One of the most detailed records of daily life along Louisiana’s Cane River was told through the paintings of a self taught folk artist who lived on Melrose Plantation near Natchitoches. Her art is treasured history and remains a favorite among folk art collectors. For decades, a trio of suspects took advantage of her works, creating and selling forgeries of her paintings. In 2008, the FBI moved in to investigate a case unlike it had ever investigated…folk art forgery.
Clementine Hunter was born on Hidden Hill Plantation around 1886. Hidden Hill was known as a harsh place to live and work. Some of the locals say it was the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
At the age of 15, Clementine’s father moved to Melrose Plantation, just south of Natchitoches, Louisiana.
Melrose Plantation played a key role in the life of Clementine Hunter. Cammie Henry was Clementine’s employer who turned Melrose into a haven for artists and writers. The artists who visited Melrose took note of Clementine’s talent and encouraged her to pursue her gift. Clementine didn’t paint pictures. She called it “marking a picture”. Her marked pictures were vivid scenes of plantation life, depicting the reality of life for Black Americans in the segregated south.
Hear Clementine In Her Own Words
Clementine Hunter Interview with Dorothy Robinson, with assistance of Thomas Whitehead, 1975; Harvard University Archives.
Recommended Reading and firsthand accounts of Clementine’s life…
Tom Whitehead was a friend of Clementine Hunter and is the foremost scholar on her life and art. Whitehead co-authored the biography of Hunter’s life. He often speaks about Clementine’s life and the time he spent with her. Here’s a wonderful video of his talk at the 2018 Natchitoches-NSU Folk Fest and a Q&A about Clementine Hunter
First hand account of forgery investigation
FBI Special Agent Randy Deaton headed up the forgery investigation. Here’s Deaton’s presentation of the case and an in depth look into the case and how the FBI pursued the Toyes and Robert Lucky, Jr.
“Clementine’s Hunters: The Extraordinary Life and Afterlife of Louisiana’s Most Consequential Artist.” Bayou Brief, 25 March. 2019
“The Talented Mr. Toye” Garden and Gun, April 2010
History. Melrose Plantation
“Self-Taught Artist Clementine Hunter Painted the Bold Hues of Southern Life” Smithsonian.com 18 October, 2018.
“Justice for Clementine“, Country Roads. 21 December, 2018.