Tom Hinson, Curator Emeritus, Cleveland Museum of Art


As a child growing up in Henderson, Texas, Tom Hinson loved the visual arts and found as much time to paint and draw as he could. Today, the Curator Emeritus at the Cleveland Museum of Art, who retired in December 2010 after a distinguished 38-year career, says he realized pretty quickly that, “I didn’t have the makings of an artist.” But some passion pulled him in that direction all the same.

While an undergraduate architecture student at the University of Texas at Austin he determined that architecture wasn’t the right career choice, either.

Then in 1967, while others were enjoying the Summer of Love, Hinson experienced what he now calls his Summer of Art. “I spent my entire vacation traveling through England and Europe,” he fondly recalls. “That’s where I was inspired to pursue my interest in the history of art.”

After graduating with degrees in architectural studies and art history, he landed a fellowship at the Toledo Museum of Art, where he spent 10 months giving lectures and tours and learning firsthand about museum operations.

Deciding to attend graduate school, he enrolled at Case Western Reserve University in 1971 because of its joint program with the Cleveland Museum of Art. “Many of the museum’s curators were teaching classes,” he says, “so it was a wonderful opportunity to get hands-on experience.”

Hinson began his own illustrious career at CMA in January of 1973. That same year the museum, under the direction of Sherman Lee, acquired its first photographs (other than eight images bought out of May Shows, the institution’s then annual show featuring regional artists), adding to the collection of original photographs that totaled 44.

By the time Hinson retired, that figure had grown to more than 3,000 and boasted classic images from photographers such as Ansel Adams, Brassai, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Edward Weston and Margaret Bourke White.

The collection includes several noted Cleveland photographers as well, such as Herbert Ascherman, Andrew Borowiec and Michael Levy. “I just viscerally responded to photography,” he says of his interest in the medium. “It was a love affair almost at first sight, and I had the rare opportunity and great challenge to participate in building a collection that covers the entire history of fine art photography, from 1839 to the present.”

Because photography is a contemporary art, Hinson thoroughly enjoyed the opportu­nities he had to interact with the artists. Many of those arose as he organized a series of contemporary fine art photography exhibits that ran from 1986 until 2005, when CMA began its renovation and construction of new wings. The series focused on solo shows of artists from around the world. He took great pleasure in exposing the Cleveland audience to a diverse range of photographers, from young artists to mid-career artists to established ones who were working with new subjects or stylistic approaches. “It was like going to a restaurant where the menu changed daily,” he says.

As part of his curatorial duties, Hinson was also responsible for enhancing the contemporary art collection. He did so by overseeing the acquisition of numerous important works, including the large haunting canvas called Lot’s Frau by German neo-expressionist Anselm Kiefer, Andy Warhol's iconic Marilyn X 100 and Arthur Dove's riveting Pine Tree. Of Hinson’s contributions to growing CMA’s collection and establishing  a national reputation for its previously underrepresented contemporary art and photography collections, the museum’s Chief Curator C. Griffith Mann says, “His impact has been huge.”

While Hinson enjoys sharing his retirement with his wife, writer Diana Tittle, he remains quite active with the museum. In 2011 he consulted on and organized two important photography exhibitions—a show featuring contemporary landscape photography from the museum’s permanent collection and a solo exhibition of Brian Ulrich’s extraordinary work.

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •

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