Updated October 2022
Clementine Hunter was born in Louisiana in late 1886 or early 1887, her true birth date has never been determined.
As a young woman she began working at Melrose Plantation, which still stands today. She started as a field hand and moved onto working as a domestic servant in the house.
Clementine Hunter died on January 1, 1988 at the age of 101 and had been painting through the previous November.
Her folk art paintings depict life on a plantation from the inside, which is quite uncommon to find.
In May of 1955 Ms. Hunter was commissioned by the owner of Melrose Plantation to paint a series of murals to go on the outside of the property’s African House, aka Creole Barn.
She was 68 years old (proof, once again, that great things can happen later in life) at that time and the murals on display are the ones she painted specifically for Melrose.
Clementine painted the murals on plywood which were then adhered to the house. The murals include different buildings from the plantation including the African house, the yucca house, the ghana house, and the churches.
There is also a mix of religious doctrine in the art. During her life she would grow up Catholic, convert to Baptist and then go back to the Catholic church. Both religions can be seen in her paintings. The different murals represent times on the plantation.
Throughout the murals the importance of the person, according to Clementine, is based upon the size of the person. She paints some of the people very small (preachers, overseers, men) and other larger (workers, women, etc).
The pigs in the above painting are portrayed fairly large because pigs were important to Clementine.
It also shows a night at a local honky tonk with dancing, music and merriment.
This is a sample of a man fishing in the river and further down the mural you see the women hard at work.
In the lower right corner is the man fishing and throughout the rest of the right side of the mural you see the women working away.
By 1982 there were problems with conservation of the murals. Melrose had been closed for several years at that point and the murals were falling into disrepair.
A generous benefactor donated enough money for the murals to be removed from Melrose Plantation and restored so that future generations can learn about the history of plantation life from a first hand account.
Clementine’s murals are no longer on display at the Louisiana State Museum, but they can be viewed at the Melrose plantation. However, some of her smaller works are still at the Louisiana State Museum
If you fall in love with her work and would like to take a piece of her work home be sure to visit some of the local shops. They sell reproductions of her work available as prints, dishes, ornaments and more.
Meet James Hunter
Luckily for the world, Clementine’s grandson, James Hunter continues Clementine’s legacy by creating art like his grandmother.
Clementine taught James her style of painting when he was a young boy and he continues to create art in the same style to this day.
It was just my good fortune that I was walking along Front Street in Natchitoches and noticed a sign that read “James Hunter (Clementine’s grandson) Painting On-Site Today”
Walking in and chatting with James was definitely a highlight of my most recent visit to Natchitoches.
I know I was very fortunate to have stumbled across Mr. Hunter painting. I’m not sure how often Mr. Hunter is in Natchitoches painting, but it’s worth strolling down Front Street on your next visit.
His work may also be available at shops in Natchitoches or at Melrose Plantation.