Profile: Clementine Hunter (1886-1988)

Clementine Hunter, née Clementine Reuben, was a prolific American folk artist who late in life began to produce vibrant representational and abstract oil paintings drawn from her memories of Southern plantation life.

Clementine Reuben was the daughter of Mary Antoinette Adams, who was of Virginian slave ancestry, and Janvier Reuben, whose father was Irish and whose mother was Native American. Having attended elementary school for only a short time, Reuben never learned to read. When she was a teenager, her family moved from Hidden Hill to Yucca Plantation (later named Melrose) near Natchitoches, Louisiana, where she lived until 1970, when the plantation was sold. Reuben married Emanuel Hunter in 1924.

About 1939, encouraged by the French writer François Mignon, who was living at Melrose, Hunter began painting, using any surface she could find. Thus, in her 50s, she began a life’s work of paintings estimated to number more than 5,000. Painting mostly in oils, Hunter drew upon her dreams and memories for her many colorful paintings depicting plantation life, recreation, and nature. Her other subjects were often either abstracts or religious scenes. She also produced a number of quilts exhibiting the same powerful sense of color and design as her paintings. She first exhibited her work in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1949. In the 1970s she had major exhibits on both coasts of the United States. She was also invited to Washington, D.C., by President Jimmy Carter for an opening exhibition of her work. Hunter continued to paint until one month before her death at age 101.

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