My mother, Lucy Dos Passos Coggin, provides a personal reflection on one of my grandfather’s most precious paintings…
Staying at Haiti’s Hotel Oloffson
There is something jaunty about the striped awning in my father’s painting of the famous old Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The tropical foliage and romantic cupola evoke an air of careless whimsy. Only the dangling shutter gives a hint of dislocation.
Only recently did I learn about the details of that trip when my father produced the painting. The travel party was made up of Phyllis (Duganne) and Eben Given and their young son “Little Ebbie”—all from Truro on Cape Cod. Phyllis was a writer and Eben a portrait painter.
Also on board for Haiti was Dawn Powell, a New Yorker-based novelist. The trip was meant to help Dawn to heal from a painful attack by her disturbed son Jojo. And the trip was intended to mend my father’s spirit—his wife Katy had been killed in an automobile accident in September of the previous year. This Hotel Oloffson painting may have been one of the first artworks he produced after losing his right eye in the accident.
These friends were a fraternity in those days. They steeped in each other’s sorrows and whoever had the most cash available often paid for the needs of whoever had the least.
Dawn reported on the trip in a letter to her close friend “Maggie”. De Silver was the widow of anarchist Carlo Tresca and close to all the travelers:
To Margaret de Silver
Thursday, March 1, 1948
This is a very easy place to feel at home in immediately–largely because it simply has no connection with anything or anyplace else in the world. Even Traveler Passos says so. It is easy for a lone person, male or female, particularly here at the Oloffson, which is a huge rococo rambling palace with barely a dozen people wandering around very chummily. Dos got me the prize suite– too luxurious for description– for $9 a day, fine meals, unlimited service. It is the corner suite–vast porch on both sides overlooking the entire city and bay and mountains so at last I am in the sunlight.
(excerpt from letter used with permission of the estate of Dawn Powell)