By Dr. Shane Rasmussen, director of the Louisiana Folklife Center
Legendary artist Clementine Hunter (1887-1988) will be posthumously inducted into the Louisiana Folklife Center Hall of Master Folk Artists during the 39th Annual Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival, which will be held on July 20-21 in Prather Coliseum on the Northwestern State University campus.
Hunter’s vast body of paintings documents daily life at Melrose Plantation and along Cane River, where she worked and painted for most of the last century.
Born Clémence Rubin on Hidden Hill Plantation near Cloutierville, she came to live at Melrose Plantation when she was 12 years old. Initially a field hand, it was while working as a housekeeper and cook in the plantation’s “Big House” that Hunter first picked up a brush and paints left behind by a visiting artist. Although illiterate, Clementine Hunter taught herself to paint.
Before the age of mechanization, plantation labor was physically grueling. Hunter’s images conveyed workers toiling as they planted, plowed and picked cotton by hand. Her themes were not limited to scenes of labor. She also recalled, in vivid colors, the spiritual life of her community: the weddings, baptisms, wakes and funerals. For more than 50 years, Hunter painted her memories of family life and recreation along the banks of Cane River.
Her legacy includes thousands of paintings telling the story of plantation life from the African American workers’ perspective, a point of view minimally covered by historians of the time. By the time Melrose Plantation was named a National Historic Landmark in 1972, the lifestyle documented by Hunter had already disappeared.
Hunter never traveled far from her birthplace, but today she is recognized around the world. Her widely collected art hangs in private collections and prestigious galleries throughout the United States and abroad.
“It is truly an honor for Clementine Hunter to be inducted into the Louisiana Folklife Center Hall of Master Folk Artists,” said Tom Whitehead, professor emeritus at Northwestern State and the foremost scholar on Hunter’s life and art. “She is indeed a Louisiana treasure who deserves recognition for her contributions to our state and our nation.”
The Festival will be held in air-conditioned Prather Coliseum, 220 South Jefferson Street on the NSU campus in Natchitoches. The festival will be held Friday, July 20 from 4:30-10:15 p.m. and all day on Saturday July 21 from 8 a.m.-10 p.m. The family-oriented festival is wheelchair accessible. Children 12 and under are admitted free of charge. For a full schedule of events, to purchase tickets, or for more information call (318) 357-4332, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to louisianafolklife.nsula.edu.
Support for the Fiddle Championship and the Festival is provided by grants from the Cane River National Heritage Area, Inc., the City of Natchitoches, Cleco, the Louisiana Division of the Arts Decentralized Arts Fund Program, the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation and the Shreveport Regional Arts Council.