Published: July 24, 2001
NANTUCKET, MASS. – Prominent African-American artist Clementine Hunter will be showcased in a retrospective exhibition through July 31 at Sailor’s Valentine Gallery, 12 Straight Wharf.
The granddaughter of slaves, Hunter (1886-1988) lived to the age of 101 and spent her life on a Louisiana plantation. A self-taught artist, she is considered by many to be America’s Black Grandma Moses. The retrospective includes paintings and quilts spanning Hunter’s life. There will be paintings from her abstract period, still lifes and genre scenes.
“Painting’s been something extra for me. It’s been a gift from God,” she said.
Hunter’s paintings thoughtfully recorded the Black plantation experience into the Twentieth Century and depict an important part of African-American culture. Vintage photographs of Hunter by Carolyn Ramsey provide further insights to a critical period in American history.
As Shelby R. Gilley notes in his book, Painting by Heart: The Life and Art of Clementine Hunter, Louisiana Folk Artist, Hunter was born in December of 1886 in Natchitoches Parish in Northwestern Louisiana. During the 1940s, while working as a field hand at Melrose Plantation situated on the bank of the Cane River, Hunter was promoted to cook and her life changed. Melrose Plantation’s owner, Ms Cammie Henry, was an archivist who actively encouraged the arts. She opened her home to artists and authors who needed a quiet place to work. It was at Melrose that Hunter first began her production of hand made quilts, dolls and lace curtains.
The retrospective includes her earliest works on paper, several paintings from her abstract period (early 60s), among them a one-of-a-kind pair of portraits of her mother and father; still lifes of zinnias, the artist’s favorite flower; and genre scenes typical of daily plantation life: cotton picking, washday, baptisms, weddings, funerals, and even the “Honky Tonks,” the bayou speakeasies where long hot evenings were spent drinking away life’s troubles.
Born just a little more than 20 years after slavery was abolished, Hunter lived through the Jim Crow era, the turn of the century, two world wars and a turbulent Civil Rights period. Social conditions were not easy during her life but through it all Hunter maintained her resolve and dignity.
Today, Hunter’s art is highly regarded by the art community and coveted among collectors. Her work has been exhibited at the Museum of American Folk Art, New York City; The Corcoran Gallery of the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.; and the New Orleans Museum of Art, among others. Not all the paintings in the exhibition will be available for purchase. The retrospective is curated by Shelby R. Gilley.
For information, 508-228-2011.
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