Touring Martinique’s Magnificent Museums
PHOTO: Fondation Clément is located on the grounds of the Habitation Clément distillery. (Photo by Brian Major)
Martinique’s mystique lies not only in its splendid natural beauty but also in its flourishing arts and cultural scene, which is accessible to visitors through a variety of magnificent museums across the destination.
Travelers gained a new option recently with the opening of the 25,400-square-foot Fondation Clément, a fine art museum showcasing modern creations by artists from across the Caribbean.
The museum is located on the grounds of the historic Habitation Clément, where Martinique’s signature rhum agricole (distilled from sugar cane juice rather than molasses like traditional Caribbean rum) was produced under the Rhum Clément brand beginning in 1887.
Rather than utilizing a stand-alone building, Fondation Clément is designed to blend “seamlessly” into a group of the distillery’s oldest structures and utilize original construction materials including stainless steel, lava stone and concrete mashrabyias.
The museum opened with an exhibit of 53 paintings, graphic works, and sculptures from Haitian artist Hervé Télémaque. The showcase of is “a continuation of a popular retrospective successively presented by the Centre Pompidou and the Musée Cantini of Marseille last year,” said Martinique Promotion Bureau officials, and will run until April 17.
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The Habitation Clément site already provided a worthwhile visit as its features integrated gardens, a preserved great house and other historic structures including rare photographs and equipment tied to rhum production. The grounds also feature histories of Homer and Charles Clement, the facility’s founders and representatives of Martinique’s black professional class.
The facility offers “a stunning permanent new home to showcase the depth and vibrancy of contemporary art in the Caribbean, and especially Martinique,” said Muriel Wiltord, Director Americas for the Martinique Promotion Bureau.
The facility also adds to Martinique’s incredible array of outstanding art and educational facilities. Among the most noteworthy of the many venues is the the Musée Café & Cacao, located in the Domaine Château Gaillard near the village of Tros Illets.
The museum features a comprehensive display detailing the history of coffee and cocoa production, highlighted by rows of period coffee grinders, pots, machinery and instruments from across the ages, ranging from the elegantly efficient to the ridiculously elaborate. The facility also offers a colorful display of historic coffee and chocolate advertising art.
The Aime Césaire Theater Museum is located in downtown Fort-de-France, Martinique’s capital, and offers visitors a voluminous collection of materials tied to Césaire, a member of France’s prestigious Ecole Normale Supérieure and a premier architect of the Négritude movement.
Césaire served as Fort- de-France’s mayor from 1945 to 2001 and served in the French National Assembly from 1946 to 1993. In 2011, a plaque bearing Césaire’s name was placed in Paris Panthéon alongside national heroes including Victor Hugo, Pierre and Marie Curie, Jean Moulin and André Malraux.
The magnificent Shoelcher Library, also located in downtown Fort-deFrance, is an ornate 1884 building designed by architect Henri Picq and inspired by another national hero immortalized in the Pantheon, abolitionist writer Victor Shoelcher.
The library is an architectural gem featuring Byzantine, Egyptian and western art influences and houses the author’s vast collection of 100,000 books and 250 music scores. Shoelcher established the admission-free library on the condition it remained open and available to former slaves.
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