Though based in New York, artist Hunt Slonem's deep ties to Louisiana are reflected in his many museum and gallery exhibitions in the state as well as his efforts to preserve the historic houses he owns here.
Hunt Slonem moved from New Orleans to New York in 1973, following his graduation from Tulane University, where he studied art and art history. His Tulane architectural history classes with adjunct professor and preservationist Samuel Wilson Jr. nurtured his appreciation of Louisiana’s architectural heritage, especially its historic plantation houses. During the intervening years, Slonem became a successful, prolific, and high-profile New York artist, known for his paintings, watercolors, and sculptures of subjects that included birds (and their cages), butterflies, moths, rabbits, monkeys, flowers, and tropical plants, as well as portrait series devoted to Abraham Lincoln, Rudolph Valentino, and Catholic saints such as St. Martin de Porres, St. Rose of Lima, and Dr. Gregorio Hernandez. Slonem’s art is included in many national museum, corporate, and private collections. As his accomplishments have evolved, so too have his ties to Louisiana, especially during the past decade, as reflected in his many Louisiana museum and gallery exhibitions, and in his efforts to preserve the historic Louisiana houses he now owns, Albania Plantation (1842) and Lakeside Plantation (1832).
In 2007, Slonem described his ties to Louisiana. “I just feel connected here. I love the moss and oak and camellias. It’s my idea of beauty on earth. I don’t think it gets any prettier than this on the planet.” Since 2000, his activities in Louisiana have accelerated, including his participation in a major retrospective exhibition at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans in 2007 and his role in supporting the acquisition of a survey collection of his art for the Ogden Museum. He also presented gallery exhibitions at the Heriard-Cimino Gallery and the Martine Chaisson Gallery in New Orleans, and museum exhibitions at the Louisiana Museum of Art & Science in Baton Rouge in 2004, the Opelousas Museum of Art in 2007, the Hilliard Museum of Art at the University of Louisiana–Lafayette in 2010, and the Meadows Museum in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 2010. In 2009, an eighteen-foot-high sculpture of tropical birds by Slonem was installed on Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie, Louisiana.
Slonem was born in Kittery, Maine, in 1951, the oldest of four children, to a U.S. Navy submarine captain who moved his family often. Slonem lived and attended schools in Maine, California, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Virginia, Washington, Hawaii, and Nicaragua. He studied at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine before completing his art studies at Tulane, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in 1973.
Early in his career, Slonem discovered the major themes and subjects that continue to characterize his art, including his fascination with the natural world and a range of living creatures. Slonem also studies and engages with saints and historic figures, including Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, Rudolph Valentino and his social circle, and a number of mystics and psychics, such as Countess Xacha Obernevitch. He began by painting Latin American saints, angels, Incan gold objects, birds, and imagery from Hindu, Buddhist, and Catholic iconography. As his fascination with the occult and the world of the spirit advanced, Slonem studied yoga and then he traveled to India in the 1980s, an experience that changed his perceptions of the world. He also began to live with a collection of tropical and exotic birds in the 1980s (and still does), providing his most recognized subject matter, birds in and out of their cages, often rendered with an incised, painted grid surface across his canvases. Birds fill the surface of his largest project (6 feet by 86 feet), a mural he painted for the Bryant Park Grill in New York City, completed in 1995.
Slonem also has become known as a society figure in New York and as a major collector of New York lofts and studio spaces, historic houses, historic furniture (especially Gothic revival and empire pieces) and related forms of American art and material culture (old Parisian vases, silver, candlesticks, art glass, and top hats). In 2001 he purchased his first historic house, the Cordt Mansion (1873) in Kingston, New York. In 2004, he acquired Albania Plantation, built by Charles Alexander Grevemberg between 1837 and 1842 in Jeanerette, Louisiana (painted and documented by Adrien Persac in 1861). The following year, in 2005, he acquired Lakeside Plantation (1832), in Bachelor, near New Roads, Louisiana. In addition to restoring these properties, he continues to furnish and install them with a unique range of art, both historic and contemporary (including much of his own work) in a manner that has attracted national attention, including features in diverse publications and television shows, as well as in the book Pleasure Palaces: The Art & Homes of Hunt Slonem (2007). This book was followed by a publication on the artist and his lifestyle, Dominique Nahas’s The Worlds of Hunt Slonem (2011).
His art can be found in numerous museum collections, including the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans; the New Orleans Museum of Art; the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, both in New York City; and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.