Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter by Kathy Whitehead, illustrated by Shane W. Evans.
Putnam, Penguin Young Readers, New York, 2008.
Picture book biography, 32 pages.
Lexile: AD870L ( What does AD mean in Lexile? )
AR Level: 5.3 (worth 0.5 points) .
The life story of noted American folk artist Clementine Hunter, 1886/7-1988.
This book is part of our picture book artist biography series of reviews. Descended from slaves, Clementine Hunter was a folk artist who was a manual laborer on a Louisiana plantation known for attracting writers and artists. From the 1940s when she attracted the attention of patrons at the plantation until the late 1980s, she gained in popularity until she was able, at the end of her life, to live independently from the sale of her artworks.
This is another Shane Evans book. You can probably gather from past reviews that we are big fans of his art style around here, and it works very well for this picture book biography. Kathy Whitehead does well too, basing the information around Clementine’s painting and revealing more about her past as it relates to her paintings.
The two meld together very well. The amount of text per page varies but doesn’t exceed a paragraph, keeping this nice and readable. While neither author nor illustrator shy away from tough moments in her life and artwork, the overall tone is upbeat and positive.
The only main critique I had of this book was that the paintings themselves are not easy to see. The method in which Evans worked her real artworks into his illustrations was very cleverly done and we loved that the information about them was given in the back – almost like a scavenger hunt to find them throughout the book. Larger versions in the back matter would’ve made it easier to see the details, but the smaller copies do give enough info to work and don’t take up much space.
Clementine Hunter was dedicated to making art. She had no expectations of becoming a great artist or even selling her work, she only wanted to express herself. Part of the reason her artwork is so beloved seems to stem from that attitude – she truly cared only about making the best paintings she could with the time and materials she could muster. Learning about someone who lived for a century and found their passion and talent around 50 years old is certainly inspirational.
There is some very minor religious content in this book as she painted baptisms and weddings and she wears a cross or uses other Christian religious symbolism. Many of her paintings were happy and remembered glad times, but others remembered the hard work and poverty of her earlier years.
This book also calls out the fact that she was chosen to be featured in a gallery show but was not allowed to attend her own exhibition in the segregated school. A friend brought her in the back door on a day the gallery was closed so she could see the display. There is a mention of how she didn’t like school and dropped out to pick cotton, which is neither lauded nor vilified.
We all enjoyed this book and learning more about this interesting figure from the 1900s. This book helped us have some interesting discussions about artwork and passion. It was engaging and informative without overwhelming young readers. Recommended.