Clementine Hunter was born on Hidden Hill Plantation (now called Little Eva Plantation) near Natchitoches, Louisiana, in December of 1886. When she was a young girl, her father moved the family away from the harsh environment at Hidden Hill (the plantation that was supposedly the basis for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin) to the more hospitable Melrose Plantation. Clementine lived at Melrose for most of the rest of life, moving just right down the road a few years before she died on January 1, 1988, at the age of 101. Melrose was a cotton plantation founded in the 1790’s by the freed Congo woman, Marie Therese and her son Augustin Metoyer. The plantation and its family were a focal point of the African and Creole cultures along the Cane River. During Clementine’s days there, it had become a small artist colony, where Louisiana writers and artists like Alberta Kinsey, Caroline Dorman, and Harnett Kane spent time with others such as William Faulkner and John Steinbeck.
As the story goes, New Orleans artist Alberta Kinsey left some paints and brushes behind on one of her visits to Melrose in about 1940. Clementine, who had at this time turned from work in the cotton fields to work in the kitchen as the cook at Melrose, found the paints and brushes and asked permission to paint a picture of her own. She presented Melrose resident Francois Mignon with a painting of a Cane River baptism on a window shade, and her life changed forever.
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.