Clementine Hunter, African House, And Errant Cat Hairs

Clementine Hunter works make up two large exhibits in Baton Rouge: one at the Louisiana State Museum, and the other at the LSU Museum of Art

At the LSU Museum, they have Clementine Hunter: Life on Melrose Plantation

When Clementine Hunter (1887-1988) was a young girl, her family moved to Melrose Plantation in search of work. Hunter worked as a field hand picking cotton and pecans until moving to the “Big House” to serve as a washerwoman and cook. Hunter’s move to the Big House was perhaps the most significant event in the artist’s life.

In the early 20th century, Melrose Plantation, owned by Cammie Henry, became a haven for artists and writers. Affectionately known as Miss Cammie, Henry opened her home as a center for creativity. She encouraged artists to visit Melrose for extended periods so that they could be productive. One of the visitors, New Orleans artist Alberta Kinsey, is credited with inspiring and influencing Clementine Hunter.

Kinsey, a frequent guest at Melrose, gave Hunter some empty tubes of paint to throw away, but Hunter kept the paints and began “marking up some pictures” in her cabin late at night. Though Hunter could not afford fresh oil paints and canvas, she continued painting on any blank surface she could find — cardboard, window shades, and bottles.

Clementine Hunter began her career as an artist when she was well into her fifties. Late at night, after her work in the “Big House” was finished and her family slept, Hunter painted her memories. She painted her life at Melrose Plantation. In her nearly forty years as an active artist, Hunter painted over 5000 images of cotton and pecan harvesting, weddings, funerals, baptisms, juke joints, and still lifes.

‘Gathering Gourds’ — the building depicted here is the ‘African House’ which was built by slaves in the 1820s. In 1955, Francois Mignon, a writer and resident of Melrose, encouraged Clementine Hunter to paint murals on the second floor of the African House. Earlier this year after a restoration, the murals were reinstalled.
Clementine Hunter Exhibit at LSU Museum of Art, Baton Rouge LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

‘Picking Cotton’
Clementine Hunter Exhibit at LSU Museum of Art, Baton Rouge LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

‘Wedding’
Clementine Hunter Exhibit at LSU Museum of Art, Baton Rouge LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The State Museum includes dozens of her works
Louisiana State Museum, Baton Rouge LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Louisiana State Museum, Baton Rouge LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

‘The Annunciation, Pregnant Mary with Doctor Arriving’
Clementine Hunter Exhibit at Louisiana State Museum, Baton Rouge LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

‘Black Angels’
Clementine Hunter Exhibit at Louisiana State Museum, Baton Rouge LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

‘The Wash Day’
Clementine Hunter Exhibit at Louisiana State Museum, Baton Rouge LA//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

including some paintings on glass


This summer, Melrose Plantation raised enough money to have two more of Clementine Hunter’s works sent to Houston at Whitten and Proctor for conservation.


Robert Wilson, a theater artist who met Clementine Hunter as a child, did the ribbon cutting at African House when it reopened to show the restored paintings — his Watermill Center on Long Island recreated African House as a tribute; more pics here.


An article in Science earlier this year, How Cat Hair Brought Down a Pair of Art Forgers, discussed the Toyes, a couple in New Orleans, who regularly made forgeries of Clementine Hunter paintings.

In 2009, the Federal Bureau of Investigation finally gathered enough evidence to confiscate the Toyes’ supposed Hunter collection, and during the raid they noticed that “they lived in a very modest house with approximately 30 cats,” Magness-Gardine says. When forensic investigators analyzed the seized works, they found cat hair embedded in the paint—a characteristic not shared by Hunter’s authentic work. “That’s essentially what brought them down,” Magness-Gardine says. William Toye pled guilty to art fraud in 2011.


This very good piece, Looking for Clementine Hunter’s Louisiana in the NYT by Jennifer Moses, mentions Gilley’s Gallery in Baton Rouge, *the* source for authenticating a Clementine Hunter work.

https://static01.nyt.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000002281585

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *