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Queens’ Haitian artists raise money for homeland

Standing in a Whitestone home before the paintings he did following a major eye operation, Haitian impressionist painter Eric Girault is much like his home country: damaged, but brilliant and eternally optimistic.

“I only have about 25 percent of my vision left, but I still paint a lot,” said Girault, 72, who suffers from glaucoma. “I cannot imagine life without painting. I used to paint a lot of still lifes, but after my operation I concentrate on expressing human faces. It’s a way to celebrate God’s creation, celebrate life.”

Girault was one of more than 25 Haitian artists to sell their work at a fund-raiser held at fellow Haitian artist Patricia Brintle’s Whitestone home Saturday. The proceeds went toward Brintle’s nonprofit, From Here to Haiti, which is working to restore a 100-year-old church, Marie Reine Immaculee in Les Abricots, that was damaged in the Jan. 12 earthquake. The quake killed about 300,000 people and left more than a million homeless.

Despite this atrocity, Girault, whose works were included in the collections of Aristotle Onassis and Nelson Rockefeller, said Haitians continue to have hope for the future.

“They need everything, and there’s nothing left,” Girault said. “This is something terrible, but Haitians are very strong people. Very, very strong people.”

A number of city artists also contributed paintings for the impromptu art gallery, which included pieces provided by MedaliaArt, an online gallery for art from the Caribbean and Latin America. Paintings sold for a wide range of prices, from a couple hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, and many of the artists donated 100 percent of the sale to Brintle’s nonprofit.

The paintings were by such artists as Frantz Zepherin, whom MedaliaArt co-owner Ruth Kahn called one of the “most up-and-coming Haitian artists today”; Evelyn Lebrun, who now lives in Jamaica Estates; Claude Dambreville, Lesly Cetout, R. Jean Baptiste, Michael Brudent, Samuel Augustin, Leslie Chassagne, Richard Claude, Francois Cauvin and Joel Gauthier; and Brintle.

Brintle, who moved from Haiti to Jackson Heights in 1964 when she was 17, said she hopes to bring a group of volunteers to Haiti in January, when they could use the money she has raised to work on the church that attracts at least 500 parishioners every Sunday. The earthquake in January caused deep cracks in the support columns and the roof is leaking, making it impossible for the congregation to gather when it rains.

“We need to buy materials to do repairs, and we’re trying to get volunteers to go over there to effect the repairs,” Brintle said. “We’re hoping a construction company out there would want to help. It’s about $500 to travel there, you stay a week, do repairs, and if it’s a big construction company, that could be their tax write-off. Most importantly, they’ve helped someone in Haiti.”

Lebrun, who moved from Haiti to the United States in 1965, said she was thrilled to participate in an event that raised money for her home country. Like Girault, she noted the strength of the Haitian people in the face of great challenges.

“My painting is of a mother with a child, and I named it ‘Hope’ because she’s looking forward to a better life for her child,” Lebrun said. “Most Haitian mothers have hope their child will have a better life than they will.”

For more information about From Here to Haiti, contact Brintle at 646-209-3891.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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