On the morning of August 28, 2005, folk art collector Richard Gasperi faced evacuation from New Orleans — and the prospect of choosing what to save from among 500 important works he had acquired during his lifetime. He chose Clementine Hunter’s 1945 sketchbook, a deeply personal, thoughtful depiction of Creole life in the Cane River area of rural Louisiana. This month, with Gasperi’s help, the University of New Orleans Press releases previously unpublished works by one of the South’s most important artists.
“The twenty-six previously unreleased paintings collected in ClementineHunter: A Sketchbook are easily among her most compelling work—showcasing private moments of tenderness, anxiety, and human connection not often depicted in her more commercial paintings,” the UNO Press said in a statement. Clementine Hunter, who was born in the winter of 1886 and lived to be more than 100, was a self-taught African-American folk artist who lived and worked on Melrose Plantation in the Cane River region. She is the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art; the exhibit remains on display today.
Hunter, a Louisiana Creole, worked at Melrose as a farm laborer and never learned to read or write, according to history books. She began painting in her fifties, after a visiting artist left behind brushes and paints at Melrose Plantation, where she lived and worked all her life. Hunter's artwork portrayed plantation life in the early 20th century and provides a unique viewpoint of this era. Though the farmhand sold her first paintings for 25 cents, by the end of her life, Hunter's work sold for thousands of dollars. Today her work is shown in museums and collections around the world, including NOMA. The self-taught artist received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Northwestern State University of Louisiana in 1986.
Her sketchbook is now available to the public through the UNO Press. Curator Bradley Sumrall of the University of New Orleans Ogden Museum of Southern Art, a partner in the book’s creation. “Hunter has been an important artist to the Museum’s mission from the earliest moments of our founding collection and vision,” Sumrall said upon the book’s release.
The original sketchbook is now on display at the Ogden Museum as part of The Gasperi Collection: Self-taught, Outsider and Visionary Art. The exhibit, meant to “showcase the depth and breadth” of the gallery owner’s impressive folk art collection, also features work by other “icons of self-taught art” such as David Butler, Howard Finster, Charles Hutson, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and Jimmy Lee Sudduth.
The show at the Ogden started in late October and ends February 22.