Melrose Plantation and Clementine Hunter

So, I thought I would stop by the Melrose Plantation “real quick” on my journey south.  I had read a bit about it, and wanted to see the murals of Clementine Hunter.  Little did I realize that I would stay the better part of the afternoon, also wandering to the St. Augustine Cemetery.  I love change of plans…

The African House

Along the Cane River, south of Natchitoches, LA, sits the Melrose Plantation, home of folk art legend, Clementine Hunter.  But it’s history is extends far beyond the boundaries of art. Originally the Yucca Plantation, it was established by former African slave (and Creole matriarch)  Marie Therese Coincoin.  Marie was “leased” by a frenchman, Claude Thomas Pierre Métoyer (it was illegal for the two to be married) They had 10 children, establishing the area’s community of Creoles. Metoyer later freed Marie, giving her a tract of 68 acres, (as well as alimony and child support) and she began the journey of establishing a successful tobacco plantation, acquiring more land through a Spanish land grant. To care for the land, she bought (and freeing) 3 African-born slaves to help her.  She also bought the freedom of her own children and gave them her property upon her death, including the Yucca plantation.

 

Melrose Plantation (Yucca Plantation) was owned by her son, Louis Métoyer. He fell on hard times, and the plantation was auctioned off, purchased by a an Irish immigrant merchant named Joseph Henry.  His son and wife, Carmelite “Miss Cammie” Henry entertained the notable artists and authors of the time, turning the plantation is to an artist’s refuge.

Clementine Hunter was a field hand and cook at the time.  Inspired by the guests, she began to paint the images of life on the plantation with the leftover tubes of paint that she would find, recreating the scenes on window shades.  Her paintings caught the attention of the visiting artists who encouraged her to continue to paint.  Clementine went on to become one of the foremost self-taught painters.  

Bubba’s – along the road, and in the mural…

Inside the African House on the plantation, former food storage building, you can see the 1955 huge mural that covers the entire second floor, depicting life on the plantation.  Well worth the trip.


Just down the road is the St. Augustine Church, the final resting place for renowned folk artist, Clementine Hunter, the St. Augustine Catholic Church was built in 1803 with funds provided by Cane River Creole patriarch, Nicolas Augustine Metoyer, and his brother, Louis. St. Augustine is believed to be the first Catholic church in the United States that was built and supported by people of color. The present structure was built in 1916.