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Clementine Hunter was born Clemence Hunter between 1886 and 1887, at Hidden Hill Plantation, in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. She was the child of former slaves who continued working as sharecroppers well after emancipation. Young Clemence worked as a sharecropper as well and was never able to learn how to read or write.
Living and working at Hidden Hill Plantation (modern-day Little Eva’s Plantation) was rough. The lore surrounded the plantation is that Hidden Hill provided the setting and overall inspiration for the book ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’ By the time Hunter was 15, she moved to Melrose Plantation just south of Natchitoches. There, she picked cotton for most of her life.
Hunter bore two children, Joseph and Cora, by a man named Charlie Dupree. She then married Emmanuel Hunter who was a woodchopper at Melrose Plantation. She bore a total of seven children, two of which were stillborn. She spent her younger years as a field hand but then worked as a cook and a housekeeper as she grew older.
After the owner of Melrose Plantation, John Hampton, died, his wife Cammie Henry created the artists’ colony on the plantation. Hunter found herself surrounded by artists. When painter Alberta Kinsey visited Melrose Plantation in 1939, she left discarded painting materials behind. Hunter painted her first picture with those materials and thus began her painting career.
As a result of Hunter’s natural talent, François Mignon assisted with her career. He provided her with painting materials and promoted her work. Soon after she began painting, her work was being displayed and sold in a local drugstore for one dollar each. Spectators would often pay 25 cents to watch her create her paintings.
As a self-taught artist, painting from memory, Hunter was referred to as the Black Grandma Moses. Many scholars have referred to her as a cultural historian since she documented plantation life of the early 20th century.
Although she was famous, Hunter never climbed out of poverty. She would sell her paintings for a quarter in the 1940s. By the 1970s, she was selling her pieces for hundreds of dollars. By the time she died, art dealers were selling her pieces for thousands of dollars.
Hunter’s most famous piece is titled ‘African House,’ which stands on the grounds of Melrose Plantation. Hunter painted a mural across the walls of the former slave quarter/food storage unit. Upon completion of the mural, a local newspaper wrote the article, “A 20th Century Woman of Color Finishes a Story Begun 200 Years Ago by an 18th Century Congo-born Slave Girl, Marie-Therese.”
Hunter became the first Black artist to land a solo exhibition at the Delgado Museum. She was also featured in biographies and was granted an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by the Northwestern State University of Louisiana in 1986. Clementine Hunter died January 1, 1988, near the age of 101.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer (Nikodemus Mwandishi) or We Buy Black. Thank you.**