An extraordinary life
From her humble
beginning c.1886-1887 as the illiterate child of former slaves
on a cotton plantation in Louisiana, Clementine Hunter rose to
heights almost unimaginable for a person of her status and race
at that time. At one of the early exhibitions of her work it
is reported that she was not even permitted to enter the gallery
until after closing time because of the color of her skin. But
that was destined to change.
By the end of her
life, over a century later, her biography had appeared in the
Encyclopedia Britannica; her photograph and artwork had been
reproduced in dozens of magazines, including Look, Ebony, Holiday,
and The Saturday Evening Post; she had been the subject of countless
articles and of several scholarly books; her paintings had been
shown in exhibitions all across America (one of which was in
the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.) and had been
sold for thousands of dollars by the world-renowned auction house,
Sotheby's, in New York; her works had become part of important
private collections and were in the permanent collections of
many prominent museums, among them the Dallas Museum of Fine
Arts and the Museum of American Folk Art in New York. She had
been the recipient of several substantial artistic grants; had
been invited to Washington D.C. by the President of the United
States to open an exhibition of her paintings; had seen her work
featured on the United Nations UNICEF calendar; and had been
awarded an honorary degree of Doctorate of Fine Arts. A search
of the internet will produce hundreds of pages about Clementine
Hunter and her art. The list of accolades and sources of information
is almost limitless.
Click to see original Look and Saturday Evening
is estimated to have created as many as five thousand pieces
during her lifetime. When she began painting in her fifties,
her works were either given away or sold for ten to twenty-five
cents each. Today her early paintings can bring tens of thousands
of dollars and are becoming increasingly scarce. The most remarkable
thing about Hunter's paintings and their success is that they
are not works of technical virtuosity. They are for the most
part very simple and childlike, which has made them sometimes
the object of derision: "My kid could have painted that,"
commented one viewer on seeing a Clementine painting of plantation
But those who know
and appreciate her work understand its primitive beauty, its
uniqueness, its charm, its character, and its singular place
in the chronicles of American Art. A painting by Clementine Hunter
-- whether it is a group of workers picking cotton, a bouquet
of zinnias, or an abstraction-- is as easy to recognize as being
a "Clementine" as a Picasso is a Picasso.
No biography of Clementine Hunter, even a short sketch such as
this, is complete without mention of her great friend and mentor,
Francois Mignon, who lived at Melrose and who guided and encouraged
and promoted her throughout her long and remarkable career.
|Together, they made history. And, as they lie
at rest in the cemetery of St. Augustine Church, located beside
Cane River and the vast fields of Melrose, Clementine and Francois
are, fittingly, together still.
For information in depth,
any serious student or collector of Clementine Hunter's works
should read the following books:
"Clementine Hunter : The African House Murals"
Edited by Art Shiver and Tom Whitehead
The Life and Art of Clementine
Hunter" by Shelby R. Gilley
American Folk Artist"
by James L. Wilson
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