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Couple donates Haitian art collection to Goshen College

posted Oct 10, 2019, 7:43 AM by Matt Dunn   [ updated Oct 10, 2019, 7:48 AM ]

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in The Record, Goshen College’s campus newspaper by KRISTIN JANTZEN and GABE MILLER

GOSHEN — On The Leaf Raker Cafe’s opening day, Arlin Hunsberger was the first person to order breakfast. He ate a breakfast sandwich.

Hunsberger dined Sept. 2 with his two grandchildren next to the newly opened gallery built to house the art collection that he and his wife, Naomi, donated to Goshen College.

The collection includes more than 90 works of Haitian art, spanning 55 years of Haitian culture. The pieces will rotate through the gallery in the school’s Hunsberger Commons.

The Hunsbergers took interest in Haitain art during their first visit to the island for development work with the Mennonite Central Committee in 1962. Their offices would close around 2 p.m. each day, Hunsberger said, so the young couple needed a place to spend their afternoons.

“We’d go visit the galleries,” Arlin said.

The galleries employed painters by supplying the artists with materials and selling their work for a commission, he explained. Most of the artists produced naïve art, work created by a person who lacks formal arts education and training.

The couple gathered the bulk of their collection from these galleries, Arlin said. They would visit galleries multiple times before purchasing a piece, sometimes even bringing it home for a trial run first. Occasionally, an artist would appear on their doorstep with a painting for sale.

The Hunsbergers wanted the art displayed in a permanent gallery with public access, so everyone can enjoy the art as they have.

“Living with art is different than seeing it in passing on a screen or in a book. Seeing the art repeatedly in person changes what we notice, what we appreciate and what we learn from the artwork,” said Randy Horst, a Goshen College art professor.

The Hunsbergers first reached out to the college about donating their art in 2014, but no suitable gallery existed at the time, Goshen College President Rebecca Stoltzfus said. Stoltzfus worked with Jim Caskey, then-vice president of institutional advancement, and others to design the school’s new union commons as a space that could feature the Hunsbergers’ art in a permanent, public way.I

The Hunsbergers were enthusiastic about the idea, so “they gave the anchor gift of $500,000, which helped inspire other giving, so that we could commit to the project and move it forward,” Stoltzfus said.

The president announced the project to all employees in February 2018, but they still needed funds. Soon after, AVI Fresh became a partner in the renovation with their own contribution of $500,000, Stoltzfus said. The new Leaf Raker Cafe now has a spacious kitchen, and patrons can enjoy their food in the art gallery.

“Being surrounded by that art brings back so many memories,” said Stoltzfus, who went on Study Service Term (SST) to Haiti in 1983. She enjoys the color and imagination of the collection, which captures the “vibrancy and vitality of that beautiful island.”

“Having the Hunsberger Art Collection on our campus is a wonderful resource and a window into the lives of Haitians and Haitian artists,” Horst said.

Joy Hess, alumna of the Class of ‘61, was struck by a piece called “A Haitian Clinic,” she said. The painting, and the collection of art together trigger memories of her past work as a nurse.

“You can sit and imagine,” Hess said. “You can look at this and remember.”

If You Go

WHAT: Hunsberger Haitian Art Collection
WHERE: Hunsberger Commons, Goshen College, 1700 S. Main St., Goshen
WHEN: 6 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday to Friday, 6 a.m.-6 p.m. on weekends.
COST: Free

Noah's Sacrificial Ceremony by Andre Normil

For more information on the Hunsberger Haitian Art Collection, visit goshen.edu.

Matt Dunn,
Oct 10, 2019, 7:43 AM