Melrose Plantation

Clementine Hunter, b 1887- d 1988
3533 Hwy 119, Melrose, LA 71452 - view on Google Maps
(318) 379-0055
African American folk artist Clementine Hunter (1887-1988), who lived and worked for 75 years at Melrose Plantation, attracted the attention of the world with her colorful memory paintings of life on a rural southern plantation during the first half of the 20th century. She worked at night by the light of a kerosene lantern, in a simple wooden cabin, located in the shadow of the plantation’s Big House. In these humble circumstances, she found her talent and made an unlikely and extraordinary career as an artist.

ABOUT

The Melrose Big House, 1833, is an example of raised Creole construction. Significant outbuildings include Yucca House, a French Creole cottage built by enslaved carpenters between 1796 and 1814, which served as the plantation’s first residence. It is the structure known today as African House, circa 1800-1830, that may be the most noteworthy. The mushroom-like building recalls the architecture of French barns; many observers also see a resemblance to houses built by the African slaves in their native homeland. Inside African House, visitors can marvel at the expansive Clementine Hunter murals illustrating plantation life as she experienced it. The combination of African-inspired architecture with murals painted by an African-American artist makes a structure unique in American history.

Clementine Hunter lived her entire life in the heart of what is known as Cane River country, the home of the Cane River Creole people. The artist painted the story of the Creole and African American communities: how the people worshiped, lived, worked, and died.

Visitors today can walk the lanes along the Cane River, look out over the fields where cotton once grew, explore the redolent gardens, and the contemplate the world where Clementine Hunter found her inspiration to paint. So little has changed in this rural setting that one can still visit the same sites on and near Melrose Plantation that inspired Hunter’s art. One popular stop is the nearby St. Augustine Church and Cemetery, often seen in Hunter’s paintings; it was also the site of Hunter’s funeral.

Clementine Hunter has often been compared to Grandma Moses, also a self-taught artist who painted New England farm life. Both were artists of place, but because Hunter never traveled, a visit to Melrose is a visit to the artist’s entire world. This small area of America looms large in importance primarily because Hunter, who could neither read nor write, took a brush in hand and told the story of her people and her time. While the artist’s paintings hang in homes and galleries around the world, one must visit Melrose and climb to the second floor of African House and see the African House Murals to fully experience Hunter’s profound legacy.

What the artist contributed to the world began in her little cottage on the grounds of the plantation. That small house, minimally restored, provides visitors with a point of context. The artist’s home accurately reflects the place where she lived much of her formative years as an artist. Too often, the majestic structures on plantations are the only ones restored and remain, but Melrose is an exception. Hunter’s simple cabin is a treasure worthy of note and remains open for all to see.

Did you know...?

International opera impresario Robert Wilson, co-creator of Einstein on the Beach, produced a chamber opera, “Zinnias, The Life of Clementine Hunter.”

WHAT TO DO HERE

  • Visit the African House Murals, located on the same grounds as the artist’s cabin.
  • Tour the historic Big House, a repository of period furniture and art.
  • Visit the plantation’s outbuildings, especially Yucca House.
  • Picnic in the shadow of St. Augustine Church, located just across Cane River from Melrose.
  • Visit the gift shop to purchase prints of Hunter’s art and acquire books related to Clementine Hunter and her life.

YOU CAN ALSO SEE THE ART HERE:

  • Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA
  • New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA
  • Capitol Park Museum, Baton Rouge, LA
  • Scotlandville Branch, East Baton Rouge Parish Library, Baton Rouge, LA
  • Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum, Natchitoches, LA
  • Weisman Art Museum - University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
  • African American Museum, Dallas, TX
  • American Folk Art Museum, New York City, NY
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
  • High Museum, Atlanta, GA
  • Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC
  • The American Museum, Bath, England