Clementine Hunter – Folk Artist

Color reproduction of a photograph of Clementine Hunter on Melrose Plantation, in Natchitoches, Louisiana, in the 1960s [4]

Clementine Hunter is Louisiana’s most famous female artist, and she is one of the most important folk artists of all time. Her work can be seen in the Smithsonian Institute, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Museum of American Folk Art in New York, the High Museum of Atlanta, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the New York Historical Association, the Oprah Winfrey Collection in Chicago and many other museums and private collections across the country.[1]

Hunter lived and worked most of her life on the Melrose cotton plantation near Natchitoches, Louisiana. She did not start painting until the 1940s when she was already a grandmother. Her first painting, executed on a window shade using paints left behind by a plantation visitor, depicts a baptism in Cane River.[2]


Clementine Hunter’s murals in the African House at Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana.


Hunter painted at night, after working all day in the plantation house. She used whatever surfaces she could find, drawing and painting on canvas, wood, gourds, paper, snuff boxes, wine bottles, iron pots, cutting boards, and plastic milk jugs.[2]

Working from memory, Hunter recorded everyday life in and around the plantation, from work in the cotton fields to baptisms and funerals. She rendered her figures, usually black, in expressionless profile and disregarded formal perspective and scale.[2]

In the article, Self-Taught Artist Clementine Hunter Painted the Bold Hues of Southern Life, by Roger Catlin, curator Tuliza Fleming, the museum’s curator of American art discusses Hunter’s works. Her art is being celebrated in an exhibition held in the Rhimes Family Foundation Visual Art Gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.[3]

“One of the things you’ll see throughout her work is that the men tended to be smaller than the women,” Fleming points out. “She always elevated women’s work and women within her paintings. And I don’t know exactly why she made the men smaller, but people say she had a lower opinion of them.”[3]

She depicted life in bright colors and simple shapes, but she also imposed her own vision as well.[3]


Grandmother’s Garden Abstract, 1962, Oil on Board


Though she first exhibited in 1949, Hunter did not garner public attention until the 1970s when both the Museum of American Folk Art in New York and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibited her paintings.[2] During her lifetime, she was the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at what is now the New Orleans Museum of Art. [3]

Hunter’s sheer productivity can be attributed to her long life. “She lived to 101 and painted every day until toward the end of her life. They say she painted between 5,000 and 10,000 paintings,” Fleming says. “It was something she felt compelled to do. There are certain artists who can’t stop creating and she was one of those artists.”[3]


clementine hunter art
Washday by Clementine Hunter, 1950s[3]

RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITIONS: Clementine Hunter: Unique Perspective, Sailor’s Valentine Gallery, Nantucket, Massachusetts, 2001; Clementine Hunter, American Folk Artist: A Retrospective Exhibition, Museum of African American Life and Culture, 1993; A Centennial Salute to Clementine Hunter, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, 1985 [2]






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The information on this web-page is for educational and research purposes.  Article entries and images are not my own. Please review sources and links above for more information. This blog post is for educational purposes only and for sharing valuable information to others interested in the arts.

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