Hunter was born on Hidden Hill Plantation (now called Little Eva Plantation)
near Natchitoches, Louisiana, in December of 1886. When she was a young
girl, her father moved the family away from the harsh environment at
Hidden Hill (the plantation that was supposedly the basis for Harriet
Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin) to the more hospitable
Clementine lived at Melrose for most of the rest of life, moving just
right down the road a few years before she died on January 1, 1988,
at the age of 101. Melrose was a cotton plantation founded in the 1790’s
by the freed Congo woman, Marie Therese and her son Augustin Metoyer.
The plantation and its family were a focal point of the African and
Creole cultures along the Cane River. During Clementine’s days
there, it had become a small artist colony, where Louisiana writers
and artists like Alberta Kinsey, Caroline Dorman, and Harnett Kane spent
time with others such as William Faulkner and John Steinbeck.
As the story goes, New Orleans artist Alberta Kinsey left some paints
and brushes behind on one of her visits to Melrose in about 1940. Clementine,
who had at this time turned from work in the cotton fields to work in
the kitchen as the cook at Melrose, found the paints and brushes and
asked permission to paint a picture of her own. She presented Melrose
resident Francois Mignon with a painting of a Cane River baptism on
a window shade, and her life changed forever.
Clementine Hunter is Louisiana’s most famous female artist, and
she is one of the most important folk artists of all time. Her work
can be seen in the Smithsonian Institute, the New Orleans Museum of
Art, the Museum of American Folk Art in New York, the High Museum of
Atlanta, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the New York Historical Association,
the Oprah Winfrey Collection in Chicago and many other museums and private
collections across the country, including the newest exhibition at the
Roger Ogden Museum in New Orleans, where the Clementine Hunter Educational
Wing is expected to open soon.
Hunter standing in front of the African House, c. 1950. Photo by Carolyn
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