Artist Profile – Clementine Hunter

clementine hunter

c. 1886–1988, lived and worked near Natchitoches, Louisiana

(detail) Clementine Hunter / Washday / 1940s / oil on board / 18 x 24 in. / Collection of Gordon W. Bailey

Renowned for her immediately recognizable painterly style and her frank depictions of everyday African American plantation life in Louisiana, Clementine Hunter was a lifelong resident of rural central Louisiana. Born on an isolated cotton plantation near Cloutierville, where the brutal conditions had not changed appreciably for African-American sharecroppers, her family moved to the nearby Melrose plantation in the Cane River region outside Natchitoches, where she remained for much of her life. In the 1920s, after many years of picking and chopping in Melrose’s vast cotton, corn, and sugar fields, Hunter was assigned a domestic position in the kitchen of the big house. It was there that she first nurtured her creative impulses by quilting and making dolls for the white children and lace and baskets for their parents. In the 1940s, Francois Mignon, a white employee and resident of the plantation, recognized Hunter’s adept domestic artistry and encouraged her to paint.

And so Hunter became a painter only in her fifties, quickly mastering the medium to document her lived experience and her memories of struggle and celebration alike. With a bold palette and energetic brushwork, she created intimate pictures that speak to hardship and strife as well as to moments of respite, recreation, and religious sentiment. Her works on paper, canvas, and found objects open compositional and spiritual spaces for their anonymous subjects, whether at work, at play, and in worship. Audiences responded enthusiastically—articles in Look and the Saturday Evening Post helped—and in her final years, the artist was able to retire to a trailer she purchased with the proceeds from her sales. Hunter’s paintings have been exhibited and collected widely, and they belong to the permanent collections of the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and the American Folk Arts Museum; she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by Northwestern State University in Natchitoches and was the first African American artist granted a solo show at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

 

Artist’s Work