Clementine Hunter, a self-taught artist who hailed from the Cane River region of Louisiana, gained fame for her artwork that depicted life in and around the Melrose Plantation. As one of the most notable folk artists of her time, she is the first Black artist to have a solo exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art, one of many honors she’s earned.
Hunter was born sometime in 1887 in the Cane River region, and lived near the town of Natchitoches, seat of the parish of the same name. Her grandparents were formerly enslaved and she moved to the Melrose Plantation, a haven for artists and writers, when she was a teenager. Never learning to read or write, Hunter worked as a servant and cook for much of her life but fortune struck around the ’40’s.
As legend has it, artists would leave art supplies at Melrose Plantation and with sheer will, Hunter picked up some brushes and painted on whatever surface she could. Her early works sold for as little as fifty cents, a good price at the time. She held her first exhibit in 1949. Hunter’s notoriety grew in the ’70’s after the Museum of American Folk Art in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art shared her work with the masses.
Much of the artwork depicted American folk themes of farmlands, workers, and fields, often mirroring Hunter’s daily life. The figures were mostly faceless but easily identifiable as Black. Hunter lived at the plantation until 1970 before moving to a small trailer to continue working. She painted up until the end of her life at the age of 101 in 1988.
Today, Hunter’s work can fetch anywhere form $1,000 to $10,000 on the market, although some dealers have been caught attempting to sell fakes. However, art merchants and collectors have cracked down on such thievery, keeping Hunter’s legacy intact.
PHOTO: Public Domain
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