In spite of the ever growing fame of folk art's most prominent figures,
it still comes as a welcome surprise to see a new monograph, and certainly
one as well researched as this.
Shelby Gilley's broad ranging book takes us through the early history
of the Melrose plantation in Louisiana where Clementine Hunter lived
and worked (it was originally a plantation owned by freed slaves),
and then on to an examination of Hunter's own life and work, with
solid background information on her early supporters such as the mysterious
The central section of the book is a commentary by Gilley on Hunter's
various phases and subject matter. His perceptive knowledge
comes very much from his art dealer background and as such gives us
unusual insights into her works, including advice on spotting fakes.
Various little known aspects of Hunter's work are given a welcome
prominence: her expressive abstract paintings are rarely seen,
and the extent of the glorious murals she executed for both the main
house at Melrose and the outlying African House, built in the early
1800s, is another aspect of her work that has not had widespread exposure.
Close supporters of Hunter, Dr. Robert Ryan and Tommy Whitehead, round
off the text with their own tributes and then follows a glorious survey
of Hunter's paintings and objects from the early 1940s till the late
Shelby Gilley's valuable book reinforces Clementine Hunter's unique
contribution to the field of American folk art and fully demonstrates
the full depth and eminence of her work.