Longtime friend of Louisiana folk artist Clementine Hunter, and Professor Emeritus at NSU Thomas Whitehead, gave a presentation on Clementine Hunter, her life and work Tuesday, October 1 at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest History Museum before a full crowd. While many people know the historical facts of the artist’s life, Whitehead’s talk brought fourth smaller things based on his 40+ year relationship with Clementine Hunter. He first met her when he was an undergraduate in 1964 and knew her until her death in 1988. One of the more interesting facts to come out in the presentation was that Clementine Hunter only visited the NSU campus twice. The first time was in the late 1950’s and she had to be sneaked into campus as Blacks were not allowed on campus in those days unless they worked there. It was the first time she had ever seen her artwork hung on display. The second time was in 1984, a mere 30 years later, when she was awarded an honorary doctorate by NSU.
Thomas Whitehead is also a recognized expert in Clementine Hunter’s artwork, a distinction he earned as an expert witness in the case of several people who were accused of forging her work. The process of authenticating a piece of artwork requires an in depth knowledge of everything from the artist’s technique to the composition of the materials used in the work. Whitehead told the crowd that he could recognize the style of some of the forgers as well as he could the genuine articles produced by his long time friend.
It was indeed fitting that Thomas Whitehead’s talk took place on the first of October. This year marks the inaugural “Clementine Hunter Day” in the state of Louisiana. Every October first, Louisiana will celebrate the legacy of one of its most talented and creative citizens