“History is a kind of introduction to more interesting people than we can possibly meet in our restricted lives; let us not neglect the opportunity.” -Dexter Perkins
exploring the beautiful Melrose Plantation.
this weekend my mama and I traveled to the beautiful Melrose Plantation located in Melrose, Louisiana (just about 10-15 miles away from Natchitoches). they hold an annual weekend Arts & Crafts Festival where different vendors from around the state can sell their goods. this year for the festival the weather was sunny and breezy, and I got to wander the grounds with a refreshing glass of homemade sweet tea from Sweet Tea Y’all.
the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHC), gave wonderful tours of not just the Big House, but about other buildings such as the African House, Bindery, Yucca House, and Weaving Cabin. i loved and appreciated their passion for preserving the history and spirit of Melrose.
the Big House tour was probably my favorite because you felt like you stepped back into time. the creaky flours, quilted bedding, and ornate furniture brought each tourer a sense of nostalgia and reverence for what used to be. the most spectacular thing that occurred on our tour was that we got to hear a lot of our tour from Miss Cammie’s great grandson who made a surprise visit to Melrose that day. (how cool!!)
i mean who wouldn’t want a library like that?! most of the books on display in the library of the Big House were actually written by authors who stayed at Melrose. Among the writers who visited Melrose were Erskine Caldwell, Alexander Woollcott, Alberta Kinsey, Caroline Dormon, Rose Franken, William Spratling, Gwen Bristow, Ross Phares, and Ruth Cross. Francois Mignon was also a famous writer who came to Melrose for what was a planned six week visit that then turned into a thirty-two year stay!
the history of Melrose is simply fascinating. From the Metoyer Era to the Henry Era, the walls of Melrose have certainly witnessed incredible sights. The person I was most enraptured with hearing about, was the famous artist Clementine Hunter. Clementine started out as a 12 year old field hand at Melrose, who later became the employed cook of Mrs. Carmelite Garrett Henry. Now you have to know Miss Cammie, as she was affectionally known, was a lover of the arts, and she invited artists and writers around the country to stay at Melrose. This was not a vacation for them, for Miss Cammie had great desire to be intricately involved in their creative processes. One day, as Clementine Hunter was set about doing her cleaning and cooking tasks she stumbled upon a set of paints left behind from a previous artists’ stay. These paints led her to create what is now called “insider art” which depicts the perspective of African-American plantation life. Her work is considered primitive, as she had no formal education and could not read or write.
we got to actually view Clementine Hunter’s most famous work, The African House Murals. her work was real and touching, there was no fluff. One of my favorite quotes from Clementine Hunter says, “Painting is a lot harder than pickin’ cotton. Cotton’s right there for you to pull off the stalk, but to paint, you got to sweat your mind.” one of the things that made me smile while learning about Clementine was that she would paint on anything. on snuff cans, bottles, and even rocks. her artwork is an extension and expression of who she was and what she experienced.
the above photo is the view of the back of the Yucca House. this was one of the housing areas for writers and artists alike as they came to stay at Melrose. peering inside we viewed an old typewriter, a bed, a fireplace, and various other essential items.
I found that the seafoam green color of the doors and shutters of the Yucca House was really beautiful. it is a color reminiscent of its former glory.
the oak trees at Melrose are astoundingly beautiful. wandering around the property viewing them, makes you realize they are just another stitch in the deep rooted historical fabric of the plantation.
of course my trip to Melrose would not have been complete without a sweet tea & meat pie. The meat pies were sold by members of the St. Augustine, Isle Brevelle Catholic Church. This church is a marker in the lineage of the Cane River gens de couleur or free people of color, and pin points the settlement of their European ancestors in the French colony of Louisiana.
you have enchanted me and inspired me. you have made feel deeply. thank you for giving me the chance to appreciate where we came from and where we are now.
xoxo Riah Brooke