Faded Memories: Clementine Hunter's Sketches

Pelican Bomb's Rosemary Reyes looks closely at Clementine Hunter's sketches from the Gasperi Collection.

Image of one of Clementine Hunter's earliest sketches. Courtesy the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans.

The Gasperi Collection: Self-Taught, Outsider and Visionary Art
Ogden Museum of Southern Art
925 Camp Street
October 4, 2014 - February 2, 2015

I walked through the narrow entryway into a room of Clementine Hunter works at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, turning the corner to encounter one of her delicate sketches of zinnias in a vase. Tears welled in my eyes as I was taken to a dusty memory of my grandmother, a black Caribbean woman, drawing roses on a napkin in my childhood kitchen. Even with all the limitations placed upon her, my grandmother, like Hunter, had the impulse to draw, to create simple beauty seemingly detached from a life of subjugation. Hunter’s depiction of black plantation life is moving, but even more so is the strange innocence behind her work—a quality cited (however pejoratively) since the 1953 Look magazine article that first brought her national attention. The eyes of her subjects protrude from their dark skin and I couldn’t help but identify that as a symbol of the second-class citizenry endured for most of her life. Their “outsider” gaze, at the time disregarded, is highlighted and given significance. A woman denied entry to the gallery exhibiting her very own work in 1955 due to segregation laws, even today her sketches serve as a reminder of the continuing need to honor and exhibit the portrayal of black life in America—to celebrate how far we’ve come but also acknowledge how far there still is to go.

Editor's Note

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is hosting a book launch on February 5 at 6pm for Clementine Hunter: A Sketchbook, which features 26 of the artist's earliest sketches.