Posted by: posthaiti | January 15, 2010

RIP, flo mcgarrell

the worst news possible came almost right after i got online this morning: flo mcgarrell, the director at the fosaj gallery in jacmel, died under the rubble of the supposed ‘peace of mind’ hotel, which along with many other buildings, had collapsed. he died tuesday evening.

flo was about my age, and had made — had probably just begun to make, actually — some of the most impressive, curious, and forthright art, visual and beyond, that i’ve seen in a while.

not to mention, he was a great person. a good person. i could tell that 10 minutes after he sat down at the table on the veranda at oloffson and was talking to his right in creole, to his left in english. it was as if he knew everyone there and everyone knew him. as one of my new friends and flo’s longtime friend, godfather, and fellow artist put it to me on facebook today: “Flo McGarrell was a sage from the best that got the best from all of us…everyone loved Flo boundlessly.”

i’m not sure if i’m sad, shaken, shocked, or simply pissed off. flo was in a word, awesome. flo was a superstar, in the most literal sense. and it was his lack of pretension — boundless enthusiasm, generosity, and wisdom, all bundled into a quirky, lovable, almost childlike presence — that drew people to him and, like barnaby wrote, brought out the “them” in them, the best in them.

other news reports have painted a grim, sad picture of jacmel, once gorgeous in that it harbored a lot of original colonial buildings, but today in ruins. i have tons of pictures of the studios and artists behind the paper-mache carnival masks; now, instead of celebration, should i post them in memorium? i wonder if tektek, my guide and overall nice guy, survived. he lived on the hillside, outside of town by an hour’s walk, with his two small kids and his aging mother. and if yes, how will he make a living if his studio has been toppled, and worse, all his masks-in-process destroyed and/or damaged?

here’s an excellent Q&A with flo from the art21 blog from last summer. and a few pics of FOSAJ gallery, now probably in pieces.


  1. I’m Flo’s brother; this is very touching. I’d like to use the first picture to illlustrate my write-up on my blog.

    • of course. i have a lot more, and maybe 5 or 6 with flo in them. i’d be happy to share them with you…

  2. I write through tears. Thank you, Andrew, for this remarkable tribute. Flo claimed to be intimidated by poetry, but at about age 12 took over a t-shirt I had brought back from Italy, printed in Italian with lines from Rilke, the beginning of the Duino Elegies: “Chi, s’io gridassi/mi udirebbe/tra orde di angeli?” (Who, if cried out, would hear me/among hordes of angels?”
    The last time I spoke with Flo by phone — the day before the quake — his voice was reduced to a tiny squeak: sore throat. He could not have cried out, but I believe the angelic hordes themselves did hear. I have spent all day trying to get some response from the U.S State Department and other officials about repatriating Sue Frame, Flo’s friend who has been so incredibly brave. I received a call (how?) from a Haitian person who said that for $7000 he would store Flo’s body in a safe place until I picked it up in a few months. The State Dept. says this is so far the first instance of post-earthquake extortion….We are told that the Red Cross will arrive in Jacmel tomorrow. I treasure Flo’s memory.

  3. Thank you for this. We miss and love him so much and your words are so right on.

    A memorial blog is coming together here- although now it’s becoming more of a vehicle to get Flo’s body back to the USA as quickly as possible. If you would like to contribute or if you can help us in any way, please do so.

    The first photo is so incredibly comforting to me. And Andrew, my sympathies to you for your loss.

  4. Hi- I ganked your photo of Flo smiling at the heavens for the memorial blog, as well. If this is not OK, let me know. I would have asked beforehand but I really wanted to get it up ASAP. I hope that’s alright. This is such a beautiful tribute. It helps us all so much!

  5. first, i would love to help in any way i can. second, i’m not sure what i think of the extortion phone call; any more info on that?

    to all: your tributes were equally touching. i still feel dizzy every time i log on and see/read/listen to the news, and can’t really begin to express my sadness for YOUR loss. but i will try.

    i only knew flo for a brief 2 or 3 days, but he made a huge impression on me. a master at living life the way it could be lived. and a very loving and funny person. i know i was meant to learn something from flo, and barnaby, who made my last several days in haiti not only possible but immeasurably more interesting. i would not have seen the grande rue artists without flo; she walked us down there before we left for jacmel on tuesday morning, a week and one day before the quake. i would not have gotten to jacmel, as i was too chickenshit to take the taptap alone. i remember sitting next to flo, crammed four across and five rows deep — at least 15 people stuffed into a sweaty van. flo fell asleep on my shoulder, and i’ll never forget how i felt then: lucky to have crossed paths, and wondering why, once again, god/the heavens/the universe/the universal order, had given me a sage to learn from, something once again so good.

    what to learn from flo, i wondered on that ride? now i know: how to live. to live. to continue to make each day count. to create. to once again prioritize art, creativity, self expression. to commit to living with less footprint. above everything, to love myself and express that as freely as any word, painting, or sculpture. and, to love people enough to trust that they’ll accept me, and every expression i have to offer, with open arms.

    flo was pretty fearless. and pretty fucking amazing. a superstar. i just wish the world could have had more of him for longer.

  6. RIP – Flo McGarrell, 36, a transgendered artist who specialized in organic & recycled agri-sculpture, was born in Italy, grew up in the US but lived in Haiti. It was an unfortunate place to call “home” on January 12th.

  7. I loved reading this.
    Thank you so much.

  8. ive put up some preliminary things on wikipedia about Flo. figured he deserved a page. am still adding things to it. it’s helping me sort it all out.
    please change, add, anything and everything.
    i will use it as a foundation for the main street museum page dedicated to the topic.
    “In Amatam Memoriam” Flo McGarrell.

    • ps: may i use your own mcGarrell pics on the main street museum wiki? particularly the masks and the pic of Flo in front of them, in a doorway?
      if so, whom should i credit? thanks.
      pps: the landscape at the top is stunning!

      • thank you. you can credit my blog: jeanene swanson @

        btw, i have many more interesting pics of the gallery, the jacmel ateliers, the grande rue artists/atelier, etc. i will post a few today, and the rest to flickr soon.

        thanks for putting up the wikis — they’re so informative and truly add much to the collection of “history” re: flo and his life and works.

  9. Flo’s ashes were returned to his home in Vermont today (Tuesday). I touch my dear child.

    Ann McGarrell

    • i am so relieved for you. i wrote about it in today’s post. i hope my words don’t seem trite:

      on a much more somber note, flo, the wonderful, quirky artist whom i met while breezing from PAP to jacmel, was finally returned to her parents’ home in vermont this week. at the ‘we are going with flo’ blog, a post from today says that his ashes are finally back with his family. flo, i think, knew well the feeling of not just liking haiti, but falling in love with it. that feeling of, ahh, i’m home. THIS is where i belong, THIS is where i need to be. i’m simply glad that he died doing exactly what he loved doing; i think about that often now before going to sleep or during the day when i’m having bad thoughts or feeling anxious, sad, angry, you name it: i think, what would flo be doing? is this how i really want to be spending my time? if this was the last day of my life, what would i be doing, thinking, saying, eating, reading, writing, looking for and at, creating, loving?


  10. There’s nothing trite about your words. Flo’s family is infinitely touched by the outpouring of grief and love so many of you are sharing with us.

    With love,


  11. […] will be a vodou ceremony in cambridge, mass., on march 5th, in honor of those who died in haiti. flo will, i hope, be there in spirit. all the deets are on the ‘going with flo’ blog, as well as information on how to help […]

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