Picking Cotton, c. 1950s
oil on boarde
20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61.0 cm.)
The Wash, c. 1950s
oil on board
18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 61.0 cm.)
American, 19th-20th centuries.
Born 1886, Hidden Hill Plantation near Cloutierville, Louisiana.
Died, 1988, near Natchitoches, Louisiana.
A descendent of slaves, Clementine Hunter was born into a Creole family on a Louisiana plantation and moved in her teenage years to Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches, where she worked first as a farm laborer, later in domestic service, and where she spent the remainder of her long life. By the1930s, Melrose had become a center for artists and writers. Hunter began painting in 1939 using materials left behind by a visiting artist. Many of her earliest works were painted on materials found at hand–window shades, scraps of paper, cardboard, gourds, and bottles. Although self-taught, her talent was quickly noticed and encouraged by the plantation residents, staff, and visitors. Over the next five decades she painted more than five thousand works. Her paintings were frequently exhibited, bringing her great regional and then national renown.
Hunter is most known for her scenes of life on the plantation. They remind us of the folk art genre of memory paintings, offering somewhat nostalgic, if not idyllic, portrayals of plantation life of a disappearing past. She rarely used perspective in these well-populated images of rural life, but her figures
are usually anchored within representational grounds delineating clear spatial and narrative relationships among the individuals depicted. Most of her human figures are stiffly posed, with minimal elaboration of their facial features, but their individuality is communicated through their work and activities or through their relationships with others in the shared environment. Hunter also drew upon imagery found in popular media and painted numerous works of a religious nature, including images of baptisms, wakes, and funerals, as well as nativity and crucifixion scenes. She produced as well a smaller series of abstractions, mask-like constructions, and a number of applique quilts reflecting the plantation themes of the paintings.
While almost all of her paintings are on a small scale, (rarely larger than 20 by 30 inches), she created a remarkable mural comprised of nine panels six and half feet wide by four feet high depicting plantation life ringing the interior of the “Africa House,” a food storage building on the Melrose Plantation.
2014, Clementine Hunter, Southern Arkansas Arts Center, El Dorado, AR
2009, Clementine Hunter, Plantation Life: Louisiana State Museum, Patterson, LA
2004, Clementine Hunter and Melrose, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA
2001, Clementine Hunter: Unique Perspective, Sailor’s Valentine Gallery, Nantucket, Massachusetts
1985, A Centennial Salute to Clementine Hunter, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans
American Folk Art Museum, New York
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Shriver, Art and Tom Whitehead, Clementine Hunter: Her Art and Life, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2012.
Shriver Art and Tom Whitehead, eds., Clementine Hunter: The African House Murals, Natchitoches, LA: Northwestern State University Press, 2005.
Gilley, Shelby R., Painting By Heart: The Life and Art of Clementine Hunter, Louisiana Folk Artist, Baton Rouge: St. Emma Press, 2000.
Wilson, James L., Clementine Hunter: American Folk Artist, New York: Pelican, 1988.