2015 Louisiana Studies Conference Presentation Abstract
“African House Restoration: The Preservation of So Much More than a Building”
Presented by Molly Dickerson, Melrose Plantation
The history of Melrose Plantation (founded in 1796 by means of a Spanish land grant) and specifically the African House (circa 1820) is the multi-faceted cultural identity of the Cane River area and the many ways that this unique culture has been preserved. The birth and preservation of stories, structures, art works, craft processes, folkways and landscape has helped secure regional and cultural group identities. Such varied groups represented by the history of African House include the Cane River Creoles, African Americans, Caucasian Americans, Women and Artists. Discovering, understanding and respecting cultural identities can nurture personal confidence and creativity while building a more tolerant, humane and productive nation. In addition to the importance of the building, African House is the setting for a series of murals by folk artist Clementine Hunter. Hunter was a farm-hand at Melrose Plantation who began painting in her 50s. Her scenes of plantation life in the early 20th century have gained national fame.
By restoring African House we preserve the important story of the Cane River Creoles who had the African House built, the African Americans who, as enslaved people, constructed the African House, the artists who resided in the African House and were inspired by the people and landscape, and an African American woman who was born a share-cropper and died a world famous folk-artist. Further, the construction of the building itself offers much to advance our understanding of the time period it was constructed in, as can be seen by the unique combination of regional styles, traditional building methods and cultural influences including French and African.