Heart of Louisiana: Melrose

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) – A nearly 200-year-old plantation in central Louisiana is not just a National Historic Landmark, but it’s become an artists’ colony that inspired a well-known folk artist to Louisiana.

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

“Clementine arrived on this plantation around the age of 16 to work in the fields. Cotton fields. She recorded like her whole life,” said family historian Betty Metoyer.

Clementine Hunter’s works exhibited at Melrose Plantation(Dave McNamara)

Melrose has deep roots in Creole history along the 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 Thérèse Coincoin, a former slave born in Natchitoches in 1742. He hired her to be his maid and cook and they lived together for almost 20 years and they had 10 children,” said 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 Civil War times, but a new owner, John Henry, started a new one. chapter at Melrose. There was an interesting change here in Melrose in the early 1900s, the daughter-in-law of the new owner of the property decided to turn this plantation into an artists’ colony, Mrs. Cammie, as she was known, had done college education and loved the arts.

“Artists and Writers. We had photographers. We had, uh, a naturalist like Carolyn Dorman, who was the first woman in the national forest service. We had weavers. We had all kinds of different artisans here. They could stay here as long as they wanted, as long as they were still working,” said Adam Foreman, tour guide at Melrose Plantation.

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

Clementine Huntress
Clementine Huntress(Dave McNamara)

“She saw these artists produce all this beautiful work, and an artist threw a twisted tube of paint. Clémentine picked up the paint from the trash and painted her very first paint on the green window blind,” Metoyer said.

“Writer, François Mignon recognized his talent. He was the one who encouraged her over the years,” Metoyer said.

Clementine Hunter lived in a simple house in Melrose for most of her adult life. She painted scenes of picking pecans in the plantation orchard, baptisms in the River Cane, and even herself with a brush and canvas. And through his art, we get a unique insight into life on this historic Cane River plantation.

For more information on Melrose Plantation, click here.

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