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Hervé Méhu, founder of famed art gallery, passes away at 74


Hérve Méhu Haitian gallery
Hérve Méhu, pictured here at a younger age, came to New York in the 1970s.

Obituary from the family of Hervé Méhu.

Hervé Méhu was born on May 1, 1947 in Port-au-Prince. His paternal family was from Cape Haitian and included the ancestor Hervé referred to as the Duc de Méhu, who may have been the juge de paix Mehu, one of the secretaries of King Henry Christophe.

Hervé studied with De Witt Peters at the Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince and, after Peters’ death in 1966, worked as an assistant to Francine Murat at the Centre d’Art where he began his career selling Haitian art. Hervé and Francine Murat (1918-2010) would continue a productive international collaboration for many decades.

In 1973, Hervé opened the first Galerie Méhu on the Avenue Panaméricaine in Pétion-Ville. From the outset, he specialized, rather than in the primitivist schools of painters sought by the tourists of the 1970s, in modern painters – such as Gesner Arman, Jacques Gabriel, Ronald Mevs, Emilio (“Simil”) Similcar, Tiga, and Patrick Vilaire – and in metal work by artists such as Murat Brierre, Gabriel Bien-Aimé, and Serge Jolimeau. Early on, he developed connections for exhibitions he promoted in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., requiring trips between Port-au-Prince and New York. In 1977, he opened the Carrefour-Méhu on 17th Street with Robert Maitland to exhibit contemporary Haitian artists in New York.

It was in 1977 when Carolyn Jarvis, with a close friend, made her first trip from Boston to Haiti. Carolyn had been advised, by Auderon Bratton (art collector and dealer of the Cinque Gallery in New York who was a friend of the painter Bernard Séjourné), to meet Hervé Méhu in Pétion-Ville. Méhu, with his daughter Marielle and son Sidney, soon moved to join Carolyn in New York where their daughter Stephanie was born. Hervé’s friend, the renowned Bassa Combo musician Raymond Cajuste was a witness to Hervé and Carolyn’s marriage in 1981.

The Mehu Gallery at 21 W. 100th Street in Manhattan opened on Palm Sunday in 1983. With its pressed-tin on the ceiling and one wall, and exposed brick on the facing wall, it was a retro-chic place ahead of its time. The gallery telephone number was as exclusively unique in Manhattan: ABC-DEFG (212-222-3334).

Hervé Mehu and Carolyn Jarvis
Hervé Méhu (l) works in his gallery with his wife, Carolyn.

Hervé was a great cook, having learned Haitian culinary arts at a young age from his mother Fernande Méhu. Especially when the children were young, the Mehu Gallery was regularly closed from 3 to 5 p.m. so Hervé could pick them up from school and prepare the evening meals.

For almost 40 years, the Mehu Gallery would remain a carrefour of artists, amateurs of art, and the many colorful characters who spent time in the gallery, from the neighbors of the Upper West Side and further south, to Harlem to the north (where the Mehu family settled) and beyond, notably from the African-American and Haitian community.

The Mehu Gallery maintained its dual function selling original artwork and custom framing. Thousands of people from all walks of life had artwork, diplomas and personal photos framed with a professional attention to detail, proudly marked with the custom Mehu Gallery sticker that changed through the years to reflect the 25, 30, 35 years of the gallery.

Artwork exhibited in the gallery alternated between solo and collective exhibitions. The Mehu Gallery hosted memorable parties, not only for exhibition openings, but also when shows would close. Among the artists whose careers Hervé was proud to have launched were Francks François Décéus, Eddie Martelly, Jean-Moïse Gay, and Gérard (“Patat”) Lafontant. Not limited to African-American and Haitian artists, numerous other artists were featured in solo and collective exhibitions in the Mehu Gallery over the decades.

Presiding from his personal space at the back of the gallery, Hervé was the heart and soul of his space. It was a meeting place to stop by for a chat, a drink, and to share news. In the early years, prior to the gentrification of the Upper West Side, there remained a large Haitian community in the neighborhood; many would regularly gather at the Mehu Gallery on Saturday evenings, for example, to listen to “Eddy Publicité” on the radio during the twilight years of the Duvalier dictatorship. Poets, artists, intellectuals, street people, neighbors… the Mehu Gallery was a warm and welcoming space to share news with an extended community.

Herve Mehu was preceded in death by his beloved wife Carolyn. He is survived by his three children Marielle Mehu-Arnao, Sidney Mehu and Stephanie Mehu, granddaughter Ashley Arnao, son-in-law Vincente Arnao and daughter-in-law Sachiko Nagazato-Mehu, all of New York; his brother Gary Mehu (and his wife Marilyn) of Chicago; his brother Rudy Méhu (and his wife Ronine) of Haiti; and by countless friends, acquaintances, and fellow art lovers.

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