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Good For Kids
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This building called the Africa House had well known artwork upstairs by Clementine Hunter.
Closest available address
3533 Highway 119, Melrose, LA 71452
Tue.-Sun. 10am-5pm, tours at 15 minutes past the hour, last tour at 4:15pm.
Best time to visit
Fall, Winter, Spring
Melrose Plantation is an early 19th century plantation and farm that was founded and built by a biracial Creole family. Although the historic plantation at one time was much larger, the current historic site is only 6 acres and includes the former main house and 7 support buildings. One of the support buildings has large murals painted by artist Clementine Hunter and is an important example of her colorful folk art. The main buildings are only open via guided tours. A small gift shop is also on the property.
Louis Metoyer began developing Melrose Plantation around 1810. He was one of ten children of a Frenchman and former slave. Louis began building the main house at Melrose in 1832 but died before it was finished. The property remained in the Metoyer family till 1847 when it was purchased by the Hertzog family who owned the property till 1881. Notably, Melrose was not destroyed in the Civil War as was the case with many other plantations in the area during that conflict. The property than passed through several owners. In 1899 Carmelite Garrett Henry took possession. She was both a preservationist and supporter of the arts. Writers and painters were invited to stay at Melrose and pursue their crafts. Clementine Hunter was Carmelite's cook at this time and discovered painting when she found a paintbrush and paint left by an artist. Although Clementine was never formally trained, she developed a distinctive primitive art style. Carmelite's family owned the property till 1970 when the house and various contents were sold. Unfortunately, all of Clementine Hunter's paintings were sold as well except for the murals in the Africa House still on the property today. A farming company bought the land in 1971 and donated the main house and support structures to a local historic preservation society.
The guided tour only went into the Arica House and the main house. Of the two, the Africa House was much more interesting because of Hunter's murals. In addition to having an idyllic and free flowing style, these simple paintings are historically significant because they were created at the end of the sharecropping era at Melrose in the 1950s. As a result, Hunter captured scenes, traditions and lifestyles of a bygone era. There were two opportunities to see the murals on this visit. On the first tour, a younger guide discussed the paintings but without much interest or insight. On a second tour later that day, an older tour guide was much more informative, and talked extensively about Hunter, the paintings and life at Melrose during that time. As for the main house, it was OK but nothing special. The first floor had brick flooring and a dining room. There were bedrooms upstairs. The house had a reasonable amount of period furniture and also some additional Hunter paintings. No pictures were permitted inside the main house or the Africa House. The guided tour also included a brief walk around the grounds. A 250 year old live oak tree near the main house was worth a picture. Note, that you can walk around the grounds on your own, but only the tours go inside the primary houses. As to whether Melrose is worth a visit, it depends. If you are into art and want to learn more about Clementine Hunter, than it is a good choice. The main house may have some appeal if you are into historic buildings, but it's not the primary attraction. Melrose is not a good choice for kids.
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