This week, we went to see:
Zinnias – The Life of Clementine Hunter at Montclair State
Concept, Direction, Set and Light Design by Robert Wilson
Libretto and Music Composition by Bernice Johnson Reagon and Toshi Reagon
Book by Jacqueline Woodson
It was a wonderful, 90 minute opera about the life of the folk artist Clementine Hunter–and prompted me to learn more about her. Unfortunately, because she was illiterate, she didn’t write down her own story. What’s known about her life comes from recollections/interpretations of the people who knew her. (FYI – her name is pronounced Clemen-teen.]
So, you will have some articles that say Clementine Hunter didn’t start painting until after she met Francois Mignon; he saw the spark of an artist in her and suggested she paint.
Another popular story is that she had already been painting before she met Francois. She used old brushes and paints left behind by Alberta Kinsey, an artist who had been staying at the plantation, to create her own works.
Here was the shocker for me–Clementine Hunter was the victim of a forger: Mr. William Toye.
Toye and his wife were caught in the 70s and in the 90’s trying to pass off fake Hunters to unsuspecting buyers/auction houses. Both times, charges dropped. Not even a fine paid!
Naturally, they tried again in the new millennium. Working with an art dealer in New Orleans, they again began putting phoney Hunter paintings on the market. This time, the FBI decided not to let them slide. They raided the house and everything. Unfortunately, because Toye was 79 when he was finally prosecuted, there was no jail time included n the punishment. As he left the court room, Toye tried to assault photographers with his cane.
More about Clementine Hunter:
Clementine Hunter’s First Oil Painting – History and documentation of an important work of folk art.
Black Women In America Clementine Hunter – blog post
Clementine Hunter; History of Forgery by Tommy Whitehead – video (sound isn’t the best. I also find his description of her problematic. In talking about how great her talent was as an artist, he basically describes her as someone who “didn’t know what art was”. I suppose he means she wasn’t classically trained–she was self taught–but there’s just something about that phrasing…)
FBI Investigation of Clementine Hunter Forgeries by William Toye – Video of FBI agent explaining the operation to bring down the forger.