would appropriate some kongo beans in the morning and prepare a nutritious meal. At recess, he would invite Joegodson to his house and offer him food, knowing that, otherwise, his friend would not eat.

Molière holds up for Joegodson the sketch of the carving that the artist will sculpt in a few minutes time.

Molière was enchanted by the woodcarvings of a local artisan. As is the case throughout the poor districts of Port-au-Prince, the artisans worked in the open, in part because of the oppressive heat and also because of the lack of infrastructure. Molière often stopped to watch the sculptor carve life out of simple blocks of wood.

Molière is timid. But one day he asked the craftsman if he would show him how to sculpt in wood. The man said no. Another day, Molière asked the same artisan the same question and received the same answer. And so it continued for some time.

One day, the artisan agreed. Molière began his apprenticeship as a woodcarver. He was thirteen years old.

In 1998, Cité Lumière prepared to celebrate the birthday of the popular parish priest, Père Volèm. The children were encouraged to present him with presents. Molière decided to sculpt the priest’s name in mahogany so that it could stand upright on a desk. So impressed was the priest by the creation that he asked to meet with the artist. Molière was aflutter at the prospect of so much attention from a community leader. The priest told him that he showed great talent. He offered to pay so that Molière could learn a vocation.

“What would you like to learn?” the priest asked.

Molière was thunderstruck. His head was overwhelmed by a list of vocations considered acceptable for the boys of Cité Soleil.

“Plumber,” he said.

And so Molière entered the vocational school Saint Trinité where he learned the plumbing trade. After three years of hard work, he earned his license. He was a plumber. However, Port-au-Prince had few opportunities for plumbers. Those who worked were well connected within a small network that controlled the jobs. Moreover, Molière was the antithesis of a Haitian plumber. He is fey, with a powerful imagination and a slight build. Haitian plumbers cut quite a different figure.

While he was studying the plumbing trade and coming to understand who he was and how he fit into the world of Port-au-Prince, he talked to Joegodson about his response to Père Volèm who had offered him the tuition for a vocation: “Why did I say plumber? I don’t want to be a plumber.”

In fact, throughout his vocational training, he obsessed over his artistic creations. He continued to sculpt wood into beautiful and imaginative shapes.

The priest had offered Molière a vocational scholarship on the basis of his obvious passion for sculpture. Molière was too timid to admit that sculpture was his passion and that art was all he wanted. It didn’t seem to be an acceptable answer and so he didn’t dare to offer it. In common with people everywhere, Molière’s reflex was to answer according to what he thought people wanted to hear.

A few minutes later, and before the finishing touches and varnish, Molière shows his creation: the word Haiti snuggled between the shape of that country and a palm tree.

Since, he has learned to listen to himself. As a result, he knows himself much better. He has no formal training in the arts and yet a local merchant has spotted his unmistakable talent. He provides the tools that Molière can’t afford. In exchange, he gives Molière a token sum for each of his creations that the merchant markets to tourists.

Molière can sculpt anything out of mahogany. He wants to join the fair exchange enterprise that the two authors are establishing in order to market to North America. He wants to offer his own creations and to accept the challenges posed by potential clients: sculpting their names or suggested scenes. His goal is to own his own tools and to control, as far as is possible in this world, his own life.

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