A “folk art legend”, famous self-taught painter, who was the first African-American to have a solo exhibition at the NOMA.
Clementine Reuben Hunter was born in 1886 to a Louisiana Creole family of mixed origins of African-Americans, Native Americans, Irish, and French ancestors. In her teen years, the family moved to Melrose Plantation where she lived and worked almost her entire life. When the plantation was sold, she lived in a trailer nearby, never going more than 100 miles away from her home.
Hunter worked in the cotton fields with her family, and her life was similar to those of her enslaved grandparents though she was a free woman. In her fifties, while still working as a cook and a maid in the Main House of the plantation, she began her painting career. The Melrose Plantation became an artists’ colony hosting many famous artists, and Hunter got encouraged to start painting by Françoise Mignon, the plantation curator.
Her first “canvas” was a discarded window shade, which was the first of more than 4,500 paintings she created over the years. She painted on all sorts of discarded materials, finishing the paintings in a single sitting. In 1955, Clementine Hunter became the first ever African-American artist to give a solo exhibition at the Delgado Museum, in time turned to the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA).
Most of Hunter’s paintings portray the daily plantation life as they were presented in her memory of the early 20th century: from the cotton picking to religious or social gatherings. She lived in poverty most of her life and sold her paintings for only 25 cents at the beginning. By the time of her death at the age of 101, she was considered a folk art legend, and today her paintings are sold as high as $50,000.
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- She never learned to read and write, although she attended a Catholic school for a short while.
- She received an invitation to the White House from U.S. President Jimmy Carter, though she declined.
- The opera “Zinnias: The Life of Clementine Hunter” was written about her.
- Hunter’s life and work became the subject of several book-length studies, a children’s book, and numerous exhibitions.