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Clementine Hunter

Her Life and Art

Art Shiver

Publication Year: 2012

Clementine Hunter (1887–1988) painted every day from the 1930s until several days before her death at age 101. As a cook and domestic servant at Louisiana’s Melrose Plantation, she painted on hundreds of objects available around her—glass snuff bottles, discarded roofing shingles, ironing boards—as well as on canvas. She produced between five and ten thousand paintings, including her most ambitious work, the African House Murals. Scenes of cotton planting and harvesting, washdays, weddings, baptisms, funerals, Saturday night revelry, and zinnias depict experiences of everyday plantation life along the Cane River. More than a personal record of Hunter’s life, her paintings also reflect the social, material, and cultural aspects of the area’s larger African American community. Drawing on archival research, interviews, personal files, and a close relationship with the artist, Art Shiver and Tom Whitehead offer the first comprehensive biography of this self-taught painter, who attracted the attention of the world. Shiver and Whitehead trace Hunter’s childhood, her encounters at Melrose with artists and writers, such as Alberta Kinsey and Lyle Saxon, and the role played by eccentric François Mignon, who encouraged and promoted her art. The authors include rare paintings and photographs to illustrate Hunter’s creative process and discuss the evolution of her style. The book also highlights Hunter’s impact on the modern art world and provides insight into a decades-long forgery operation that Tom Whitehead helped uncover. This recent attention reinforced the uniqueness of Hunter’s art and confirmed her place in the international art community, which continues to be inspired by the life and work of Clementine Hunter.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


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pp. ix-xvi

Proper study and appreciation of the life and art of Clementine Hunter may be likened to the experience of holding a kaleidoscope up to the light and watching its multiple surfaces...

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pp. xvii-xxii

When one examines Clementine Hunter’s vast oeuvre, it becomes apparent that while she never learned the familiar language symbols one needs to write words or the syntactic...

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pp. 1-4

The first time I met Clementine Hunter was in the spring of 1966. Ora Williams, an English teacher at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches and the supervisor of my student...

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1. A Moment of Recognition: May 17, 1985

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pp. 5-11

Clementine Hunter sat quietly in the back of Prather Coliseum on the campus of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. At ninety-eight years age...

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2. From the Cotton Fields to the Big House

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pp. 12-21

As Clementine Hunter’s significance as an American artist grew, those who valued her art realized the importance of documenting the artist’s life story. Mildred Hart Bailey...

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3. Memory and a Sense of Place

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pp. 22-32

To understand the complexity of Clementine Hunter and her art, one must understand her relationship to the land from which she came. She was very much an...

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4. The Remarkable and Enigmatic Mr. Mignon

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pp. 33-45

Clementine Hunter’s move to melrose plantation proved to be the most significant event in her life. Unquestionably, the second most important event occurred when...

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5. Mr. Pipes and the Artist

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pp. 46-56

During the decades of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s Clementine Hunter was supported and encouraged not only by François Mignon but also by another admirer, James Pipes Register...

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6. Becoming an Artist

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pp. 57-67

Clementine Hunter was well past middle age when her work moved from outside to inside, from the cotton fields and pecan groves to the Melrose Big House. Cammie Henry...

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7. The African House Murals

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pp. 68-75

by the summer of 1955 Clementine Hunter had been painting for at least fifteen years. She had developed the major themes that would dominate her paintings in the years ahead...

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8. A Lifetime Told in Art

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pp. 76-96

Clementine Hunter left no correspondence, no diaries, not even a note on a scrap of paper from which one can learn firsthand about her life. Interviews by reporters and researchers...

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9. Friends, Supporters, and Patrons

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pp. 97-113

While it is clear that François Mignon and James Register were the driving force managing and promoting Clementine Hunter, they were not alone in their recognition of her art...

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10. New Year’s Day, 1988

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pp. 114-119

Clementine Hunter died at 2:10 in the afternoon on Saturday, January 1, 1988. She was unable to eat and suffering from dehydration on Wednesday, December 29, when her daughter...

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11. Fakes, Forgeries, and the FBI

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pp. 120-128

Joseph Barabe peered intently into the eyepiece of a powerful, enhanced microscope. Magnified several thousand times, he meticulously studied the canvas, the strokes, and the chemistry of one of Clementine Hunter’s paintings of African House....

Appendix: The Evolution of Hunter’s Signature

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pp. 129-132


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pp. 133-140


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pp. 141-144


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pp. 145-152

E-ISBN-13: 9780807148792
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807148785

Page Count: 236
Publication Year: 2012