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Account written by John Henshall:
Review of book Painting by Heart: The Life and Art of Clementine Hunter. Louisiana Folk Artist.

The late Clementine Hunter was a no-nonsense woman who didn't suffer fools or timewasters for a second. If visitors to the plantation near Natchitoches, Louisiana, where she picked cotton and pecan most of her life asked pesky, unnecessarily 'intellectual' questions about why she painted her paintings the way she did, she would say she didn't know: ''I just paint 'em..''

She never learned to read or write but by the time she died in 1988 aged 101 (her grandmother lived to be 110), she'd become one of the great folk - her term was 'memory ' - artists and the world's media descended on little St Augustine Catholic Church near the Melrose Plantation. Clemence (''that's my sure 'nough name..'') Hunter saw her art as ''a gift from God..'' She would say : ''I guess that's the way the good Lord wanted it. Instead of reading and writing, He gave me the know-how to paint '' , though she'd add: ''Paintin' is a lot harder than pickin' cotton... to paint you got to sweat yo' mind'' .

Hunter insisted she was not an artist as such: ''I just paint by heart..'' She meant she painted the things she stored in her mind from her own experience. There was a lot of it to draw on by the time she started painting in the 1940s, when she was in her mid-50s. She found some discarded paints at the Melrose house and declared that she wanted to 'mark ' (paint) a picture. She began to paint almost obsessively in true outsider fashion and did so for the rest of her life.

She produced several thousand pictures, which as Shelby Gilley says, form a social history of life in the rural Deep South. Hunter saw the repressive Jim Crow Laws, the turn of the century, two World Wars and a burgeoning Civil Rights era. Perhaps one shouldn't be surprised that when President Jimmy Carter invited her to Washington and even offered to send a plane down to collect her (she was by then 99), she demurred: ''I'm not interested in going anywhere..'' Perhaps she meant this more seriously than it sounds. She went on:''The priest told me it ain't no use to go to church every day... the Lord can hear your prayers..''

Hunter's paintings show changing farm life, baptisms, marriages and funerals, and the flowers, peoples and honkytonks of a Bible Belt which was changing forever before her very eyes. Gilley has produced an outstanding, atmospheric account of one woman's take on the making of millennial America. She was a worldly woman too, with a wicked sense of humour which she retained right into old age. She made a tester, or roof quilt, to fit inside the top of a friend's four-poster bed. He inspected it, then asked her had she forgotten to 'sign' it Ρ she just used the initials 'CH'? No she said, and pointed them out to him Ρ upside down: ''I done put 'em upside down so yo' wife could read 'em..'' Hunter was certainly a memory artist.

Painting bv Heart: The Life and Art of Clementine Hunter. Louisiana Folk Artist by Shelby R Gilley is published by St Emma Press, Gilley's Gallery, 8750 Florida Boulevard, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70815, USA, @ $50.00/£25.00 and £30.00 plus postage and packing). Contact: Tel: +00 (1) 225 922 8225; email:


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