A Preview of Things to Come

Here's a fun preview of what's to come at the Clementine Hunter African House Murals Homecoming Gala on April 9th. This is a full-sized model of Hunter's signature chicken pulling a cart. In her words, "If the chicken wasn't big, it wouldn't be able to pull it." 

This is just one of many sights to see as we welcome Hunter's African House Murals back to Melrose on April 9th. See you there!

National Trust for Historic Preservation Names Historic African House at Melrose Plantation a National Treasure

(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-oPreservation 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

Francois Mignon on Clementine's African House

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)