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Heart of Louisiana: Melrose

Melrose Plantation is a national historic landmark, as well as an artist colony that inspired a well-known Louisiana folk artist.
Published: Apr. 17, 2022 at 2:37 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A nearly 200-year-old plantation in central Louisiana is not only a national historic landmark, but it became an artist colony that inspired a well-known Louisiana folk artist.

Clementine Hunter's artwork displayed at Melrose Plantation
Clementine Hunter's artwork displayed at Melrose Plantation(Dave McNamara)

When you look closely at the paintings of renowned folk artist, Clementine Hunter, you see the cotton fields, the cabins, the big house, and the distinct structures of Melrose Plantation.

“Clementine came to this plantation around the age of 16 to be a worker in the field. The cotton fields. She recorded like her whole life,” said Betty Metoyer, family historian.

Clementine Hunter's artwork displayed at Melrose Plantation
Clementine Hunter's artwork displayed at Melrose Plantation(Dave McNamara)

Melrose has deep roots in the Creole history along Cane River. It was founded in the late 1700s by Claude Thomas Pierre Metoyer, who fell in love with one of his slaves.

“He met Marie Therese Coincoin, a former slave who was born in Natchitoches in 1742. He leased her to be his maid and cook and they lived together for almost 20 years, and they had 10 children,” said Metoyer.

Betty Metoyer, who works in the plantation gift shop is an eighth-generation descendant of this Creole family.

She says when her ancestors ended their relationship, Marie Therese acquired 18,000 acres, and her children ran the plantation until the time of the Civil War, but a new owner, John Henry, started a new chapter at Melrose. There was an interesting change here at Melrose in the early 1900s, the daughter-in-law of the new owner of the property decided to this plantation into an artist colony, Ms. Cammie, as she was known, was college-educated and loved the arts.

“Artists and writers. We had photographers. We had, uh, a naturalist like Carolyn Dorman, who was the first female in the national forestry service. We had weavers. We had all sorts of different craftsmen here. They could stay here for as long as they like, as long as they were still working,” said Adam Foreman, a tour guide at Melrose Plantation.

And that’s when Clementine Hunter, who picked cotton as a child and then worked as the plantation cook, was introduced to painting.

Clementine Hunter
Clementine Hunter(Dave McNamara)

“She saw these artists producing all this beautiful work, and one artist threw away a twisted tube of paint. Clementine picked the paint out the garbage and painted her very first paint in on the green window shade,” said Metoyer.

“Writer, Francois Mignon recognized her talent. He’s the one who encouraged her throughout the years,” said Metoyer.

Clementine Hunter lived in a simple house at Melrose for most of her adult life. She painted scenes of pecan picking in the plantation’s orchard, baptisms in the Cane River, and even herself with a paintbrush and canvas. And through her art, we get a unique glimpse of life at this historic Cane River plantation.

For more information on Melrose Plantation, click here.

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