.Exciting news for a serious collector of Clementine Hunter's paintings:.
Read on and discover the many reasons why this
seemingly modest painting is truly unique and
historically significant among Clementine Hunter's works.
#1. Serendipity was in the cards when the Rand family of Alexandria, Louisiana, long-time friends of Cammie Henry, owner of Melrose Plantation, leased a site on Cane River to build a fishing camp. The location they chose for the camp was selected for one simple reason: It was the most accessible.
That location was just after crossing a rickety wooden bridge over the river and entered Melrose Plantation property. An immediate turn to the left led quickly to the camp, named "Happy Landing", only about 50 yards away. The camp was right on the edge of the water, and close behind it was the edge of a cotton field.
Serendipity also dealt a winning hand, because in a nearby dwelling lived a person who would forever change the lives of the Rand family and the lives of many others.
#2. That person was Clementine Hunter, and through her generosity "Canasta Players" has the ultimate ironclad provenance: It was a gift, hand-delivered by Clementine to Blythe White Rand while Mrs. Rand was at her family fishing camp just a ten minute walk from Clementine Hunter's cabin.
#3. To add to the rarity of this painting, it is exceptional in that the players, all painted black in Hunter's usual style, are actually representations of three white ladies that Clementine knew in the main house on Melrose Plantation. Their names are available, and they were among the major players in Clementine Hunter's life.
This kind of personal information is known to only a handful of owners of Clementine Hunter's works and is an important fact that makes Canasta Players a collector's item.
When Clementine handed Blythe Rand the painting, she told her that it was a painting of her and Miss Cammie and Miss Caroline playing canasta. And the name stuck: Canasta Players.
It is the first of her card-playing series
of which possibly hundreds were done on through
the 1980s, some of them almost identical to the original. But the original has something no later versions had: One of the players is seemingly suspended in mid-air.
Canasta Players and Bowl of Zinnias, Clementine's first oil painting, have a singular place in the history of her work.
#5. As a special bonus: There's a remarkable story of the events that led to the painting of Canasta Players, nearly twenty years after Clementine did her first oil painting, Bowl of Zinnias, in 1939. And now, over 60 years after Canasta Players was done, this landmark painting may well become the prized possession of a fortunate new owner.
#6. Authentication: Most important of all, the painting is authenticated in writing by the acknowledged foremost authority on the works of Clementine Hunter: Mr. Thomas N. Whitehead of Nachitoches, Louisiana.
Click to See
In addition to Canasta Players, Mrs. Rand's extraordinary collection included
Clementine Hunter's documented first oil painting, Bowl of Zinnias,
previously owned by Whitfield Jack and sold to a prominent collector.
The collection also included the seven paintings now in the permanent collection of the
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Canasta Players is truly a member of a Royal Family!
To see the seven Clementine Hunter
paintings in the permanent collection of
The Smithsonian National Museum of
African American History and Culture
These paintings were donated to the Museum by Mrs. Rand's grandson,
Rand Jack, and his wife, Dana Crowley Jack.
Click image to enlarge
Here's the story of how it all came to pass ........................................................
...Whitfield Jack Jr.'s grandmother, Blythe White Rand (left) of Alexandria, Louisiana, shown with Cammie Henry, owner of Melrose Plantation which was about an hour's drive from Blythe Rand's home.
The two women had a friendship for many years starting in the mid 1930's. Both were expert weavers and shared a passionate love of gardening..They wove rugs on large commercial looms which, with each change as the vertical threads were interwoven with the horizontal threads, made a thumping sound like someone pounding a two-by-four on a wooden floor.
They propelled a flat-bottomed boat by pushing it with long poles through the local swamps and bogs in search of the rare Louisiana wild iris that graced the Melrose gardens. Eventually, as the collection grew, it became the finest in the state.
Blythe Rand and Cammie Henry were a couple of brave adventurers, because the swamps were infested with alligators, water moccasins, and huge wasp and hornet's nests. One of my uncles said that if you bumped into one of those, you'd best just jump in with the alligators.
1939 (created image)
Click image to enlarge
The drive from Alexandria to Melrose was was fine until you turned off the blacktop highway and headed down a dirt road. It was a river of dust from the cotton fields when the weather was dry and a river of mud after a few days of rain.
And if you stopped too long on the blacktop highway at the turn-off to Melrose, the tires on your car would sink into the tar.
Today, the cotton fields have been replaced by pecan groves, a more profitable crop
In the enlargement of the image on the left, you can see in the upper right corner the location of Happy Landing, the fishing camp owned by the Rand family and built on property leased to them by Cammie Henry.
Camp Happy Landing on Cane River
Click to see in color
Camp Happy Landing still stands on the banks of Cane River on Melrose Plantation, Melrose, Louisiana. The camp was built in the late 1930s and was made of natural, unpainted wood, later stained a soft cedar-red. This photograph was taken in 2006.
From Alexandria, Louisiana, where I was born December 23, 1936, was about an hours's drive to Melrose Plantation where Clementine Hunter lived most of her life. From the time I was around eight years old, my grandmother began taking me to Melrose when she went to visit Cammie Henry, sometimes staying one day, sometimes staying two or three.
On those visits, which continued on through my early college years, I always went to Clementine Hunter's cabin and watched her paint. I was politely silent, and we became friends, and several times she painted a picture of me, black and looking like everybody else. Clementine did paint white people (some people thought she didn't), she just painted them black.
I was delighted, because Clementine would only paint a picture of you, or add you to a picture, if she liked you.
She loved children. Not so much, adults. The only time I went inside Clementine's cabin was when a carload of obnoxious tourists approached, blowing the horn loudly and shouting that they were coming to buy paintings.
Clementine snatched me inside and slammed the door. When the driver started pounding on the door, Clementine said, in a gruff voice, "Nobody home". And when the driver's wife started shouting, "We know you are in there!", Clementine replied, louder and even gruffer, "NOBODY HOME!"
The invaders left empty-handed.
Clementine Hunter's cabin was just one long room from front to back, a classic worker's cabin known as a "shotgun" house, because you could shoot a shotgun from the front door right out of the back door.
After visiting for a good while with Clementine, I would go spend a few hours with Francois Mignon at his house close by the Big House. This gracious and funny and wonderfully eccentric gentleman was a master storyteller and would tell me tales, some true, some made-up on the spot and retold in different ways each time.
Francois was a man of many duties in addition to being an author: He was cultural director in charge of the resident artists; was tour guide for the many visitors that came to Melrose; and was a major help to Clementine in securing materials and promoting her paintings. Basically, he was overseer of all things going on at Melrose other than the plantation farm work.
In addition to all this, one of his special and very favorite assignments was to watch over and entertain me, and my little cousins, and neighbor's children and keeping us out of trouble. Foremost was keeping us out of the Big House because of danger from the big looms.
Francois had perfect results once we heard the story of a little boy and girl that got caught in one of the looms and woven into a rug. Francois said that every time you stepped on where they were in the rug they would let out horrible squeals and try to kick their way out. He said you could see the rug jumping and wiggling like it was having a fit.
None of us cared to investigate further.
Clementine and Francois were two
dear friends at Melrose.
They chose to be buried next to each other.
And they were.
The Big House
Click image to enlarge
Melrose Plantation - "The"Big House"
This elegant plantation house was built in a style common in the West Indies, with airy breezeways and multiple porches on both levels.
It was not only a working plantation, but in time became a retreat for some of the most prominent writers, artists, naturalists, photographers, and composers of the time.
Over time, when workers occasionaly moved to new quarters, they abandoned their old cabins. But Mrs. Henry didn't have the cabins torn down or removed. She was a staunch preservationist and wanted to preserve their look for historic purposes. So she had the cabins converted into quarters for the resident artists and writers, keeping the exteriors intact but modernizing and refurnishing the interiors.
All was peaceful and orderly until late in 1950, when a new and exciting card game called Canasta made it's way to Melrose. And the result was pandemonium!
Everybody wanted to play Canasta. The Big House swarmed with visitors. Anybody who could be induced into playing was grabbed immediately.
As evidence of the extent of this disruption, Francois Mignon, although in charge of social events and overseer of all goings-on, was primarily an author who was only interested in his writing. He had no use for games of any sort and couldn't see well enough to play them even if he wanted to. A such, he had the following to say:
Scroll down and meet the Canasta Players in person
"When Clementine handed Blythe Rand the painting, she told her that it was
a painting of her, and Miss Cammie, and Miss Caroline playing Canasta.
And the name stuck: Canasta Players."
Who early on realized the talents of Clementine Hunter and brought her out of the cotton fields to work in the Big House and made sure that she had all the paints and materials she needed to do her work. And thus began an astounding career.
In the center:
Close friend of Cammie Henry from the middle 1930's. Fellow weaver on giant commercial looms and fellow gardener who helped Cammie Henry search for rare wild iris and together created the unsurpassed collection in America.
Author, artist, botanist, horticulturist, ornithologist, historian, archeologist, preservationist, naturalist, conservationist. Founder of the Caroline Dorman Botanical Nature Preserve, the states finest, just 50 miles from Melrose.
PEOPLE WHO WERE INSTRUMENTAL IN HELPING CLEMENTINE HUNTER:
by providing painting supplies, promoting her work, buying her work,
and in any other way they could be of assistance
John Clarence Laughlin
And many others
Questions you might ask about this painting:
#1. Why is Blythe Rand painted almost the size of a child?
It was because she was a person of small stature, so Clementine always painted her that way, an endearing touch that made my Grandmother laugh.
#2. Why does Mrs. Rand seem to be floating in midair with no indication of her feet being on the ground?
Clementine Hunter was no stickler for detail. If she knew that my Grandmother was on the ground, then she was on the ground, whether the viewer knew it was of no matter.
These curious incidents of perception often appear in Clementine's paintings.
In one painting a woman is shown hanging clothes on a clothsesline. She has her hands on the line apparently securing another article with clothespins. But, because there is no indication that her feet are touching the ground, it appears that the woman herself is hanging on the line.
But Clementine Hunter knew where she was,
and that was all that counted.
#3. What was a wrought iron table doing out in the middle of nowhere with three plantation workers playing cards on it?
It was because Clementine never painted scenes of events taking place in the Big House while she was on the premises, so she just took her brushes and with them simpy moved the wrought iron table outside!
#4. Since Canasta, in the three-players version as painted here, was a card game that required nearly three decks of cards, dozens of which would be laid out in vertical rows on the table....where are all the cards?
A logical question, but Clementine was the laundress for the Big House and was not about to go over and inspect the layout of Miss Cammie's card table.
To Clementine, a card game, whether it be Canasta with lots of cards, or whatever, would be people sitting at a table holding a few cards in their hands and maybe a card or two on the table. And that's the way she painted a game of Canasta. Note that in this painting, for some reason, or no reason at all, there are two enormously large cards on the table.
And except for my grandmother, who drank nothing stronger than iced tea, there was always something special to drink nearby.
Another queston that one might ask is how Clementine picked up the name Canasta?
At most, she might have been walking through the room carrying a basket of laundry, and all that registered was that three people of whom she was very fond were playing cards and excitedly talking about the new card name, Canasta.
The exact details are anybody's guess, but Clementine obviously heard the name, Canasta, and saw her friends playing it, and named the painting "Canasta Players".
#5. A here's a fascinating, almost magical
coincidence about the card game, Canasta:
It was invented in Montevideo, Uruguay in the year 1939, the same year that Clementine Hunter painted Bowl of Zinnias, her first oil painting!
And the new card game slowly made its way in the late 1950s to the United States and to Melrose Plantation.
This was to the great delight of everyone.
To whoever might eventually own Clementine Hunter's painting Canasta Players, here's a Christmastime thought:
Clementine's exact birth date is
not known. Only that it was
sometime in late Dec. 1886 or in early Jan. 1887.
But Clementine said herself that she was born around Christmas. So whatever day that was,
it was the day that...