Clementine Hunter is the granddaughter of ex-slaves and was born on a plantation in the Caine River Region of Louisiana. She worked most of her youth in the local crop fields and as a farmhand. In her teens she moved to the Melrose Plantation and by the 1920s, while in her thirties, she left the fields to become a housemaid. Hunter was fortunate in her situation; The Melrose Plantation housed an Arts and Community Center. Its curator, Francois Mignon, saw Hunter’s creativity expressed in chores that offered an opportunity to be artistic (such as sewing & quilting) and encouraged her to pick up a brush and paint. Hunter would paint daily after completing her chores and ultimately created over 4,000 works. Clementine Hunter never received a formal education and could not read or write, yet her creativity and efforts ultimately earned her an honorary Doctorate Degree of Fine Arts from Northwestern State University of Louisiana in 1986.
Hunter painted the world around her; the plantation was her inspiration and she credited God and his creations for her inspiration. She began working on wood panels with house paint and would paint on many household objects such as lamp shades and jars, as she gradually moved on to paint with oils and watercolors on canvas. Her forms are simple, often described as child-like, yet contain a primitive beauty and charm. Hunter’s narrative paintings document life on the plantations – recording weddings, funerals, church-going, and leisure activities – all of which are boldly rendered on warm backgrounds. Hunter would also paint colorful floral still-lifes and animated rural scenes inhabited by local flora and fauna. Hunter rarely titled her works but if asked for one she would give a lively description of the location and events that she captured in her painting.