Clementine Hunter

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.

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)