Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bucket Lilies

Clementine Hunter "Bucket Lilies" 1967 Private Collection
 Clementine Hunter (1887-1988) was a self-taught artist from Louisiana who didn't start painting until she was 54 years old. She worked as a field hand in the cotton fields from a young age, and only attended school very briefly. She was married twice and had seven children, while continuing in agricultural labor.  Then, she and her family found employment at Melrose Plantation, a large southern estate famous for being one of the first African-American owned southern plantations.  Carmelita Henry, the lady of the manor, was deeply interested in the arts and turned the plantation into a kind of ongoing artists residency, with numerous artists invited to enjoy the beautiful relaxed atmosphere. At some point Hunter stopped working in the fields and pecan groves and began working in the big house. She immediately showed an aptitude for design, making quilts and creating beautiful clothes for the estate children, as well as creating imaginative flower beds and arrangements. She took great interest in the visiting artists and their pursuits and the friendly, supportive artistic atmosphere. One night she apparently remarked to Francois Mignon, the assistant to Mrs. Henry who acted as a kind of art residency manager,  "I could do a painting if I set my mind to it." Mignon gave her some paints left behind by a visiting artist and Hunter did indeed put her mind to it. The rest is history.

detail from "Bucket Lilies"
Hunter liked to work on all kinds of supports, from canvases and boards to old window shades, bottles, pieces of cardboard and even brown paper bags. She was highly prolific, and although she had made a late start as an artist she apparently created thousands of works. She originally sold her pieces for as little as 25 cents, to anyone who came to her door and asked. Now her work sells for thousands of dollars and hangs in museums including the American Folk Art Museum, the Los Angeles County  Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Hunter received numerous honors and accolades for her work in her lifetime including an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts.  A book Clementine Hunter: her life and work came out in 2012, published by LSU Press. When she died, she was buried near her friend Francois Mignon, who had believed in her and helped her get started in her late blossoming art career. Interestingly, Mignon was the original owner of this painting, which he received as a gift from the artist after he gave Hunter the bucket of lilies which inspired the piece!

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