(Nov. 5, 1913-Oct. 3, 1993). In addition to being a dedicated artist throughout his life, Felrath Hines was the first African American chief conservator for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery and private paintings restorer for artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

Felrath Hines, “Untitled,” oil on linen, 1960, Indianapolis Museum of Art. Credit: Public domain via Newfields View Source

Born in Indianapolis, Hines graduated from Crispus Attucks High School in 1931. His early interest in art won him a scholarship to Saturday classes at the John Herron Art Institute. With hopes to attend the Art Institute of Chicago, he moved to Chicago in 1937, after serving two stints in the New Deal Black Civilian Conservation Corps near Bloomington. He worked as a dining car waiter on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad and arranged his schedule to attend day classes at the Art Institute.

Hines relocated to New York City in 1946. He pursued his art training at Pratt Institute and with Russian expressionist Nahum Chacbasov while working at the respected Kulicke Frame Shop. He apprenticed himself to pioneer artwork conservators Sheldon and Caroline Keck, whom he met through Georgia O’Keeffe, becoming her personal paintings restorer.

Along with his dual careers, Hines participated in civil rights activism in the early 1960s, including the 1963 March on Washington. He was a founding member of Spiral, a group concerned with gaining more recognition for Black artists.

Hines moved to Washington, D.C., to become chief conservator at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, from 1972 to 1980, then accepted the position of chief conservator at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. He served in this position at the Hirshhorn from 1980 until his retirement in 1984. While becoming a highly respected fine art conservator, he created increasingly complex geometric abstract paintings that are recognized for their refined technique and beauty.

Hines’ paintings are included in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Other repositories that own Hine’s works include, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Yale University Art Gallery, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. In Indiana, the Indianapolis Museum of Art at NEWFIELDS, the Indiana State Museum, the Indiana University Art Museum, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, and the Crispus Attucks High School Museum hold examples of Hine’s work.

Revised February 2021

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