Melrose Facility Manager Molly Dickerson was recently a guest on the NCPTT podcast. She discussed the extensive restoration work done on the African House this year. Click here to listen to the full episode.
Melrose Plantation is seeking a Part-Time Tour Guide. This is a great opportunity for history lovers, students, or anyone who enjoys working with the public. As a Tour Guide, you will have the privilege of working on our beautiful historic property and educating visitors about the rich history of Melrose. Click this link to read more about the position and download an application.
It's that time of year again! The 2015 Fall Tour of Homes takes place October 9, 10, 11 in historic Natchitoches Parish. It will be an exciting weekend with three unique tour packages available.
Click here to view all of the tour options, including details on each amazing home. From there, you can purchase tickets online, or get info on how to purchase by mail. We look forward to seeing you!
(Originally published 4/14/2015 in the Shreveport Times)
A plantation over 200 years old.
A National Historic Landmark.
"You feel as though you are actually stepping back in time when you enter the grounds of Melrose. You immediately sense the architectural, cultural and historic fabric of the place and for a brief period of time can become detached or removed from the outside world," said Natchitoches Community Leader Sharon Gahagan.
Yes, when you are over 200 years old, you have many stories to tell.
And, so Melrose Plantation does. And in publications around the country they have been told and retold, for, as Gahagan points out, it is an intriguing, enchanting and enticing place.
And it is now owned by Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches. Its mission is to protect and preserve the plantation and to keep it alive with all the stories it holds. It runs Melrose as a house museum.
Although a only a few miles from Natchitoches and Interstate-49, one feels far from civilization, though civilization is just around the corner. (And, certainly not a five minute drive to the market when you run out of coffee.)
So what makes this place so very special it draws visitors and journalists from around the world?
The people do, of course.
The stories start with a recent controversy brought about by a scholarly publication. It deals with Marie-Therese Coincoin, for many years heralded, with some of her children, as founder of Melrsoe.
Legend has it that Marie-Therese Coincoin, a freed slave, and her children started Melrose with a land grant. Recent historical research calls this into question.
"No documents are known to support Marie-Therese Coincoin's ownership of the property ... Scholars today doubt Marie-Therese even traveled to the property," says the book "Economics and Authenticity: A Collision of Interpretations in Cane River National Heritage Area, Louisiana." It is by David W. Morgan, director, Southeast Archeological Center National Park., Tallahassee, Fla.; Kevin C. MacDonald; and Fiona J. L. Handley.
The paper does say that she lived on and ran a farm nearby and her son owned the land and worked the property now called Melrose.
"This is based on solid research and is as close to fact as one can get," said former Shreveporter Art Shiver, who, with Tommy Whitehead, wrote "Clementine Hunter: Her Life and Art."
And, there is Cammie Henry who moved to Melrose in 1897 with her husband J.H. Henry. J.H. died in 1918, but Cammie stayed on for 30 years. Famous for starting an artist's retreat, she welcomed all who came as long as they had a project to work on.
Those artists included: Briarwood founder Caroline Dormon, novelist and poet Rachel Field, author Harnett Kane, critic and commentator Alexander Woollcott, according to Shiver and Whitehead's book. (Although some publications list William Faulkner and John Steinbeck as guests, Shiver points out that there is no confirmation on their appearance there. "The list in the book are the only authors and important people we could confirm," emphasized Shiver.)
"Others worthy of note are Clarence John Laughlin, the Louisiana surrealist, and the famous photographer Doris Ulmann. I would add (New York Times writer) Craig Claiborne ... Francois Mignon gave him a Clementine Hunter quilt which hung in his bedroom until he died in 2000," said Shiver.
Melrose is the tale of writer Mignon, who came for dinner and stayed 30 years and became a good friend of artist Clementine Hunter.
And Melrose has the story of the internationally recognized memory painter Hunter, who portrayed life in the first half of the 20th century as she knew it on Cane River.
There were the juke joints, wash days, cotton picking, pecan threshing, funerals, weddings … and even a basketball game. And, among Hunter's most beloved by collectors – bright, primary- hued zinnias. Hunter painted on boards and on window shades and anything else she could get her hands on. (Less well known are cloth works backed by brown Kraft paper. She referred to them as "quilts," though they are really wall hangings.)
Hunter's story starts at Melrose where she was a cook and house servant who served Miss Cammie's guests, writers and painters. She tended the flower and vegetable gardens at Melrose, pointed out the Shiver/Whitehead book.
"These life experiences at Melrose became the major themes in her work," according to the book.
Hunter celebrated her 100th birthday at Melrose, March 16, 1986 with good friends Tommy Whitehead and the late Ann Brittain helping her blow out the candles on the elaborate birthday cake.
She died Jan. 1, 1987. Those who loved her gathered for her funeral at St. Augustin Catholic Church, Isle Breville, as a snow storm blew in.
New Facilities Manager Molly Dickerson, who fell in love with Melrose three years ago when she came from West Virginia for an interview is also now part of the history. She and her husband Jonathan live here now. Among Dickerson's contributions to the stories? She applied for the African House's National Treasure status.
Melrose's lore includes its buildings, beginning with the first, Yucca House. Among others: Melrose's Big House; a log cabin, referred to as the Writer's Cabin; the Bindery; and Clementine Hunter's House.
And, all stories must include small things for it is the details which help embellish and make the whole:
Some interesting tidbits from the Big House, picked up from Melrose Guide Scott Williams' narrative:
•Cammie Henry bedroom. Features things that belonged to her, including a blouse, photo when she graduated from what is now Northwestern State University.
•Cammie Henry's "guest book." A white tablecloth. When guests came to dinner at Melrose she asked them to sign the tablecloth, which she later embroidered and so had a permanent record of who had been to dinner in her house.
•The library where Cammie Henry created scrapbooks. She put together 265 of them during her life, using them to document the history and the Melrose community. Her scrapbooks were bound in the bindery, now the Museum gift shop.
•Copy of "Bird Talk" by Caroline Dormon, a naturalist and preservationist who did research at Melrose.
Tommy Whitehead pointed out that Melrose is always evolving. Something interesting is always happening here. And, there is usually a party, a gathering to celebrate it.
Recently the National Trust for Historic Preservation named The African House a National Treasure.
Last week, Whitehead met with National Park Service and Melrose officials to discuss the preservation and interpretation of the Clementine Hunter House where the painter lived and sold her paintings from 1953 until 1977 when it was moved to Melrose.
Before that, Hunter had lived about a mile away.
Why is Melrose special?
The historic plantation means different things to different people who love and care for this place, pointed out Whitehead.
Those views also are part of the Melrose story, for they are personal:
•Whitehead: "It was Clementine Hunter's environment for her paintings."
•APHN President Vicki Parrish, who has been APHN president off and on for seven years, and with help from committee chairwomen oversees the running of the plantation: "Strong women. What brought me here was Marie-Therese ... The legacy. Determination. Persistence, Self-reliance. She depended on herself. I admire her tremendously."
•Alma Alost, involved in APHN for more than 20 years and recording secretary for 14 years: "When I walk on the grounds of Melrose I am humbled by experiencing 200 years of plantation history. Melrose represents the preservation of hard work and lessons learned from the past. Also I am proud of efforts made by preservationists to protect the unique learning environment for future generations."
•Bill Stanton, Melrose groundskeeper since 2007: "It is a singularly unique place. ... Mine is a magical job. When (facilities manager) Molly (Dickerson) and I sit on the gallery of Melrose overlooking the place, we think it is one of the most wonderful places in the world to work. Just before dusk as the light shifts, there is a yellow spectrum. The grass becomes a bright green. There is a golden glow. It is brief. It is dead quiet. You hear the wind and the trees. And you can almost hear people laughing."
•Arlene Gould, executive director Natchitoches Convention and Visitors Bureau: "Its history, the culture and the stories this wonderful plantation offers."
•Museum Gift Shop Manager Betty Metoyer-Roque, an admirer of Marie- Therese: "It is special coming to Melrose. It is so relaxing to me ... And if weren't for APHN, it would not be here for generations to see. It is important for generations now to see it."
•Natchitoches community leader Sharon Gahagan: "We never get tired of visiting Melrose because it is not just a historic plantation house. A trip to Melrose allows you to take a journey back in time and become a true part of history. It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior-National Park Service just like Mount Vernon."
The plantation's stories, of course, continue.
The plantation is the story of strong women. Buildings which survived the passage of time. Preservation. Restoration.
And the story of real people who made it their home.
As Gahagan muses: "Think about Cammie Henry weaving. Lyle Saxon and Francois Mignon writing. And, Clementine Hunter painting scenes of everyday life on Cane River."
Think about them as you walk it grounds, hear its history.
(Article from preservationnation.org)
Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named African House, located at Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana, a National Treasure. Unique in its structure and unknown purpose, the building is also home to world-renowned folk artist Clementine Hunter’s murals.
Melrose Plantation was established in 1796 by former slave Louis Metoyer, a free person of color. In the 1820’s, Metoyer commissioned his enslaved workers to construct the house however, no records exist that give an exact date of its construction, original purpose or explain its unusual design which reflects the style of traditional architecture of houses in Africa.
Today, the two-story hut-like building stands threatened by deterioration and destabilization. Preservation of the brick masonry walls and roof structure are needed to ensure the site is protected and reopened for public tours as an important part of the story of Melrose Plantation.
“African House is a unique testament to the confluence of cultures that helped to shape Louisiana, and America as a whole,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The architecture at African House speaks boldly of the presence of African culture along the Cane River– and symbolizes how African and French influences combined in this region.”
In naming the African House a National Treasure, the National Trust is committed to supporting the site’s restoration. The National Trust’s HOPE Crew (“Hands-on Preservation Experience” Crew) will address repair needs on the roof and other exteriors. HOPE Crew is an initiative of the National Trust that trains thousands of crew members in useful historic preservation skills.
“African House speaks for generations of hard working individuals through its massive hand hewn cypress beams and handmade bricks,” said Vicki Parrish, president of the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches which owns and operates Melrose Plantation.
“As preservationists, our mission is to listen to the voices of the past, and it is through the restoration of their handiwork that we discover just what they are telling us. It is our hope that every person who visits African House will discover for themselves a distinct voice from our culturally rich Cane River past.”
Further enhancing the historical significance of African House are nine murals by folk artist Clementine Hunter. Painted in oil on plywood and installed on the building’s interior walls, the murals depict early 20th century landscapes and scenes of daily life at the plantation.
As a farm-hand at Melrose Plantation, Hunter began painting in the 1930s when she was in her 50s. She created more than 4,000 paintings over four decades, drawing national acclaim and exhibits in galleries across the country. Today, Hunter’s works are sought after by collectors. The African House murals have been conserved and will be returned to African House when the building’s restoration is completed.
“Clementine Hunter left an indelible mark on Melrose Plantation with her inspired murals,” said Meeks. “These amazing works of folk art were created for the African House, and they should be exhibited there. We are working to see that happen.”
To learn more about plans to restore the African House, visit www.savingplaces.org/Africanhouse
We are very excited to announce that conservation work on the Clementine Hunter African House murals is near completion. The beautiful murals will be making their way back from Houston and will reside in their temporary home at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame/Northwest Louisiana History Museum while the African House at Melrose undergoes a major preservation effort.
To welcome the murals back to Natchitoches, we're throwing a Homecoming Fete on Saturday March 21st. The program includes:
- 2:00p - Secrets of the African House Murals, a Lecture by Tommy Whitehead (Free and OPen to the Public)
- 5:00p - VIP Mural Preview, Tribute Honoring Theodosia Murphy Nolan/The Nolan Foundation, Cocktail Reception, Dinner at Maglieaux's
- 7:00p - Mural Unveiling, Champagne Dessert, Live Music and Silent Auction at the Museum
All proceeds benefit the African House Restoration at Melrose Plantation. To purchase tickets, click here to visit our online shop.
Sponsors include Cane River National Heritage Area, City of Natchitoches, Daryan Display, Friends of Louisiana Sports and History, Historic District Development Commission, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Foundation, Maglieaux's, National Trust for Historic Preservation
Clementine Hunter (December 4, 1886/1887 – January 1, 1988) was born on Hidden Hill Plantation before later moving up the Cane River to work at Melrose Plantation. It was at Melrose that Hunter discovered paints and brushes left behind by a visiting artist. With these humble tools, Hunter began painting – or as she called it, “marking a picture” - various scenes of plantation life including picking cotton, gathering pecans, washing clothes, ceremonial baptisms and funeral scenes. Her resourceful nature led her to paint on discarded items such as window shades, cardboard boxes, jugs, bottles and gourds. Hunter's unique style of social commentary eventually went on to leave an indelible mark on the art world. She has become one of the most renowned, self-taught artists in the United States and is often referred to as the Black Grandma Moses. She was the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Delgado Museum (now the New Orleans Museum of Art) and achieved a significant amount of success during her lifetime, including an invitation to the White House from U.S. President Jimmy Carter (which she declined). Radcliffe College included Hunter in its “Black Women Oral History" project, published in 1980. Additionally, Northwestern State University of Louisiana granted her an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1986.
One of the more well-known displays of Hunter’s artwork is located in the African House on the grounds of Melrose Plantation. It's upstairs walls are covered in an elaborate mural that depicts the incredible stories of life on the Cane River. We encourage you to visit Melrose Plantation to see Clementine’s art, including the African House murals.
The 41st Annual Arts and Crafts Festival is April 18th-19th, 2015. More than 100 vendors will set their tents and tables beneath the gorgeous live oak trees of Melrose. Artists will show and sell their original paintings, stained glass, gourmet foods, jewelry, clothing, photography, plants, toys, woodworking products, pottery and more.
The festival is sponsored by The Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN) and all proceeds go directly to the upkeep and preservation of Melrose Plantation.
Tickets are only $5.00 for Adults and $2.00 for Kids ages 6-12. Kids 5 and under are free!
Interested in being a vendor? Click here.
If the African House were the sole structure at the Melrose French Creole Plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana, it would more than merit a visit. It is one of nine structures you can see on your sightseeing tour of Melrose.
Francois Mignon, a prolific, gifted writer and member of the artist’s colony at Melrose relates the following endearing incident:
“It was on a hot day in July in the mid 1950's that scenes of plantation life in Louisiana began to appear along the walls of the African House. The artist was Clementine Hunter who lived in her cabin on Melrose Plantation. Well do I remember when Clementine Hunter…first tried her hand at painting. She tapped at my door, said that she had found these twisted tubes (of paint) while cleaning up and that she believed she could ‘mark a picture on her own…if she sot her mind to it.'”
She presented her first picture to Mignon who replied, “Sister, you don’t know it but this is just the first of a whole lot of pictures you are going to bring me in the years ahead“.
Francois was right and the rest is history.
(Original Post by Mr. Doyle Bailey)
We received this heartwarming letter from a student who recently visited Melrose as part of a school field trip. Preserving history for future generations is one of the main reasons we do what we do.
This week we bid a temporary farewell to our lovely Clementine Hunter African House murals as they headed to Houston, TX for some much-needed conservation.
The murals date back to 1955 and have been a gallery fixture in the Melrose African House for almost 60 years. Due to various environmental factors, the murals were beginning to show the initial signs of fatigue. In addition, the African House will soon be undergoing preservation of it's own, so the timing of the mural conservation was fitting.
After much consideration, the APHN selected the Fine Art Conservators of Whitten & Proctor to take on the project. (Quote from one of the conservators.) "The conservators at Whitten & Proctor Fine Art Conservation are very much looking forward to our collaboration with Melrose Plantation, caring for the Clementine Hunter murals from African House," said Jill Whitten.
Although the murals will be in Houston for a while, we still have many other Clementines on display in the Big House gallery. We'll also be revealing details soon on an exciting interim exhibit in the upstairs of the African House.
This costly project would not be possible without a generous contribution from long-time APHN Member Miss Theodosia Nolan. We are so grateful for her continuing support.
Recently there have been several new discoveries centering on the Clementine Hunter collection at Melrose. It all began with the stove in the Clementine Hunter house. For the last 35 years, items have remained in the stove undiscovered and unexplored. When these items were discovered, our staff quickly contacted Dustin Fuqua with the National Park Service to assist with an assessment, inventory, and documentation of the pieces.
The items dated between 1972-1977 and included an Avon product box, a St. Augustine Church raffle ticket from October 7-8, 1972, paper documents including a receipt from Roque's auto garage, newspaper sections, a Natchitoches Parish water bill and even an empty pack of Pall Mall cigarettes. (According to historian Tommy Whitehead, Clementine did not smoke but her daughter did.)
The second big discovery is more of a “re-discovery”. While inspecting broken glass doors in the Melrose Library, staff uncovered a large blue binder with a full inventory of items received by APHN from the Hunter family after her death. Once this re-discovery was fully realized, we began working to identify and find the items listed. One such item was an “artist box.” This box was found and to our delight, Clementine’s paints and brushes were still inside.
Every day is an opportunity for a new discovery at Melrose.
Melrose is in the process of updating, improving, and developing exhibit spaces throughout the house museum and historic site.
Our staff began work on the morning of January 21, 2013 by removing each book from the library and sorting it according to its age and ownership by the Henry family. Significantly damaged books were also removed for proper storage.
By the end of Day 1 the library was empty and installation of the new lighting began. The site caretaker installed florescent fixtures inside the book cases to provide off-set room lighting and draw the visitor’s attention to the books on display. The top shelf in each section was trimmed down to allow more light to flow into the bookcase. Each shelf was then vacuumed, cleaned, and painted where necessary.
Books were then vacuumed and carefully placed back on display. Additional collection items and furniture were moved back into the room. The final step was to install the necessary conservation tools to further protect the collection of books at Melrose.
After 4 days of exhibit work, the library was reopend. The first group to see the work completed were students from Mansfield High School. Their teacher commented, “It didn’t look this good last year!” We are excited to be able to provide visitors with a new experience in the Library exhibit and hope to continue to meet and exceed our visitor’s expectations each day.
This project is supported by a gift from The Rapides Foundation.
Fall Tour: A Vital Economic Asset(Presented by: Schulz, B., Yandell, K., Springer, M., Walen, D., James, K., Walker, J., and Smith, J.)
Graduate students from Northwestern State University completed an economic impact study for the APHN Fall Tour of Homes. The purpose of the Economic Impact Study is to assess the financial impact of the tour and project the amount of ‘new money’ created in the community of Natchitoches, Louisiana. If there are a large number of attendees who travel more than 30 miles to partake in the 58th Annual Fall Pilgrimage Tour of homes, then a positive economic impact will be estimated for the city and surrounding communities. The 2012 Fall Tour brought an estimated $509,000 in economic impact to the community.
93 surveys were collected at random. Questions included the participant identifying where they live, how many are traveling in their group, how long they were staying in town, and estimated spending on food, drinks, souvenirs, lodging, and gas.
Using the average ticket price of $37.66; approximately 536 tickets were purchased for the Tour of Homes.
“New Money” is defined as money introduced into the community that would not be available to the area (over 30 miles). $27,278 of new money was spent (ticket sale not included). In other words, each visitor who came to Natchitoches only for Tour of Homes spent $357.82. The total money (people coming just for Fall Tour and people who would be in Natchitoches anyway) was $27,820.
The impact multiplier for Natchitoches is 2.8 which makes the economic impact of Fall Tour of Homes approximately $509,037.73.
This study has several limitations including the fact that ticket sales are roughly estimated and the data from participants is self-reported. But these numbers are shocking. Fall Tour has an enormous impact on the local economy with 57% spent on food and lodging; hotels, B&Bs, and restaurants benefit most from the event.
What we discovered during this project is that primarily “new money” is generated. This is money that would not have been spent in Natchitoches without Fall Tour of Homes. We have a “tangible opportunity to increase the local economy,” and APHN is proud to have such an impact on the vitality of the community.
(Originally posted by Adam Foreman)
"To highlight the work of African American folk artist Clementine Hunter, participants in the Watermill Center Summer Program recreated African House, a structure on Melrose Plantation in Louisiana, where Hunter worked and painted. The center’s reimagined house, positioned at the epicenter of the event, served as a gallery for Hunter’s colorful, deeply personal canvases." - BizBash
View the complete slideshow here.